There is a wonderful light that shines in these paintings for it’s a light that casts no shadows. In this light, everything seen, as it were whole and perfectly realised. There is no rush, no restlessness here. Yet, for all this apparent quietude, these paintings are characterised by a passion that suffuse the whole. It is, if one may say so, a passion without an object- or, perhaps, a passion that is its own object, fulfilled in its intense realisation of form and colour.
These paintings are inspired - albeit distantly, for Shamshad is no illustrator by Marquez’s Love in a Time of Cholera - but the relationship is deeper than at the level of incident and character. Thus, these are ‘narrative’ paintings they tell a story, are fragments of a story. And yet, as in Marquez’s ‘foretold’ narratives, they subvert the notion of narrative order. These paintings may be viewed in any order, or in no particular order, yet they appear nevertheless as intermittent glimpses of lost, remembered lives - lives that are at once decorous and impassioned.
Take the paintings further away from Marquez and they can read differently. Much of Shamshad’s work in the past depicts people tentatively relating to one another in an unmistakably Indian urban setting. But this Indianness is achieved with intuition and without effort. The desire to refer to an exclusively Indian world has not been self-consciously nurtured by Shamshad. In these paintings, however, he shows greater self -reflexivity, choosing a decisively non-Indian subject matter. He dares to look at a world that on first impression at least is far removed from his own: the man in the suit lounging on a garden bench playing the violin, strolling with the bejewelled lady, following her in the market place, in a boat adrift at sea. Shamshad here intrudes into a culture caressed by Western Europe and separated from us by many Oceans.
Not long ago, the art collector, like the colonial anthropologist, brought back curiosities to the imperial metropolis - a collection of ‘primitive’ object and stories from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean - that served to confirm the smug superiority of mainstream European traditions. Even a few years ago, less confident artist in post-colonial settings would attempt merely to reverse the tables, to observe Europe and its cousins with similar distance and disdain. Shamshad opens his arms with great egalitarian ease to other cultures. There are possibilities of dialogue here between artists whose worlds jump over Western Europe without quite bypassing it.
These paintings are characterised by a conjunction of disparate worlds. This derives in part, no doubt, from the hybrid nature of Creolian reality - but it is echoed nevertheless, not only in the characters who populate these paintings - the elegant lady who walks past the display window, with a coloured servant in tow: the man who stands on a ladder, tending a yellow parakeet… It is echoed also in the social and political resonances evoked by these paintings. The black servant, a step behind her mistress, carrying the shopping, the stern, inflexible mother firmly instructing her daughter who, arms pressed against her knees, listens timidly, military uniforms and doctor’s overalls conspiring together in a room that portends an ominous future or has traces of a dark past. Whose photographs are pasted on the bare wall? Those who have disappeared or those who are wanted? If there is love and longing in these frames, there is also hierarchy and intimidation.
Put all these paintings together and they form a single, large triptych. Its first panel portrays an exclusively outer world with tropical forests, banana trees and parakeets. Nothing European here. The middle panel has bodies and objects with a European look and demeanor in a half-outer, half-inner social World. In the third panel, we retreat altogether into inner spaces, even into the mind and the soul. As we do so, we enter a modern European aesthetic sensibility, into world of Monet and Proust.
Or consider the ‘Mediterranean’ triptych. The left panel depicts a spare room, in a manner reminiscent of Van Gogh; the middle panel has an empty hammock in the foreground, but the window opens on to a landscape that is distinctly European in feel, of a piece with another window that opens on to a church set in a lush green landscapes; the right panel is suddenly maritime - it shows a yacht on a blue sea, suggestive of lazy summer days. Yet there is another boat, in which a mysterious black clad man sits, and in the foreground there glimmers the figure of a drowned man. There must be a story, of course. But then this prolific, fecund universe, there could be many more.