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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Youngo Verma (1938-2015)

I met Youngo Verma only once – at the launch of Picture House – The Art of Bollywood that Ali Adil Khan and Asma Arshad Mahmood curated in 2011.

Ali introduced me to him, and we exchanged pleasantries over a glass of red wine. In his flowing white beard, the diminutive artist, seemed out of place in the gathering that was a mix of art lovers, connoisseurs, and critics, with a few charlatans and poseurs thrown in for good measure.

Then, in 2012, Ali curated Youngo’s exhibition called Cosmic Energy and Tantric Enlightenment. This was the second exhibition Ali's South Asian Gallery of Art had organized of Youngo’s works.

Along with Ameena Chaudhry analyzed Youngo’s work for the exhibition’s catalog.

“Youngo Verma’s drawings examine the complex phenomenon of cosmic energy. What is cosmic energy and how can we tap into it? How are cosmic energy and individual creativity related? Will exposure to cosmic energy heighten one’s consciousness and personal creativity? What insight can be gained from an artist’s interpretation of cosmological questions? Youngo uses lighter pointillism in the centre of darker pencil work – this interplay is the magic of his artistry. He plays with our perceptions of forms – it is hypnotic and expressive – the work standing out distinctly for its chastity and austerity. Youngo subconsciously succeeds in manipulating the medium to create an illusory, three-dimensional almost palpable feel compelling the viewer to reach out and touch. His soothing Tantra-inspired simple graphite drawings evoke a sensitivity towards both the sculptural outward form, and the inner essence of a though process of movement and stillness.”

Youngo died in January, and Ali organized a celebration of his life at the Royal Ontario Museum in February.

It was a quiet program attended by guests probably handpicked by Ali and Deepali Dewan of Royal Ontario Museum. Dewan gave an evocative insight into Youngo’s work that ROM acquired (Tantra #21,pencil on paper, 1981), emphasizing upon its roots in Indian epic and folk traditions.

She said that perhaps the staid Canadian art market is not yet prepared for artists from the subcontinent such as Youngo who are seen as radical; and perhaps that was the reason why Youngo didn't get the recognition he deserved.

Ali gave an insightful background of Youngo’s journey as an artist. Youngo learned from masters such as BC Sanyal and KS Kulkarni. He taught at Jamia Millia in Delhi, and then moved to Germany in 1971 to work under Michael Croissant. He moved to Canada in 1981, and had made Toronto his home. 

Asma Arshad Mahmood, the curator of Promenade Art Gallery, recalled her many interactions with Youngo in a touching tribute. Other dignitaries also spoke. 

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