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The Teacher and the Taught

"One who attempts to teach on the mere basis of reference is an instructor. One who combines the referential knowledge with his logic and tries sincerely to experience the ultimate and teaches only what he has experienced is a teacher or Acharya. But, a Guru is one who has the absolute experience of truth and hence, complete knowledge. And such a person himself will become a source of reference and the ground of logic for others. Hence, every Guru is a teacher or rather 'The Teacher'. Because, only the one who has experienced the truth in full, is authorized to teach it to others." 

Yogasharya Venkatesh

Paradoxes, pluralities and hybridities. These are recurring leitmotifs, that appear whenever we consider the question of what constitutes 'Indian'. Right from the dawn of civilisation, from the Indus-Harappan period moving into the twenty-first century, India has never been constant. Turbulent, constant and phlegmatic by degrees, India has been in a state of constant flux. A flux, which is very much a part of its own inherent consciousness.

Sayed Haider Raza is one of India's great icons. Founder of the Bombay Progressives, Raza rose like a meteor in the modernity of Indian art and in the contemporaneity of Indian art he stands as a metaphor for timelessness. Time and again on his frequent annual visits to India, Raza speaks of the inner vitality and inner dynamism of India. The energy, the spirit and quintessence of the land of his birth dominate his personal space, from which emerges his external space, the canvas. At the turn of the century Raza's visits have become more and more frequent. It is towards India that he looks for his creativity to unfold.

He is an artist who is exploring the quintessential spirit of what it is to be an Indian. He has created a personal language through spirituality, colour and abstraction. An abstraction very different from the abstract expressionism of the west rooted in the spirit of India.

He is absorbed with simple elementary forms which speak a universal language, and yet are symbols and metaphors for his own visual vocabulary. Beginning with the 'bindu' which was his introduction to art by his school teacher Nandlalji Jhariya in the village of Kakaiya, the 'bindu' has a variety of meanings for him. From the 'shoonya' which is the unmanifest to the 'bindu' which is the manifest, the circular form is the beginning and the end for Raza. And it is these simple, not simplistic metaphors that dot his personal visual vocabulary.

Raza began with an enchantment with the western world, western landscapes, figurative constructs that gradually evolved into a uniquely personal vocabulary. Like a 'yogi' like a 'sadhak' a person striving towards excellence, Raza pursued his artistic vision relentlessly. Time and space had a magnetic draw for Raza. Time in the Indian context, of circular, the bindu, spaces of geometricity of yantra.

Pure forms, pure colour are a recurring theme in Raza's work. The impact of colour is direct and emotional, which is one reason colour can form the basis of a universal system of symbolism that goes beyond the narrow confines of language. Particularly within the framework of traditional Indian aesthetics, colour is imbued with deep symbolism. Raza exploits colour with extraordinary acuity and an almost painful insight. Each colour almost describing a state of emotional being. Colour has been explored and celebrated throughout the length and breadth of India from the glorious caves at Ajanta to the contemporary Indian artist's peculiar sensitivity and understanding of tints and hues. From the age of the Mughal Miniatures, where the essence of the Indian miniaturists' visual expression lay in the idea of symbolism, often employing colour as the vehicle of expression to the colour symbolism that was to draw its inspiration from Tantrik ritual in Pala painting, it is Raza who stands apart as the undisputed master of hues. Colour symbolism is a distinguishing trait of the Tantra art form. Different elements and hypothetical feelings are ascribed symbols of different colours in Occultism. White, red and blue are the principal colours with a particular figure assuming the symbol to describe different feelings according to its colour. Tantrik Art is thus unique in its provision for independent colour expression with reference to diverse symbols. It is easy to put the label of 'tantrik' or 'neo tantrik' to his work, but for Raza it is the elements which engage him. He exists in that forgotten realm where labels have no meaning or purpose. A dance of poetry, music and colour is described in canvases that celebrate the full-blooded delight and joy in discovering colour and form, their myriad possibilities, the various 'avatars' or emanations, moods and temperaments that lead the viewer into the artist's secret space. A painter who has retained his Indian sensibility in spite of several decades spent on foreign shores, his is an impassioned language of colour and form. His images are discoveries on a fundamental theme: the mapping out of a metaphorical space in the mind, which is India.

Traversing with colour was the beginning of Raza's oeuvre and it is still the high point in his work. His preoccupation with colour and form remains steadfast but the manifestations change along the path. The journey begins with lush fecund landscapes. The rare human figure dissolves into the background, a cog in a greater wheel. Luxuriant greens, shimmering ultramarines, scorching yellows and ochres, clement oranges, mysterious purples, searing reds and van dykes, calm blues, virginal whites and warm creams echo the colours of the Indian countryside.

