Featured Artist: Gulam Mohammed Sheikh
Born in 1937 in Saurashtra Gujarat, Painter, art historian, teacher and writer Gulam Mohammed Shiekh is one of the pioneering figures in Indian art history. Recipient of Padmashri (1983) and Padmabhushan (2014) for his contribution in field of art, Sheikh became an inspiration for his contemporaries as well as young budding artists. Thousands of young artists have learned the nuances of art history and painting from him at the prestigious Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), where he taught for almost three decades, till he took voluntary retirement in 1993.
Sheikh did his masters degree in painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the MS University in Baroda in 1961. Belonging to an economically weak family young Shiekh had to rely on a his scholarship of Rs 50 per month, and occasional portraits and writing assignments. During his time as a student at MS University in Baroda he was supported by his teacher NS Bendre. Bendere invited Shiekh to join as a teacher of art history even though he had yet to complete his masters. In an article published in Indian Express Shiekh was quoted as saying “I asked Bendre saheb how would I manage and he said, ‘Idhar padho, udhar padhao (study in senior class and teach in junior classes)’. I had to evolve to teach art history because I was a trained painter, not an art historian,”.
Sheikh became an active member of the Group 1890 formed in 1962. The group established as a movement was distinct from The Progressive Artists Group and sought a new language for Indian modernism. In 1963, on a scholarship Shiekh went on to study at the Royal College of Art, London, before the group’s first and only exhibition was inaugurated by the then prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at the Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi. By the time Sheikh returned in 1966, the group had already disbanded but not without bringing attention to its concerns.
Shiekh, throughout his carrier as an artist experienced with various art media and themes but his work from the 1960s and 1970s can be seen to be informed with a consciousness of the surreal in the seemingly mundane. Given his academic influences, he draws images from Indian art, European art and political events to create his own unique narrative. Being a poet and writer himself, Sheikh has always been inspired by Kabir, the legendary poet/saint. Over the years the theme of Kabir kept returning to him and Sheikh created a relationship between his own images and Kabir’s words.
Shiekh published his first set of poems, ‘Athwa’ in 1974, with which he received a considerable critical acclaim and became a pioneer of modern Gujarati poetry. He has also edited a book ‘Contemporary Art in Baroda’, which culminates a decade-long research and documentation project. His contributions to visual arts and literature have been awarded by the Lalit Kala Akademi, Bombay Art Society as well as the Padma Shri from the Government of India.
Sheikh has been a major figure in the world of Indian art for more than four decades. He has participated in major exhibitions all over the world and his works are displayed in private and public collections including the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, USA. He has been active not merely as an artist but also as a teacher and writer.