India's modern art scene loses its father figure

It is not easy being a budding artist, unless you find somebody like Kekoo Gandhy in your fledgling years.

As students of JJ School of Art, we first met Kekoo at our annual exhibition, and he encouraged us to invite him more often and asked us to stop by exhibitions at Chemould Prescott Road.

Atul Dodiya with Kekoo Gandhy

I remember, just before Kekoo was to arrive, his driver would walk in carrying his bag. Kekoo would show up almost half an hour later, and, by then, at least 10 people would be waiting for him at the entrance — artists, political figures, social workers poets and writers.

I remember it was 1988 and the 25th anniversary of Chemould Gallery. I was exhibiting four works as part of an exhibition, which had SH Raza as one of the biggest participants. All my paintings were sold. That day I found a mentor and a father figure in Kekoo.

When I told him about how my father had encouraged my decision to take up art, he called him up and expressed his delight. Whenever he spotted a beautiful-looking lady at a show, he would look at me and give me a wink. “I’ll go and attend to her”, he’d tell me and walk off.

With Kekoo’s demise, the modern art scene in India has lost a father figure.

Artist Anju Dodiya remembers Gandhy as an animated man who respected the artist above everyone else 

My exhibition, Room For Erasures, which was held last month at Chemould Prescott Road was the last opening Kekoo Gandhy attended. He held my hand tightly for support and was just as animated and thoughtful as he was the first time I met him 26 years ago at my first show at Jehangir Art Gallery in May 1986.

Anju Dodiya with Kekoo Gandhy

Often, Kekoo spoke engagingly on serious issues, and then, suddenly, there would be a twinkle in his eye and he would get playful. Kekoo was liberal and democratic — he was all about the art, never its business. He held strong stands on important art matters. In 2001, he spoke passionately at a protest outside Jehangir Art Gallery against the attacks on MF Husain's work. The giants of Indian art — Tyeb Mehta, SH Reza and MF Husain — had the deepest regard for him, because Kekoo never interfered with an artist’s work. According to him, the artist could not be wrong and he imposed no rules on their art at his gallery.¬†

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