“I didn’t think that I would do this in his lifetime,” says Manisha Gera Baswani with a slight sense of disbelief but a voice filled with happiness. And she is right too. Not every student gets an opportunity to curate a show of her master. Definitely not when the guru is veteran artist A Ramachandran. Unsurprisingly, Manisha was flummoxed when he called her up to say that he wanted her to curate his next show. She vividly remembers what he told her over the phone. He had said, “I want a young perspective to my works. I want to see how the younger generation would look at my works. And I am convinced that you will do the job well.” This happened 6-7 months ago. And the outcome of this bond of faith and camaraderie is the exhibition ‘The Changing Mood of the Lotus Pond and Insignificant Incarnations’.
There are many firsts in this exhibition. First and foremost is the presentation style. Since Manisha is an artist and photographer herself, she decided to use photographs of specific spots that became a source of inspiration for that particular painting. “Not many know that Ramachandranji is accompanied by a photographer Suresh Sharma for close to 35 years. He clicks pictures while sir is busy painting. So, when I discussed with sir to have text and photographs along with his works, he didn’t show any hesitation.
Another interesting and a welcoming deviation in this exhibition is to have a simpler, non-academic curatorial note. Something that reads like a personal story of an artist who has shied away from media glare. Manish’s curatorial note focuses on the artist and his art, without intimidating a viewer with verbose language. One of the reasons why this has been possible is because Manisha is associated with the artist since 1986. He was one of the many teachers at the Jamia Millia Islamia, where she completed her masters. But then, he had left a strong influence on her and she studied under his tutelage, after winning two competitive scholarships. “I chose him to be my guru,” she says proudly.
Coming back to the curatorial note, it shares interesting anecdotes from Ramachandran’s life. For instance, Manisha writes, “…Ramachandran soaked in the energy of the wise and let the beauty of nature unfold in his mind’s eye. And then, Santiniketan brought him face to face with Chameli. In his words, ‘It was love at first sight. I was knocked over and laid flat and have ever remained so… The challenge of teaching art at Jamia Milia University brought several trials in its wake. His encounter with the majestic Gaudia Lohars inspired him towards his monumental work ‘Yayati’. And finally, and undoubtedly, he made his acquaintanceship with Rajasthan – the land which played a significant role in his art thereafter…’
She further writes, “Rajasthan unfolded a panorama of nature’s bounty, an untouched haven where man and nature lived in complete harmony. It was there, in the land of the Bhils, that the lotus ponds found him… In 1998 he painted his first lotus pond inspired by Ekalinji. Given its location by the temple complex, Ekalinji, in particular, has, over time, allowed him to paint the lotus pond through multiple perspectives. ‘I felt like a miniature artist describing my comprehensive view of Ekalinji from different angles.”
The easy-to-comprehend and lucid language allow a reader to chronicle the artistic trajectory of the artist, and coming from Manisha it is an intimate portrayal of the iconic artist. “He is young at heart… childlike. He is also hungry for knowledge. So, it has been a privilege to work with someone like him.”
“He doesn’t cease to surprise me. When you are with him, you are not overshadowed by his personality. So, when I took up this assignment, it was with an immense sense of respect, and, of course, trepidation. But then his words would always ring in my ears. He had said, ‘When I have someone young like you, it helps to add to the thought process.”
(The exhibition featuring paintings and drawings is being presented by Vadehra Art Gallery and can be viewed at Triveni Kala Sangam until December 1)