Gulammohammed Sheikh's 'Mappings'

'Mappings', Gulammohammed Sheikh's latest exhibition 'Mappings' at Museum Gallery in the precincts of Kala Ghoda, features his painted geographical charts. It was about a couple of years ago that the artist discovered a picture postcard of the Ebstorf Mappamundi, a map of the world, now lost, made in 13th century Europe. Inspired, he decided to turn into a cartographer himself.

He elaborates to say, "Traversing historical and mythical spaces of paintings long admired and bringing these into my experiential arena has been an old habit. The routes through these trajectories open the terrain of discovery: of maps, charts and a host of paintings that invite negotiations, mediations and appropriations.'

History continues to fascinate the veteran artist who has been painting for over four decades. Painter, art historian, and writer, all rolled in one, Sheikh taught art history and painting for nearly three decades at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda. He writes poetry and prose in Gujarati and has published essays on art in English. He has also lectured on Indian art in India and abroad.

Sheikh paints on formats ranging from hand-held paper to architectural scale, to bring alive the world he knows to illumine it in its complexities and contradictions, and to reinvent art history while painting. "Occasionally, I place an image upon another image to depict a journey of the spirit on the landscape of the face. There is mysticism and, at the same time, the device of reversal is used in an almost surrealist mode, quizzical and explosive," he says. The idea of a dialogue has been a very central one in his work and this idea imparts a dynamic quality to his works. The impressions, especially of the early years of life, the tales he heard and the myths he grew up with, found expression as images in poetry first, and later, in painting.

Defining the core of his work, he once remarked: "Living in India means living simultaneously in several cultures and times; traditional and modern, private and public, the inside and outside continually telescope and reunite. Like the many-eyed and many-armed archetype of an Indian child, I draw energy from the source.'

His work is a blend of the traditional and the modern. He has worked in various media, most of the time in oils and gouache on canvas, wood and paper besides etching and ceramics. His gouache and mixed media work, 'Alphabet Stories II', which features as part of the new series of works, conveys how ordinary lives are convoluted by violence.

He has been experimenting with digital collage since last three years. The artist has employed art technology, in keeping up with changes in the contemporary art to get the most from any tool or media. The advantages are manifold. Digital images can be stored, replicated, and communicated indefinitely. Unlimited Collaging is possible without scissors and paste. One can download and scan photographs, color scraps from magazines, pieces of cloth, or other media; store these images in vast libraries, use them over and over, combine them in multiples, resize them, or tint them.

While injecting technology into art and taking up a new media in form of digital collaging, he has also been contemplating over the artistic issues that emerge in this process. He has painted over every inkjet print that might have contributed to his new series to neutralize the hyper-reproductive capacity of digital art.

Each print is made with special ash paper. These are filled with various icons that the artist has brought to life from the pages of history. There are two large circular maps are The new show, as mentioned above, happened after he came across a picture postcard of a map of the world. It has an inscription that goes on to explain how the flat circle ultimately represented the world. The original map was lost in World War II. He found a postcard it, in New York Public library, which served as a key reference.

This journey, albeit has not been easy for Sheikh as he notes: "Learning techniques of digital collaging at an interactive workshop organized by Artunderground (a digital art gallery in Baroda) facilitated the process of inventing new maps by implanting sites of my choice into the circuits laid out in the Ebstorf Mappamundi.

He has dug up a treasure trove of historical and archeological images, and has recast them in an intriguing way like a seated figure of Sufi poet Kabir, Renaissance painter Giotto's image of Mary Magdaline reaching out to touch Christ and early Mughal painter Mir Sayyid Ali's image of the iconic romantic pair of Laila-Majnu.

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