A rurban gaze: Madhvi Parekh show packs in five decades of ‘folk modern’ art
Her work has the simplicity and spontaneity that is the mark of high art. In the Indian context, it provides a vital bridge between the urban and the rural.
This weekend, Madhvi Parekh’s first retrospective exhibition opens at the Kala Ghoda gallery DAG. The show, titled The Curious Seeker, features 60 paintings and several sketchbooks covering over five decades of the self-taught artist’s illustrious career.
These include Parekh’s early drawings influenced by abstractionism, paintings filled with vivid imageries of female deities, and scenes of everyday rural life. It also features her monumental, five-panelled piece, The Last Supper (2011), inspired by the da Vinci masterpiece.
“Madhviji has a distinctive style that has been likened to folk art, yet has not evolved from any of the indigenous traditions that we are familiar with,” says Kishore Singh, who has curated the exhibition and is president and head of exhibitions and publications at DAG.
Brought up in Sanjaya, a village in Gujarat, Parekh’s tryst with the canvas began under the tutelage of her husband, the Modernist Manu Parekh, who saw in her rangolis and paint torans a proclivity for art. “He would give me drawing exercises. I would get bored and start creating human figures with those shapes – a face in a circle, a square body, triangles turned into hands and feet,” Madhvi says.
She went on to paint human figures interspersed with vivid designs, patterns and scenes that reflected childhood memories. Elements of the Behrupiya tradition of masked artistes, for instance, seep into the exaggerated, painted faces of her human figures.
Parekh lived in Mumbai from 1962 to ’64, but it was Kolkata that influenced her work most, the artist says. The Parekhs lived there from 1964 to ’75, before settling in Delhi.
A book on the artist, also titled …The Curious Seeker, will be available at the venue. It features images of her works and essays by art curator Gayatri Sinha, art historian Annapurna Garimella and Singh on her oeuvre and its place in the larger context of Modernist art in India.
As Singh puts it in his essay, Madhvi should be seen as a natural successor of the Folk-Modernist tradition that Jamini Roy started at the turn of the last century.
“We have been schooled into looking at art only from a Western perspective, which is flawed in the Indian context,” Singh adds. “Jamini Roy recognised this and rejected the realism of their practice to arrive at a distinctive style that shows influences of folk art… [Madhvi’s] rawness is her most potent tool in the making of art that is equally unique and recognisably her own.”
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