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Gulammohammed Sheikh

"You would never paint a religious picture in the secular and liberal atmosphere of an art school. You would never paint anything that you believed in. Someone should really work on how many themes artists deal with. They will find there are very few fit subjects for art." - Gulammohammed Sheikh

Painter, art historian, and writer Gulam Mohammed Sheikh taught art history and painting for nearly three decades at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda. He has edited a book on 'Contemporary Art in Baroda' that traces the evolution of Baroda as an important center of contemporary art and art education from the nineteenth century up to the last decade of the twentieth century. 

The literary sensibility of Gulam Mohammed Sheikh is as fine as his artistic sensibility, for he is also a distinguished Gujarati poet. Says he, “There is a very meaningful relationship between writing and painting. Our painting tradition has been suffused with it. But now we have developed a purist's mode where we have separated the two. This is like saying that when you see you should shut your ears, while you hear you should shut your eyes. You don't. You can't. Those who have studied perception will realize the correlation between the senses." 

Sheikh paints on formats ranging from hand-held paper to architectural scale, to bring the world he knows, sees and seeks, into his life; to illumine it in its complexities and contradictions, reinventing art history while painting. 

"Occasionally, I place an image upon another image to depict a journey of the spirit on the landscape of the face. There is mysticism and, at the same time, the device of reversal is used in an almost surrealist mode, quizzical and explosive," he says. The idea of a dialogue has been a very central one in his work and this idea imparts a dynamic quality to his works. 

The impressions, especially of the early years of life, the tales he heard and the myths he grew up with, found expression as images in poetry first, and later, in painting. 

But where his paintings are concerned, Kabir (the legendary poet / saint) has always been his source of inspiration, right from his schooldays. As the artist himself says, "Kabir has been a seminal figure from the period in which he lived up to the present day. People live with his thoughts and words ... he was not a preacher and spoke against sects. If people have made a sect out of Kabir, it is not of his making." 

Over the years the theme of Kabir kept returning to him and Gulam Mohammed Sheikh created a relationship between his own images and Kabir's words. He has worked on the 'Alphabet Series' based on his relationship with Kabir. 

Years ago Sheikh's paintings used to have a labyrinth like spaces. Now all his characters are not so much connected in a dreamscape as inscribed in or mapped on a body. Now he paints to stir people out of their cocoons and his obsession with Kabir remains because he thinks that we on earth need an icon, especially now that violence is so much a part of our daily lives. 

Born in 1937 in Surendranagar, Saurashtra in Gujarat, this Padma Shree recipient took his Master's degree in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the MS University in Baroda. Subsequently, he taught art history at the same university and between 1982-1993, he was a professor of painting.