‘Made in Shade’: Towards an Art of the People

Cocooned in the bustling by-lanes of Connaught Place in New Delhi is the Dhoomimal Art Gallery. The exhibition in vogue in the gallery these days is called ‘Made in Shade’ and is a collection of paintings by Ashok Bhowmick curated by Monika Ajay Kaul. The exhibition began on June 10 and will continue till July 9.

In the 1940s-50s, the Dhoomimal Art gallery was an adda of struggling artists; artists who had a hard time procuring pricey art supplies and who then found refuge and companionship in Dhoomimal’s owner, Shri Ram Babu Jain. The gallery became one of the most frequented places for the art world in the capital and hence, many ideas and artists emerged out of its corridors to give it the stature it enjoys today of being an intimate place to create and showcase one’s art.

The entrance of the gallery has a small wooden-glass door. The immediate verandah is lined with finished and half-finished sculptures. As one takes a careful walk in between the stone figurines, a straight cum meandering staircase leads into the main premises of the gallery. It is divided into three floors and every floor comprises of corridors and rooms housing the paintings of the ongoing art exhibition.

Relaxed after-work hours on weekdays or a breezy-easy Saturday can be spent sauntering in the halls of Dhoomimal to look at ‘Made in Shade’, the paintings of which give one the sense of being the art of the people, art which depicts a comfortable co-existence of human life with nature and vice versa. A recurring theme in Bhowmick’s paintings is how nature and human beings stay in effortless harmony with each other. A little bird rests on the top of the head or on the shoulder of almost every figure drawn, depicting how in the larger scheme of things or even during business as usual, the beaked creature finds a place amidst human life.

The jester, as is the name of one of the paintings, shows him to be adorned with elaborate head gear as he looks at a bird sitting on his shoulder very keenly, as if almost talking to her. For a person whose job is to make people laugh and almost always think in terms of humour – which to many may seem to be a rather superficial emotion, is shown to have a deeply touching moment with the bird on his shoulder blade. Humour is not the only thing he is made up of. The juxtaposition of the inner dwellings of a jester with his outward actions reaches the onlookers through the bird that rests on his side.  Many of the paintings in the exhibition are also inspired by Warli art of which nature forms a prominent component.

Another subject is a bull. When looked at closely, it is as stoic and stolid, but at the same time it is not intimidating or terrorising. The softness of its eyes and the calmness emanating from the blunt edges of its face are brought out very skilfully on the canvas, so much so that an almost human touch is attributed to the animal.

Amina and the bird are a third category of the paintings. While in one of the firsts, Amina, the little girl is shown trying to befriend the bird perching on her shoulder with some conscious distance and reserve, in the later paintings, she is shown to have transitioned into full comfort in the bird’s presence. While in the first, we see an Amina with a disciplined braid and a closed off body language while interacting with the bird, in a subsequent painting we see a freer Amina, with open hair, body more spread out and flexible while holding the bird in her hand. This fluid comfort with nature is what marks the uniqueness of Bhowmick’s paintings.

Individualism is also a striking theme of the paintings. One named as a procession of masks, shows a single mask with a perplexed expression plonked on the downward side and several other masks with varying emotions of happiness, sadness, wickedness, playfulness placed in the upward side – bringing out how all of these happy/sad/wicked/playful aspects are the different sides of the same individual and it is the many masks that one wears or sheds in life.

Bold reds, yellows and maroons form the background of the canvas in the paintings and the figures are painted with shades of grey and brown, and this contrast aids in highlighting the subjects of the paintings to the eyes as well as to the mind.

Bhowmick’s paintings have a subaltern flavour, they are the paintings of regular people who lead an everyday life with dreams and joys that they want to live and achieve. The individual and the pursuit of an identity is a major theme of the paintings, much like what the people of the contemporary times are involved in finding.

“My art does not terrorise or intimidate by being larger than life, rather the idea is to meet the audience as if they are meeting themselves through my paintings,” says Bhowmick.

Malvika Sharad works as a communications associate at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, New Delhi.

All images have been provided by the author.