Amrita Sher-Gil, ‘Perhaps It Will Fly Away, If I Get Up’ at Akara Art, Mumbai
Photo Caption: Amrita Sher-Gil’s Untitled (1928), oil on canvas, watercolour on paper | Akara Art, Mumbai
‘Perhaps it will fly away if I get up,’ is an exhibition showcasing a collection of lesser-seen of artist Amrita Sher-Gil’s work that opened this April at Akara Art, Mumbai. Sher-Gil’s (1937), oil on canvas, that is part of the exhibition is an interesting and rare work that isn’t seen often by Sher-Gil connoisseurs. What is most striking about the painting is its sketch-like quality: Unlike some of the other works by Sher-Gil, the paint has been applied in thin layers and retains the strokes of the artist. The hands are incomplete, while the face is highly detailed. It captures the artist’s melancholic and pensive gaze, her full lips, and the Indian garb, imbuing the work with a certain vitality. The half Hungarian, half Indian Sher-Gil would often traverse between these two identities, wearing both, sari and dresses. was painted while she had just moved back to India in 1936-1937, from Paris, where she studied at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts.
Sher-Gil’s Family Album
The exhibition marks the beginning of Akara Art’s celebration for the completion of 10 years and brings together a collection of watercolours, drawings and the self-portrait in oil. Also featured is a documentary by her niece, Navina Sundaram, titled ‘Amrita Sher-Gil, A Family Album’.
Story Behind the Portrait
Sher-Gil, who passed away in December 1941, at the tender age of 28 years, was often known to leave private notes or dedications behind her works or in her diary that spoke of her creative process in relation to her paintings. It has been the job of art critics, chroniclers, curators, and her family to connect the dots. In this instance, too, Sher-Gil left a note that reads, ‘Perhaps it will fly away if I get up?’ The note was first written in Hungarian, on a scrap of paper and later translated.
“The poem is an oblique ode, tinged by the existential, in which she is grasping at something fleeting, but exquisite: ‘Because I still want to say a lot/ Because rainy dawns are still needed.’ “Many of the works here lead a double life. Sher-Gil has left on their backs an annotation, a drawing, or a dedication of some kind. This lends to the discreet nature of this collection, where each is a tenderly private note, a moment that requires further explanation,” writes Skye Arundhati Thomas in her catalogue text for this show.
Puneet Shah, the director of Akara Art, explains his passion and curatorial approach to showcasing this body of work as the first exhibition for the gallery’s 10-year celebrations. “The works in the (Sher-Gil) exhibition are insightful and each is a depiction of a private moment or note. They are discreet and alluring, yet powerful and masterful in their depictions. Her watercolours on paper create a fantastical travelogue with imaginary characters,” muses Shah, who has been dealing with her work for a while now.
Discovering Early Sher-Gil
Apart from the oil, all the paper works are from 1926-30, distinct from her later stage, specially the watercolours, which reflect her personal nuances and imageries. The early works give us a peep into Sher-Gil’s fascination with tableaux and are fraught with an air of drama. A case in point being an watercolour on paper, dated 1928. An androgynous man appears to whisper something into the ears of a woman dressed in a diaphanous gown that appears to slip off her shoulders, revealing a full-bodied figure and ample bosom. Importantly, like most of Sher-Gil’s women, she appears not to look at the man but is caught up in the interiority of her own world.Photo Caption: Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled, watercolour on paper, 12×9.5 inches | Akara Art, Mumbai
Navina Sundaram’s film presents a personal account of the life and work of the artist. Using old photographs, diary entries, newspaper cuttings, letters and anecdotes, the documentary paints a fascinating portrait of the painter and woman. “Woman empowerment is very significant for the present time and what better way than to start our celebration with one of India’s most renowned female modern artists,” concludes Shah.
The gallery’s 10th year celebration will continue until March 2020. The next show at Akara Art is a solo exhibition of works by FN Souza. They will also be hosting Bhagyashree Suthar’s second solo show.
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