Dated: 22nd July 1969
My dear Krishen,
. . . Geeta’s thesis has some interesting points (given only read one of the papers!) in which she discards the hegemony of European attitude over us. She has bravely criticised the attitudes and operations in the world of art that has put Western art in the front line. Her next paper was on the criticism of the history built up by historians, both academic and instant. I am more interested in the issue and am looking forward to read the final copy of this paper.
I know the art circle in Delhi will not accept her yet, though I consider she possesses all the abilities to be either the director of the National Gallery of Modern Art, or the secretary of the Lalit Kala Akademi. I’ve even suggested her to apply for the N. gallery, which I know, she would not, considering the improbability of the selection and because of her age. Don’t you think it’s high time we’ve young people like her with us in the administration? Even at one point I myself decided to apply for the first post, but after a second thought, considered Geeta to be a better candidate: a more out-going personality like her would certainly do better than my introverted enthusiasm.
. . . Your article in ‘Citizen’, that I read only yesterday. Looking at the situation, I feel in all earnestness, your attitude, totally unfair and unjust. The younger painters may be naively ambitious (and unfortunately gullible too) in their approach to whatever kind of recognition they desire. To consider this as a subject of harsh criticism (as you’ve done in your ‘report’) and to patronise are the two factors that could be most crippling to the younger artists (students in this case) of today. To ask them to paint on walls and on buses sounds absurd. Who are the very ‘serious painters’ of the country, who have done this as a rebel? Where are the painters now, who are not sale-conscious? I’m sure, even when the price of paintings ranged from 150 to 250 (It’s not gone much for a new painter of today!) the painter was as much conscious of this sale as he is today; because, if he was not, he would not have been ‘successful’ as he is today: the luck and sincerity are not the sole causes of the recognition of the established painters of today! . . .
To: Krishen Khanna, 3 - B, Mathura Road, New Delhi
From: Gulam Sheikh, 4 Residency Bungalow, Baroda - 2
Dated: 17th October 1969
. . . Did you read the review of Max Muller Bhavan exhibition? See, they all think you are some sort of dilettante not knowing what to exhibit in an exhibition of paintings? The reviews are symptomatic of the growing number of self-made critics or philistines.
Our magazine is due next month (that reminds me that I’ve not yet sent my contribution to ‘The Citizen’ - I shall do it soon) - a pamphlet of four pages featuring art notes, poems and a short write-up on recent riots. The riots were the most inhuman and cruellest, and we all protested it from the college - donated Rs 5000/- for the specific re-habilitation work and offered ourselves as volunteers and blood-donors. We read your letters in the Times, who didn’t find our letter worth publishing!
I hear Swami has gone to Sao Paolo - thanks to your efforts, but it is sad to hear that you’ve resigned from the L.K. There will hardly be a dissenting voice against the old foggies now! Are you going to write to the Akademi on the press, the reasons of your resignation? I think you must do this. . . .
Dated: 13th January 1970
. . . Next number of Vrishchik is in press with drawings of Nagji Patel and reviews of a Hindi film: Anmol Moti. After that we are looking forward to Swami’s open letter to artists for the next issue. The responses to Vrishchik are very good and heartening. . . .
To: Krishen Khanna, 3-B, Mathura Road, New Delhi - 14
From: Gulammohammed Sheikh, B/2, Shirali Apartments, Fatehgunj, Baroda - 2
Dated: 14th July 1973
. . . I think it’s a sign of health to talk, to be able to talk to others about one’s own work. It’s a pity that artists in this country do not seem to enjoy this. Partially because there’s a fear of expressing in words - as if the great beauty of the painted vision would vanish - if they used words! I would love to go through the correspondence you’ve had with Husain and others, it would give me some perspective into the minds of these artists.
. . . The contents of your new paintings are very interesting - and I am curious to know how you have painted the Yadavas! It’s a unique subject and relevant to the times we live in - at least in terms of politics.
I am glad you are still holding on to protest - in your own way. It’s necessary that some (if not many) still stand on their words and convictions. But I think it’s also necessary to Vivan, you and Swami to make some statement regarding the position you take as office-bearer of the Protest Committee.
. . . I am painting: this one about my home where I spent my childhood with the imagery which I recall continually in dreams as well as in reality. Today, looking back on the time spent in an environment - which seems to have become remote - gives me a sense of probing - it gives me a centre from where I can spread my tentacles to sniff into various corners. It is motivate by a desire to find the meaning of belonging, if there’s any. I am using language of Persian and early Mughal (Hamza-Nameh) paintings in order to find a relevance to this sensibility.
I am planning a series of etchings on similar themes and hope to complete it in a year or two. . . .
To: Krishen Khanna, Ravensdale, Simla - 2
From: Gulam Sheikh, B/2, Shirali Apartments, Fatehgunj, Baroda - 2
Dated: 31st July 1973
. . . It is pity that Kunika is closing down - no decent, straight gallery in the capital! . . .
