He is a French. Speaks ‘thoda-thoda’ Hindi and has travelled almost the length and breadth of India. Artist Michel Testard has no qualm in admitting that the vibrant Indian land is his eternal muse. She inspired him to leave his cushy job and nurture his creative mind. The first time he visited India was in 2000, as an international management consultant, but then he was enraptured by the multicultural enviorns. He had started sketching at an early age, so one still finds the quirky touch of sketch-meets-painting in his works. His ongoing exhibition aptly titled ‘Glimpses of India’ is an ode to the country. His idiom is different but the two decades of wandering in the country have been rendered beautifully. In an exclusive interview with ACF, he talks about India, why he learnt sitar and how India’s contours have changed significantly since he first landed here.
The contradiction and the chaos which are synonymous with our country find their way into your works. How did you negotiate with the diversity and madness India is known for?
I suppose I have learned to adapt to unpredictability or chaos like every Indian does. In the beginning, I was puzzled. But then I have learned to become more flexible, to accept constant changes in priorities, to accept shifts and delays in meetings etc. I have now become so flexible that my friends in Europe get puzzled at my own unpredictability. My understanding of time is now closer to the Indian way!
What was your first observation of India? Did you ever think that you would fall in love with the multicultural ecosystem?
My first observations of India? The profusion of colours, the elegance of Indian women when they wear a sari, the dignity of farmers in rural India. And the bustling traffic in cities. Being multicultural myself by birth – I was born in Japan and have travelled all my life – I have found no problem with diving in the intercultural diversity of India. On the contrary, India’s huge diversity was a source of curiosity and inspiration for me.
How often do you come to India?
I have been working and living – in and out of India – for the last twenty years or so… spending between 6 to 8 months a year in the country.
From the time you first visited India, to now. What kind of changes have you seen the country undergo?
I have seen quite a few and have also seen many things which are the same or in danger. To begin with urban growth, more and more and more people in the cities, more cars, more traffic, more pollution. And this urban growth is one of my themes as an artist: Is India going to build smart or maximum and mad cities? This is for me one is of the most daunting challenges of modern India.
In spite of India’s growth, many Indians, whether in the cities or in rural areas are still very poor and in a dire situation. When you live in India you can see that first hand, through the people you employ at home for instance or see at any traffic light. As far as culture is concerned, I believe the wonderful, incredible, millennium culture of India is at risk. What makes India so rich, mysterious and attractive for us is in decline, again for the sake of modern consumption and tourism.
So the challenge for India in the years to come is, of course, to keep growing and create more jobs for a huge population, but in a balanced way, without losing the incredible culture and diversity of India’s population.
Why did you learn sitar?
Having played western classical guitar for many years, I fell in love with Indian music at the very start of my discovery of India. And I have had the privilege over the years to listen to some of the greatest classical musicians of India: Singers like Bismillah Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, the late Kishori Amonkar, inspiring Sufi Qawallis, great sitarists like Ustad Shahid Parvez, Sujat Hussein Khan and many others. Learning Classical music helped me to better understand the Indian mindset, as it is taught in a way which is very different from the Western way.