Log on to an online retrospective of artist Rameshwar Broota’s works

by Rewati Rau

This article was originally published in India Today

Immediately after the lockdown was announced, Rameshwar Broota was happy with the extra time and kept working as usual. However, the air of uncertainty eventually rubbed off on him too. “Mornings are now a little difficult and it takes me till about 4 pm to motivate myself and go to the studio and start the routine of my work,” says the artist. But then that’s typically the predicament of human beings — something that Broota has spent his life putting on canvas. And today, when humankind is faced with one of the worst crises in almost a century, it’s perhaps the right time to go back to the huge body of work that Broota has done over decades, depicting human beings.

The right time then for Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) to bring back Rameshwar Broota’s retrospective exhibition online. Curator Roobina Karoode says, “Life at present is gripped by the fear of mortality and death, pain and helplessness, fighting an invisible enemy, wherein the body and its care have become the most pertinent subject of discussion — its strength and immunity, its frailty and vulnerability — have taken centre stage. The KNMA team felt it pertinent to re-present the retrospective of Rameshwar Broota, ‘Visions of Interiority’ that would bring to the global /digital/virtual audiences, the overbearing emphasis in Broota’s works on the human body and its predicament.”

THE JOURNEY

Ranked second in the ‘Hurun India Art List 2020’ as one of the most successful living artists in the country, Delhi-based Broota is a known quantity in art circles. His portrayal of human beings, both of the privileged and the suffering labourers, is as relevant today as when he painted them decades ago. One of Broota’s most popular artworks was his ape series. He says, “I was doing the labourer series and making thin, bony people who didn’t have anything to eat and that went on for four years. While I was working on those, whenever I would go to restaurants, I would see rich people eating a lot, ordering so much. That’s when I started the ape series — when I felt that the labourer problem is caused because of the corruption prevalent among these rich people.” This phase lasted for a decade when Broota started feeling that he was working on extremely local and selfish issues. “I felt art needs to have a universal language and wherever, across the world, a human being sees an artwork, she should be able to relate to it. For example classical music from anywhere across the world sounds beautiful and words don’t matter. The same way I started thinking of art. By then I had also reached saturation with apes,” says Broota. The artist then wanted to create something new but he kept going back to apes. This led to frustration and the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ became a true story which led to a new discovery in Broota’s artistic journey. “We couldn’t afford to buy new canvasses easily so I kept rubbing the old work that I had done. There was a box of green paint lying around in the house which I put on the canvas and once it dried I started scraping it with a knife. Eventually the scraping started yielding shapes like table, chairs, a man doing shirshasana and more. I stepped back and realised the painting was complete! I was thrilled. It was like sketching when you start doing something and it keeps developing spontaneously. That’s where my man series started,” says. That’s also when Broota’s famous ‘scratching’’ technique was born.

A NEW VOCABULARY

His technique is unique and a favourite with many. “My first acquisition for our house in Delhi was a very graphic male nude by Rameshwar Broota and it was a courageous purchase for us, my husband and me. Rameshwar Broota, the painter, who has been described as one of India’s finest treasures is a great artist. His trademark style was the “scratch” technique — unlike most artists who apply paint to create images, he first layers the canvas with paint and then painstakingly scratches it out for forms to emerge,” says Kiran Nadar, founder and chairperson KNMA.

Once he discovered the scratching technique, there was no end to the human figures he created with it, albeit all nude. “If I made them wear clothes, they would become Indian and I didn’t want that. Man through the ages — went on for a decade — was a warrior, fighter, the one with a strong structure. But I never defined his features and face so that he doesn’t look like an illustration. His body language should stay,” says the artist.

As he carries on with life as usual, Broota is positive that “people will start going to art galleries soon. “How much ever a man grows up, he’s like a child and wants to touch things,” he says.