In a society used to over individuation of some and total exclusion of others, the works of Shamshad are perhaps a little difficult to appreciate at once.The undiscerning eye travels smoothly from his monochromes and alights on some pulsating surface of colour or black rippled surface of a nameless women’s sari, without as much as a thank you, and without realising that it is those monochromes that have prepared their eyes for this.

It is those monochromes that take us deep into the artist’s being. And indeed, what are they? They are crowd. You could see them at the vegetable market, or queueing up to buy tickets for the suburban train, or marching ahead to the rhythm of time, unware, more often than not, of the history that they have made.

To us they appear uninteresting, common place, “colourless”, shall we say? But not to Shamshad, who, even in the most colourless of crowds spies the non-conformist, the face which looks back when the others are looking forward, a hand that slides back while the body propels itself ahead, a women in a long line of people trudging on, suddenly bending down to pick up a bundle of sticks or another hesitantly gesticulating from under the drape of her sari.

And all of a sudden the crowd acquires faces, people of many colours and with different characteristics. Outwardly they are members of the crowd, undistinguished and indistinguishable, but in his colourful studies of them they acquire a uniqueness all of their own. Even the most conformist among them pulsate with the texture Shamshad gifts them with, using a brush-stroke very like his father, the doyen of Indian painters, MF Husain, but in a manner that is entirely his own. Where the former allows these pulsating strokes to follow the patterns of natural folds, the latter uses them as abstract fields of motion contradicting nature. And this distinct use of brush- work creates a formal contradiction on the canvas that gives life to figure, a contradiction that is further heightened by a gesture, a look or an attitude.

The best contribution of the work of Shamshad to our understanding of art and of life is that he recognizes the crowd as the context in which we develop a face, acquires colour and become distinct persons. Just as words cannot exist without a language, so Shamshad’s individual characters are meaningless without the totality, however uninteresting and colourless the crowd might seem. And it is by putting the crowd where it belongs that Shamshad brings us close to life and allows us to relate to it unhampered by privilege and exclusivism. His is an inclusive art, unassuming as it is realistic, and it is bound to give a direction as many of his figures do, to a more sympathetic understanding of the crucial part those nameless, colourless figures play in determining the course of great events and whose deeds are the stuff greatness is made of.

From the exhibition catalogue published by Pundole Art Gallery (1991).

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