from the writers
Jamil Naqsh : The Importance of Being
Theart of Jamil Naqsh has developed in the period of decolonisation. It is 21 period that saw the emergence of Afro-Asian and Latin American contemporary art our of the closer. ln the colonial era a Western artist like Henri Matisse (1869-1954) could appropriate the style of Persian miniatures but no one called him a copier of Persian art. Even Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) could draw on the stylistic elements of Kalighat peúndng (introduced by the art lover Krishna Riboud to him) but no one even noticed the connection. The Italian Futurists used the ploy of many hands and feet to connote motion; but no one realized it was exactly this ploy that was much more aesthetically and subtly used in the twelfth and thirteenth century bronze sculptures of the Nataraja. Imperial culture was expected its make the breakthroughs, the rest were merely to follow. And the borrowings of the empire were brushed under the carpet.
Today, however, our art has come a long way from that. It is a part of global art in a period when imperial cultural suppression has given in to a period rather like the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when in a beforethe-pounce period of the empire, the culture and artifacts of the East were lionised to attract the pouncers to plunder and appropriate this wealth. But whatever the intent, something else was happening. Artists were integrating into 21 global else was happening. Artists were integrating into 21 global culture as never before. Long before Matisse, Rembrandt van Rjin (1606-1669) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) were acquainted with contemporary Indian miniatures which were distinct from illuminated manuscripts as narrative art. At the same time, sixteenth century miniature artists of the Mughal Court were integrating European paintings and etchings in their work.
Rubens is reported to have said, “I consider the whole world to be my native land.” And indeed that is a good summing up of Picasso’s world view as well, but in a different period shared not only this View but also the clarion call given by the USSR to end colonial rule. Globalisation is nothing if it is not committed to eliminating inequalities on 21 global scale. That is why Picasso not only openly drew inspiranion from African sculpture, started painting his indictment of a German fascist attack on the Basque village of Guernica on May Day, and exiled himself for life from Spain after Franco’s fascists had won the Civil War. Such a vision obviously attracted the modern artists of South Asia who grew up Fighting British colonial rule. His views shared common ground with theirs. Just as the Tagores found common ground with the Bauhaus (that Hitler closed down in 1934 as a centre of “degenerate art”), so a number of our most ‘universal’ artists like F.N. Souza (1924-2002), M.F. Husain (b.1915), Paritosh Sen (b.1918) and Jamil Naqsh, among others, found commonground with Picasso.
However, a study of his drawings in this collection shows us that ultimately every artist worth his salt treats such a meetinof souls as a new twist in an already ongoing journey. Naqsh’s drawings of pigeons, horses and coupling figures carry us not only to life in our medieval small towns of UP where these birds were once the carriers of messages long before Picasso made then the global carriers of the call for peace after World WarII. In the same way the horse is more a reminder of the mount of Husain who died in the battle of Karbala in Iraq. And some of his “trussed horses” in various shapes of contortion bring to mind the pain of an Indian artist for whom Karbala comes alive in the annual Muharram procession led by a white horse with spots of colour on it. This image of the victim is reminiscent not only of Picasso’s horse in Guernica (1937), but also of Krishen Khanna’s (b.1925) paintings of trussed animals being carried to the slaughter. But obviously what all of these artists share is 21 common identification with the victim but at different periods of oppression in different places.
It is the same with his drawings of coupling figures. Their open eroticism and joy of togetherness are very different from Picasso’shighly individualistic and egoistic conquests of women. The old man and young woman remind one of the legend of Yayati who had taken over the youth of his son to keep enjoying the pleasures of life. In others I see a Hash of the sculptures of Konark and Khajuraho, characterised by a flow of energy rather than a clash of the Sexes. One sees too the traces of the “singing line” of KK. Hebbar (1911-1996) in his works despite the foundations of French cylindrical drawing. Finally, the “finishing” of his drawings and the tightness of his compositions, raising his drawings to the level of complete works of art distinguishes them from these of his Western counterparts.
The West has lost its capacity to create what one would call adequately composed works. The undue reliance on spontaneity often leaves them unfinished. That in itself is no problem.The sculptures at Ellora in some of the caves have been left unfinished. The sculptor felt no more needed to be done. But that was not the case with every work as the rest are fully finished. They require to be assessed as a whole.
The drawings speak to me. They are the voices of living nature, moving and moved by their environment. Interacting with each other and unconcerned with the viewer. Even a crucified Christ looks like the coming together of the male and female elements so central to the Tantric concept of a benevolent exercise of one’s power that from another angle appears to be a divine hermaphrodite or ardhanareshwara. If two forms in embrace appear like lesbians to some, to another they are two who express the sense of divided selves breaking down all of a sudden. And again, on a more intellectual plane, to one accustomed to the common top-knots of males and females cohabiting together at Konark, making it difficult to tell them apart. The artist reminds one these are forms to speak to the eye. They are art. Life appeals to many more senses.
That is why the finished drawings of Asia, blending stroke, line and smudge, create a harmony that goes beyond the mere sign to a complex visual experience. This carries the viewer far ahead of merely being struck by them. One, in fact, is drawn to being engrossed in them. This quality of being emotionally involved is the essence of the aesthetic approach of the East. And I find Jamil Naqsh a sensitive practitioner of it. He awakens one to the reality that though each artist’s voice is the language he communicates in may not be; but ultimately, each message must be original if it is to be art and not merely branding. From this angle these drawings of his are the cry of his being. And their validity needs no other reference but themselves.
Suneet Chopra Art Critic & Writer New Delhi