& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Keshav Malik - a poet and an art critic

Continued from above

Guest post by Sangeeta Gupta

It seems only like yesterday, I recall.

I had recently come on transfer from Calcutta and was new in Delhi. My third solo exhibition was to be held at the All India Fine Arts and Craft Society in December 1997. I was desperately looking for someone to help me to curate the exhibition and to inaugurate it.

I met Manohar Kaul, Chairman, AIFACS regarding this and he promptly suggested that I contact Keshav Malik for this who was in the gallery attending some exhibition. Kaul said it was easy to identify Malik as he would be the tallest in the crowd.

I entered the gallery looking for him. He was there in the midst of a large gathering talking to people, yet he did not seem to belong there. I was simply mesmerised by his persona and walked up to him and said I need to have a word with him. He smiled and came out of the gallery and at that moment we were in a meaningful conversation, which went on for long.

At that point of time I was totally ignorant of his stature in the art world and had no hesitation in discussing with him about art and poetry. We instantly developed a bond which grew over the next 17 years. Keshav went out of his way to curate the exhibition of my ink drawings.

Keshav guided and inspired me to evolve as an artist and a poet. I felt anchored in Delhi – a big ruthless city. It was the beginning of a great learning experience and a beautiful relationship. His house became my comfort zone, we shared a lot.

Keshav witnessed my growth as an artist and a poet and enriched my life.

All these years I had the confidence that I could bank on him for guidance; could call him; meet him when I wished. I had immense faith in his advice and wisdom.

His passion for reading and writing poetry and reviewing art was the intrinsic force which made his life not only beautiful but so much worth living. He loved seeing art so much so that he would visit all shows in Delhi. He often said that he drew inspiration from art for his poems.

He translated my book of poems (The echoing groove - 2005). We did a book together, his poems and my paintings (Visions and Illuminations - 2009). One of my exhibitions had his poems and my paintings together on display (Shridharani Art Gallery, New Delhi - 2004). We read poetry together on several occasions in the midst of ongoing exhibitions.

I had this strong conviction that Keshav had so much wisdom and insight about evolution of Indian art that it should be shared with artists and poets of all ages and it would be appropriate to document it in a film. I discussed this with a filmmaker and he gladly agreed to do it.

Even after making all efforts by collecting data and research material the project did not take off. I was losing my patience and peace of mind over it. One day I decided that I would make the film myself. I am no filmmaker, but I made it as my tribute to my mentor Keshav. I scripted, shot the film and then did editing with the help of the professional.

I was keen to have a special screening of the film on Keshav’s birthday and the documentary was screened on 5 November 2012 at I.C.C.R, New Delhi. The first film on Keshav – Keshav Malik- A Look Back, is a reflection on the life of the noted poet and art critic.

He was a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi. He was an Art Critic of Hindustan Times and Times of India. The film features, several eminent painters, poets, scholars, and their views on his life. The film has been screened at various venues such as Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Sanskriti Kendra, Anandgram, New Delhi and at Kala Ghoda Art Festival, Mumbai 2013.

The other two documentaries Keshav Malik – Root, Branch, Bloom and Keshav Malik – The Truth of Art were screened by India International Centre and by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi in 2013 and in the Spring Festival, 2014 at Alliance Francaise de Delhi.

This film has been selected and is in the archive of Documentary Edge Campus, a resource centre for documentary films, New Zealand, to be used for educational and research purposes. This film was telecast by the TV channel DD Bharati and Lok Sabha TV several times.

My mind is flooded with hundreds of memories of Keshav. He would often curate my shows in Delhi spending hours together, till late evening and then rush back home to change his Kurta and come back to inaugurate the same exhibition.

Keshav wrote most of my catalogues for my exhibitions. He would come to my studio to help me select the works for an exhibition, then write about it, curate the show and also inaugurate it.
He was a complete man who cared for the feelings of all. 

Out of his concern for women artist that it was more difficult for a woman to sustain herself as an artist he would go out of his way to help and promote them.

Keshav often said that poetry is a way of life and merely writing poetry is not enough. His poems were philosophical and abstract and dealt with deep concern for humanity. He never compromised with his values in life.

During his 89 years on this earth he witnessed so much of change happening in and around him, but he remained unaffected by the material and mundane like a lotus in a dirty pond. He was a detached witness to the affairs of this world and lived life on his own terms.

He was modest and humble, sensitive to the needs of others and yet he firmly stood by his values in life. The artist community who were fortunate enough to meet and interact with him would cherish the memory of a man who came on this earth to spread love and compassion.

I salute the man and his spirit who had faith and hope in humanity despite numerous upheavals in the society. While the documentary was screened at IGNCA somebody asked him “Do you believe in God, have you seen him?”, Keshav said “No, I have not, I have only seen human beings and I only believe in them”.

Time neither is, nor passes.

What is, is the world-making womb

where you are born, to die.

Born asleep, born a dream –

dreaming dreams without recall.

These lines of his poem always remind me that we have limited time on this earth and each moment should be lived with a sense of purpose.

Keshav served and guided the Indian art world for more than six decades through his critical yet constructive writings. He was one of the first persons I had met in the art world when I came to Delhi 17 years ago. Keshav was a mentor, guide, and philosopher to me.

I specially admired his compassion for young and budding artists who came from all over India and flocked around him for advice and help. He was generous to all artists who came to seek his advice. He always had something good to write about each artist. He was a poet’s poet. I feel enriched by the long association I had with him.

His passing away is a great national loss and has created a void which cannot be filled ever. An era of art criticism has come to an end. His contribution as an art critic and poet will be remembered by the Indian Artist Community for times to come.


Why this, why now?

Meena Chopra, a frequent contributor to this blog, is curating an exhibition of paintings by Sangeeta Gupta, a visiting artist and poet from India. The opening reception was held on 19 November, and the exhibition is on till 29 November at Heritage Mississauga - The Grange 1921 Dundas St. W Mississauga ON L5K 1R2.

-Exhibition is curated by Meena Chopra - Artist, Author & Poet and Nain Amyn- Lalji

On 29 November 2019, Sangeeta Gupta will make a presentation on Life and works of Keshav Malik - an Indian celebrity poet, art and literary critic, art scholar, and curator

29th at 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm at The Grange
followed by an open mic session in collaboration with Courtney Park Writers' Group
About Keshav Mailk:

Keshav Malik (5 November 1924 – 11 June 2014) was an Indian poet, art and literary critic, arts scholar, and curator. He remained art critic for the Hindustan Times (1960–1972) and The Times of India (1975–2000). He published eighteen volumes of poetry and edited six anthologies of English translations of Indian poetry.

He was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, for his contribution to literature. In 2004, the Lalit Kala Akademi, India's National Academy of Art, made him a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi for lifetime contribution, which is its highest award).
'CROSS CURRENTS - Indo Canadian International Arts' believes in going 'BEYOND BOUNDARIES' both in 'thought and action', 'within and without'

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