Sikhs in Shillong: An artist who flew over the goldsmith’s nest
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Sikhs in Shillong: An artist who flew over the goldsmith’s nest

The kindergarten for famed sculptor Prithipal Singh Ladi was his father’s jewellery shop in the Bara Bazaar

india Updated: Jun 04, 2018 23:03 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Shillong
A sculpture by Prithipal Singh Ladi.(HT Photo)

As a child, renowned sculptor Prithipal Singh Ladi’s favourite haunt was his father Santokh Singh’s jewellery shop, “Singh Jewellers” in Shillong’s Bara Bazaar. Fascinated, he would watch the goldsmiths beating the metal and shaping delicate ornaments that were put on display in the showcases.

When a little older, he would go there and try to shape bits of metal into objects. His calling was decided but he completed schooling at the local St Anthony’s School and went onto to do college in the same institution with special interest in chemistry. “After completing college, I told my father that I wanted to study art and he agreed without any fuss or insistence that I join the family business. He always kept the aptitude of his younger siblings and children in mind and encouraged them to make their own life.”

So, he moved to MS University, Baroda, to study art. He came into contact with leading artists and received a training which enhanced the beauty of the environment that he has grown in. He graduated with distinction and won several awards in his early years from the Gujarat State Academy at Ahmedabad and AIFACS (All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society) at New Delhi and the coveted National Award came to him in 1981. This was followed by a scholarship to study art at Ecole Superieure des Beaux Arts, Paris.

In a recent trip to Shillong, I learn by chance that Ladi is there at his house on Bomfyle Road. This comes as a surprise and I go to visit him for my last encounter with this boy with his special mark was way back in 1984 when he made a memorable sculpture in an art camp organised by Vivan Sundaram in his Ivy Cottage at Kasauli.

Get past the yellow gate and into a compound with tall trees, one first encounters a pack of dogs and puppies that he keeps around him. A much mellowed person with his slender frame, Ladi has come a long way when he had sculpted beautifully a melting letter box. One recalls his large jewelled dragonflies a reference point to the butterflies of Cherrapunji and a pretty maiden reclining in a wishing well.

Walk into the living room and on the table he has sculpted a life-size bust of his father. The home is somewhat lonely with his parents and elder brother gone and his son Muskan studying in Munich with his mother who was a German kathak dancer and his partner in his years in Delhi.

But the work goes on and Ladi, somewhat disenchanted with the extended family, in the last series made sculpture inspired by Noah’s Arch. The work has his innovative stamp as he sculpts in see-through boxes indicated just by the ribbons. “I was always very fond of animals, nature and its flora and fauna. So this is what I have gathered in a cargo of sorts,” he says.

The work is breathtakingly beautiful in concept and execution as miniature jewelled golden fish, sheep, dears, dogs, elephants, hens with eggs and blossoms resting on stems remind one of the wonder and innocence of creation.

In his studio are angels fashioned from discarded toothpaste tubes, harpic cleansing bottles turned into the human form and many more creatures coming up in gilded beauty. Several of his mother’s pictures clipped to a string and one knows another bust is in the making as this artist who flew over the goldsmith’s nest creates midst dream and reality.

“The choice was between moving to Munich or returning to Shillong and I chose the latter. Earlier, my son would visit me twice a year and we would holiday together. But now with his studies and work, we meet once a year,” he says. However, friends and artists come to him and even work there and Ladi says: “I was always a work-alone sculptor, but I do go to camps and workshops and enjoy them.” Otherwise it is “ekla chalo” for this gentle soul who has done Shillong proud.

First Published: Jun 04, 2018 22:53 IST