The book titled “Visions of interiority: interrogating the male body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective” was recently published by Kiran Nadar Museum of Arts. The book accompanied the retrospective exhibition of Broota’s works from 1963 to 2014. Presented here is the foreword to the book by Kito De Boer:
“In knowing anyone, but especially those in pursuit of the muses, one never knows what fully obtains. You are likely to scratch your head despite all your familiarity with them. The ground beneath Rameshwar’s person, remains Terra Incognito.”
– Keshav Malik
Rameshwar Broota is described by Keshav Malik as ‘Terra Incognito.’ Malik is a fine poet and chooses his words with deliberation and precision. When he chooses the Latin for ‘unknown land’ to describe Broota, we should take note. The lives of Broota and Malik have been intertwined for nearly fifty years – if there is one person who can see through to the core of Broota the artist, it is Malik the poet.
Broota is indeed ‘unknown’.
Broota the man is unknown to all but a fortunate few. Broota is a quiet man who finds comfort in small groups of close friends – those interested in listening and exploring the boundaries of consciousness. Not for him the party circuit with its gaggle of ambitious painters trying to market their wares.
Broota the artist is also unknown in the sense of being largely unexplored. Examples of his work may have been glimpsed at one of his rare exhibitions, but the body of his life’s work has not been studied and understood.
Vadhera is to be applauded for illuminating the significance of Broota’s life and work. It is a privilege to know Broota the man and to explore his art. His work is important. Great artists are much more than painters, sculptors, musicians or dancers. They are reflections of the cultures from which they emerge. The ‘Golden Ages’ of civilization are not defined solely by their material wealth but by their ideas, their values and their arts.
Broota is not alone. Much of the art in India remains ‘Terra Incognito’. India has been one of the world’s greatest civilizations on a continuous basis for longer than almost any other. As a nation, it is more richly endowed in architectural splendours, World Heritage Sites, musicians, dancers, sculptors, writers and artists than any other place on Earth. India is the birthplace and incubator of many of the world’s great religions, philosophies and leaders. Yet its splendour and genius is treated almost casually and barely celebrated because it is largely ‘Terra Incognito’.
Twentieth Century Modern Art in India was a period of extraordinary intellectual and artistic growth. There are scores of wonderful artists who wove the fabric of a great civilization. But where are the institutions, the patrons, the academics and the researchers to help us appreciate the wonders? The ecosystem of the arts today is dominated by the business of art. To judge by the auction houses, it is easy to conclude that a nation of one billion people has produced only a dozen notable artists. This is simply not the case. The magic of Indian art today is in the fact that the veil is only just being lifted. The ‘knowing and exploration’ has just begun with many gems still to be uncovered. There is not a shred of doubt that Broota is one of India’s finest treasures. Broota is not simply a good artist; he is a great artist.
What is it that separates the good from the great? Talent is a prerequisite for being good. Greatness demands more – ‘X-Factor’ – it demands character and vision. Elements of character that set the great apart are the purity and integrity to sublimate the ego to the art. It demands great courage, control, confidence, strength and humility to erase the ‘I’ and submit to the creative impulse. Talent and character are not sufficient. It also takes a vision – a sense of purpose and a drive to communicate a greater understanding of the universe we inhabit.
Great artists are like prophets. They are conduits of universal energy. They have the gift of being connected to the ether, and give voice to what we feel but barely understand. They are the sparks that illuminate the infinite void.
Great artists are demanding of the viewer. They force the question, why? Why did the artist choose to create this particular work? Why did the artist change course? Why did the artist, faced with a blank slate, decide to undertake this particular journey into the unknown that gave birth to this particular image?
Too often the answer to the question why is mundane and uninspiring. Great art challenges us to search for a deeper understanding of the universe and the place of mankind within it.
Broota is one of the most demanding artists living in India today. He is one of the very few who forces the viewer to dig deep in order to answer the question why. Why does a successful portrait artist start to paint politically powerful satirical images? Why does he abandon the relative ease of the paintbrush for the excruciatingly painstaking discipline of the razor blade? Why does he choose to confront the viewer with powerful sinewy male nudes? Why does he juxtapose the organic with harsh architectural forms? Why does he abandon colour to focus on a monochromatic palette? Why does he choose to spend 6-18 months on massive canvases the size of murals that contain no discernible image? Why does he devote so much of his time in the later stages of his career to photography? Why, in short, does he so often change direction and choose the most difficult path? Why does this mild-mannered, devoted family man, who lives a simple quiet life, behave like a revolutionary and break every single artistic convention? Why!
The simple answer is that he has no choice. Like all prophets, he is compelled; he is captive to the muses. Broota’s outward journey may appear to have taken many different paths. His inner journey, however, has been constant. The constant is his dialectic struggle between yin and yang, between light and dark, between the individual and the collective, between one man’s struggle to be good and a world that obstructs and bears down on us. It is the struggle of one man to find his identity in the infinity of mankind.
Broota’s purpose is not to entertain or enrich. Broota’s purpose is to share his inspiration. Understand and explore his life’s work and you will be inspired. You will be inspired to do what is right – to resist the pressure of compromise. Broota’s life and his art demonstrate that mankind has evolved by pushing against the matrix of convention that defines normality. Broota the man and the artist inspire us to search for the greatness that is in each one of us. The greatness that will transform potential to reality only if we stand firm and resist compromise. It is this greatness that has traced man’s evolution from ape to artist, from jungle to civilization, from an anonymous member of a troupe to an authentic human being.
Explore and understand Broota’s life and his work and you will see greatness and be inspired to live a life that is authentic and true, not convenient and easy. This book will help the reader move from ‘Terra Incognito’ to ‘Terra Nova’.