Painter Madhvi Parekh to showcase her works at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai

Updated: Aug 05, 2018, 13:49 IST | Benita Fernando

The first retrospective of Madhvi Parekh is set to shed new light on the artist, who has been described as inhabiting both folk traditions and a modern aesthetic

Painter Madhvi Parekh to showcase her works at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai
Untitled (Durga II) (2006) by Madhvi.

I am not a folk artist nor does my work belong to an established aesthetic movement of modern art, though one often reads quotes from Paul Klee or Picasso. I keep transgressing between two worlds — one of my rural inheritance, and that of universal modern art practice," says Madhvi Parekh.

We know Madhvi best as the New Delhi-based painter whose works have a certain rawness to them, even as they employ India's indigenous folk traditions and have a strong sense of design. Looking at her works, there is that simultaneous feeling of familiarity, yet strangeness — strongly reminiscent of folk traditions while finding a modern aesthetic. Now, there is a chance to see the full span of her artistic practice through a retrospective to be held at DAG in Kala Ghoda this month.

Painter Madhvi Parekh. Pics/DAG
Painter Madhvi Parekh. Pics/DAG

Born in Sanjaya, a village in Gujarat, Madhvi turned to art after her marriage to artist Manu Parekh. The retrospective, titled Madhvi Parekh: The Curious Seeker, is set to open on August 10, and will trace five decades of her painterly career. The retrospective, a first for the artist, was earlier shown in New Delhi last year. The curator, Kishore Singh, says, "Madhviji occupies an unusual space within the matrix of Indian art." Singh elaborates that India has a rich and unbroken culture of various indigenous art forms, but colonial rule has posed it as an outlier. "This is so terrible. Indigenous art is thriving and represents a voice that needs to be heard and seen. That said, I argue that Madhviji's art has an instinctive and childlike simplicity and spontaneity that is difficult to achieve under academic duress.

The only artist who was able to achieve this was Jamini Roy, who turned his back on Western art training to embrace the local vernacular. Madhvi has an edge over him, being unschooled, thereby retaining a rawness in her work that is refreshing," he says.

The retrospective gives the audience the chance to explore her early drawings, rendered under her husband's tutelage when he showed her works by Paul Klee, moving on the more sophisticated ground when her works began to feature alongside those of Nilima Sheikh and Arpita Singh. Madhvi says that the influence of her life is apparent throughout the works in The Curious Seeker. "Incidents and memories from of my life in Sanjaya filter clearly into a lot of the works as do my experiences in the urban centres of Mumbai, Kolkata, and New Delhi, and the art camps at Kasauli as well as travels to museums abroad," she says.

She adds that the retrospective shows how she stayed consistent even as there were a range of subjects that interested her, like motherhood, mythology, capturing the movements of a flying man or a dancer, and, most recently, The Last Supper.

A passing glance at Madhvi's work may make it seem that there is an abundance of religious motifs, but Singh says that's not the case. "Yes, there are goddesses and flying figures that may arise from our mythological understanding, but in her paintings, these figures co-exist beside animals and objects such as ladders that have faces. She connects all things in life with nature. She observes life as we – you and I – see it, and from that emerge her works as a reflection of our selves. Fantasy forms its grammar," he says.

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