Mesmerising mystical art of Manjit Bawa
A modernist master of the figurative genre, Manjit Bawa’s treasure of contemporary art mesmerises viewers. His portrayal of simplicity, spirituality handled skilfully is his signature mark
A modernist master of the figurative genre, Manjit Bawa’s unique treasure of contemporary art mesmerises the viewers. The portrayal of simplicity and spirituality combined together in a highly skilful manner is his signature mark. His artworks display a deep affinity for drawing and a keen interest in mythology. Manjit Bawa (born July 30,1941-died 29 Dec. 2008), lived and worked in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi and created significant yet subtle works which set him apart from his contemporaries. His affinity for scriptures and Sufi poetry, flora and fauna and continuous perseverance to bring newness to his art, his use of vibrant colours to illuminate his simple compositions and his love for Krishna Bulleh Shah, Punjabi folklore and songs are predominant motifs of his artworks.
In the ongoing exhibition ‘Mitti Da Bawa’, from the collection of Bobby and Varsha Bedi at Shridharani Gallery, Triveni, some of his best Sufi and socio-politically hard-hitting drawings and paintings are displayed. There are over 25-30 works in this exhibition that trace the evolution of his art and clearly bring out the process followed from thought to canvas. Most paintings and drawings have a story behind them. Some of his artworks like Guru Gobind Singh and “1984” (inspired by Pablo Picasso’s iconic Guernica) were until now ‘private’, are made public only in this exhibition for the first time. “His world was suffused with the richness of mythology and iconic friends who could not do even half a day without him. He traversed unusual territories from Krishna, Shiva and both their sacred and pagan existence to the piercing eyes and the haunting voice of J Swaminathan. He was perpetually into heavy tomes with burnished hardcovers from the Geeta Press of Gorakhpur. These heavy tomes were mostly Puranas with hard to pronounce names. One could only admire the uncanny ease with which he retrieved the mystical out of what appeared to some as kitsch. He played with creative paradoxes all his life. In doing so, he would arrive at images caught in astounding equanimity”, reminisces his best pal, Sufi singer Prof Madan Gopal Singh.
With long hair, free flowing beard and loose fitting typical traditional Punjabi attires, Manjit Bawa looked like a mystical monk or moving ‘Majnu’ in the capital city. Always deeply passionate about art, life, Sufi music and spiritual cravings, he had a great love for food, fun and ‘masti’.
Through his artworks, music and way of life, he displayed some of the best qualities of a storyteller. He travelled to Turkey, Japan, England and the US but remained an eternal ‘malangi’ till the last breath. The image of the Black Garden etched eternally in his artistic engagements with the persona of both Krishna and Shiva opened up to an ecology of mysticism which took into its ken rivers, meadows, forests, parables of the birds and animal kingdom, music and through music the idea of listening in togetherness and eventually becoming one. The image of the Black Garden captured him like a spirit when he worked on some of his 50 finest miniature paintings inspired by the legend of ‘Heer and Ranjha’, ‘Bullah’ and God’s animals circus, heroic fervour and ‘Majnu’. The exhibition also showcased some private works like The Evolution of the Poster for Cannes’94 of the film Bandit Queen and some other artefacts.
Manjit Bawa lived a life of a wandering seer singing and painting the parables of Bulleh Shah. “I don’t really know who I am, my paintings are like me. Bullah, I don’t know who I am”, unreservedly and spontaneously he would laugh, playfully building a story at the drop of a hat, running away from petty squabbles, reproaches, complaints and conflicts of our everyday mundane cobwebs of the city life.