To: Krishen Khanna, 3-B, Mathura Road, New Delhi - 14
From: Gulam Sheikh, B/2 Shirali Apartments, Fatehgunj, Baroda - 2
Dated: 10th September 1973
. . . I had received your round robin letter (Swami never sent it to me), which I found relevant in general, but did not agree with some of the points, like considering Richard as an innocent art critic, or friend of artists. I think he too is responsible for perpetuating the phoney LKA by being party to its policy (How could he have voted for or not protested again when Vimal Kumar was chosen as an eminent artist of India to be in the exe. of LKA?) and his personal interest (aspiring to be its secretary and perhaps a commissioner for the Triennale too!) in joining the LKA are quite clear. He is here in Baroda and I have given him enough firing - as well as telling him that if he really wants to prove his sincerity, he should try to become instrumental in opening a dialogue between the LKA and the protesting artists, instead of trying to break the unity of protestingartistsby personally canvassing on the National exhibition. I shall elaborate my views on all this in Vrishchik. . . .
From: Gulam Sheikh, Baroda - 2
Dated: 25th July 1977
. . . I am glad you have decided to write about your experiences etc. of the forties, fifties and later. Do not hesitate to write if you require any help in editing etc., in case you are planning a publication. . . .
To: Krishen Khanna, 57 A, Friends Colony - East, New Delhi
From: Gulam Sheikh, 4 Residency Bungalow, M.S. University, Baroda - 2
Dated: 7th June 1990
. . . The obituary you wrote on Nasreen was carried by the Ahmedabad edition here along with Keshav Malik’s (who erred in describing the pen and ink drawings as pencil drawings). I too wrote an article in Gujarati (carried by a local paper ‘Loksatta’) to reach out to a large number of non-artists friends Nasreen had. And it did really reach some of them. The egg-man and the post man were the first callers after reading it. She also had a number of ‘friends’ amongst the auto-rickshaw drivers who invariably gave her lifts and waited long hours without complain. I do hope the news has reached them too.
On the 17th the artists and other friends met at her residence where we displayed a drawing, two of her portraits, spread a lot of white flowers on her working table, watered the plants in her balcony, played Lalat of Bhimsen Joshi and sat in silence a few hours in the morning and in the evening. At dusk when her white abode darkened, the shadows and her memory engulfed us. She had given so much to so many.
We hear from Shrilekha that she died suddenly and peacefully and her grave is facing the sea. Neena Sabnami, a close friend of Nasreen showed photographs (to Nilu) of the grave and the environs which includes some small trees and white-white little mosque against the expanse of the sea. The way she arranged the series of photographs of the sea (at the time of the exhibition of women artists in Bombay last week for Nilu) they seemed to give the view Nasreen would take of the world from where she sleeps. The expanse of the sea stretching on two sides and pulled forward toward the grave made a vast triangle Nasreen so often used in her drawings. Some day we should all gather our heads together and mount another, this time a posthumous show, like the one held at Art Heritage in 87. Or perhaps bring out a book in her memory. . . .
Date and address not mentioned
. . . With this letter you’ll find a typed manuscript (regrets to bad typing) you prepared at my request two years ago in Baroda about your work. I would like to start a series in Vrishchik ‘Artists on Art’ with articles, interviews etc. by and with artists along with one or two reproductions of their work. If you would like to work on this ms or have any comments let us know soon. If you can prepare a revised or elaborated ms, please let me have it at least by the end of this month with at least two BxW photographs of your recent work. And if you prefer to have longer time, please also write.
We had a wonderful time in Dalhousie and fruitful too. I finished a small painting, made final selection of my Gujarati poems to be published next month and made extensive notes on tradition & modernity - a topic I may take up for my doctoral theses next year. I would like to discuss various problems regarding cont. Indian art and its relationship to traditional art in that. Back here, I am painting and also preparing to set up print-making unit at home (I’m buying an etching press). . .
Date and address not mentioned
. . . I personally think that first of all a mass protest by artists all over India should be organised - and then presented or published. If Akademi does not change its policy or heed to our demand - we must boycott the Akademi and the Triennale. This should not be a gesture of stray individuals, all artists - or all practicing artists and writers on art should do it. And if we decide to boycott the Akademi - a counter exhibition should also be planned as a positive answer, this I think is a must. Do let me know your views. Please discuss these with Tyeb, Husain and others and send all the suggestions as early as possible. Also as I’ve mentioned in the inland letter, please also write, why you left the Lalit Kala, etc. We’ll publish all this in the next number of Vrishchik. . . .
Dated: 19th (month & year not mentioned)
. . . As against your new ‘nude’, my theme on this side is ‘couple in landscape’, or ‘trees’. Trees are incredibly human, and our limbs are literally tree-trunks, I feel. They are a passage between humans and beasts, but their quietude resemble the silence of our soul. . . .
Dated: 23rd (month & year not mentioned)
. . . Good to know about you photographic show. The critics usually prove themselves unworthy of the positions they hold in this country by virtue of their ability to scribble! I was surprised to read a remark made by Richard on what I’ve been writing on the work of artists (Jeram, Pateria etc.). He’s disturbed that I’ve indulged in this ‘messy business of the appraisals of the new and established artists!’ What does this show? Does he consider himself the only torch holder or some sort of a chieftain - or is he guarding himself against all possible ‘invasions’ of incoming writers?. . .
Dated: 28th-29th (month and year not mentioned)
. . . I’m sure she’ll make a very good choice for the jury and she must get time to do the job: persuade her. But I see the improbability of her selection by the bureaucrats of the Akademi: in any case do suggest her name. If not, suggest a painter’s name: Subramanayan, Swami, Akbar or Tyeb. I shall be most pleased if anyone of them got selected. If not we must protest and publish it wherever we can. I shall join you whole-heartedly - I’m sure Bhupen & others too will join in. . . .