The journey continues with an air of supreme self-confidence, a concretisation of purpose. Sacredness appears, sanctity, absorption, a reverence to his medium and colours, which are his tools of expression. Raza's art practice now is characterized by an almost deafening quiet, a calm composed of clarity and lucidity, as stark and austere, as it is uplifting and restful. The premeditation and foresight that are the particular hallmark of this most gifted of artists achieve a pinnacle of realization. Colours ebb and flow away with the conviction of experience, taking with them their distractions and temptations. What remains is a profoundly ascetic, silent image that resounds with a frequency all its own.

As part of a natural progression, the master seeks to bestow the knowledge so hard won to a new generation. One that will take the teacher's learnings and chart a new course. The connections between Sujata Bajaj and Raza are tenuous but the underlying thread is one of spirituality, of the deeply introspective quality that Raza has imparted to Sujata.

The Guru-Shishya Parampara harks back to ancient India and is the very soul of India's oral tradition. It embodies the living and learning relationship between master and pupil. Evolving from the era of the great Indian seers, the tradition signifies the complete emotional, intellectual and spiritual surrender of the deserving shishya to the guru. 'Gu' translates as dark and 'Ru' as light. Thus, 'Guru' is interpreted as 'darkness to light,' or one who leads from darkness to light. Guru is a teacher or spiritual mentor who guides the shishya (student or disciple) from sightlessness or ignorance to bliss, wisdom, and enlightenment. The relationship between the guru and the shishya is one of all-pervading learning and complete trust, born out of the shishya's total surrender to the universal glory of the art. To the shishya, the guru symbolises the art itself, while for the guru, the shishya signifies the continuity of the art. The guru shares the sacred knowledge of the art only with kindred souls, sincere in their quest.


Frequent experimentation has been one of the constants in Sujata Bajaj's artistic journey. From ceramics, fiberglass sculptures, terra cotta, fabric printing, printmaking, woodcutting oil painting to now working with mixed media and acrylic on canvas Sujata is invariably experimenting and changing. Much like Raza constant reinvention would seem to be a given. There is yet another continuous thread which pervades their practice i.e. energy.

Straddling continents and societies she is as much of a wanderer as Raza. Living in Norway with her husband and daughter, working out of Paris and now exhibiting in India brings a certain global perspective and art practice. India serves as a point of reference and departure with her work describing colour, rhythm balance, harmony, coupled with a sense of spirituality and serenity. Paper works possessed of a strong and dynamic energy highlighted with text. A meditative ambiance and introspective yet inviting window to an exotic realm beckons and invites further investigation. Childhood memories, verses and prayers, letters and images are voiced through her skilled manipulation of a diverse range of media. Understated and subtle, her works allow for a freedom of interpretation and reading.

Much like Raza Sujata's earlier work revolved around the theme of energy, it has continued to be her preoccupation, but now colour subsumes all else to emerge as the principal determinant. Dark undertones highlighted with and accented by bold and vibrant reds and yellows create an interesting melange. Her work is rendered distinctive by the employment of text as an essential part of the composition. With the text drawing from such significant tomes as the Gita, Vedas, and those of Kabir among others, the sense of spirituality and purity that is the common thread between these two distinct artists finds another form of articulation.

Indian tribal art serves as a source of inspiration adding to her passion for and appreciation of spontaneity, simplicity and authenticity in art. Her tenure in Paris allowed her to explore her artistic vision to the fullest. Permeated with historicity, beauty and a certain joie de vivre so unique to that city, Paris stokes her artistic fires. It was S.H. Raza who was the catalyst for Sujata. It is to him that she attributes her pictorial understanding, and a deeper appreciation of colour, line and form as inextricable elements of an artwork.

Sujata is in a constant process of evolution and development in the struggle to articulate her unique artistic vocabulary. While Raza has not had a direct influence on her work, his teachings and guidance have resulted in an overlapping and spill over of aesthetics and the fundamentals of art.

Her inspirations are many but all of them draw from her childhood and days in Jaipur, Pune and the wonderful years spent in the city of Paris. Sujata Bajaj crosses boundaries within mediums. Borders blur and merge resulting in a coming together of seemingly divergent aesthetics. She achieves an extraordinary balance, imbibing and distilling the essence of three diverse and distinct geographical spaces whilst remaining and perhaps only reaffirming a powerful connection to India. A trait that would seem to be unique to both Raza and Sujata.

Both S.H. Raza and Sujata Bajaj are linked by their deep connection to terra firma, their shifting of boundaries and spaces, and the literal crossing of geographical spaces. The vitality and energy that is so quintessentially Raza is transmuted in the works of Sujata, there is an exchange of ideas, their relationship may not fall within the strict parameters of the master and the disciple or perhaps even the guru shishya parampara, however there is an indelible link between the two. An intense feeling for each other's work, a sense of empathy and constant interaction and a sensitivity that defies time and space.

Dr. Alka Pande
Art Historian

Dr. Alka Pande is a Reader in the Department of Fine Arts, Punjab University. Presently she is working as an Art Consultant and Curator at the India Habitat Centre. She lives and works out of New Delhi as an author and independent Curator.

   
 

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