Aabid Surti was well-known in the art world. But the veteran 75-year-old artist has kept away from art exhibitions since 1982. “After a certain point, exhibiting artworks became economically unviable for me. I was mentally disturbed due to personal problems and couldn’t continue showcasing in galleries,” Surti says.
Now 29 years later, no one recognises him or his work. In December 2010, Surti decided to make a comeback. “I am too old to run around galleries and do the paperwork. Hence, I enlisted the help of a private firm to find me the right gallery,” Surti adds.
Over the years, the artist earned a livelihood by painting and making murals for individual buyers. He has completed 30 canvasses since 1982. “I wanted to sell these paintings through an exhibition, but to my surprise, no one was willing to showcase my works.” Till date, Surti’s representative firm, EventGuru, has contacted 17 galleries across the city, including Tao Art Gallery (Worli), Moksh Art Gallery (Kala Ghoda), Jamaat (Colaba) and Sakshi Art Gallery (Apollo Bunder) but there has been no response.
Other galleries like Jehangir Art Gallery, Museum Art Gallery and Artist Centre, all located in Kala Ghoda, are open to the general public, but charge between Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 for exhibiting for a week or longer. Additional costs like advertising, marketing and PR have to be incurred by the artist. Surti says he’s unable to pay these expenses due to shortage of funds. “My next step was to approach private galleries. But they showcase works of artists only by invitation,” he asserts. Private galleries don’t charge a fee, but take a commission of about 40 percent on every piece that’s sold. They even take care of the marketing and PR.
Now struggling to find a space for his work, Surti has showcased at 16 exhibitions in India and abroad in his career. In the ’70s, he invented an innovative technique called ‘mirror collage’ which won him recognition in Japan. In ’71, the Indian government even commissioned a short film to showcase his creative work. He has also written about 80 novels. As a screenwriter he has been associated with directors like Raj Khosla and Raj Kapoor on film projects and as a playwright, he has penned seven plays.
As a cartoonist, he created the lovable simpleton ‘Dabbuji’. The highly original and popular cartoon strip has been one of the longest-running comic strips in India, running without a break for over 30 years. Surti has also created another popular comic book character, ‘Bahadur’, which achieved cult status in the 1970s.