Giving old thoughts a new voice 

IT was as though artist Altaf Mohammedi’s brushes knew the course of their destiny even before they had started their journey on the canvas.

IT was as though artist Altaf Mohammedi’s brushes knew the course of their destiny even before they had started their journey on the canvas. Darkness embraced each stroke, but not without leaving a glimpse of honest hope. He let that light speak of the un-glossed life that we call reality. Violence, neglect, suffering, financial unrest, mistrust…each got a voice. Now, a show titled Altaf-A Retrospective, with undercurrents of despair that he felt, is being presented by DAG in his honour whose work could never be separated from the time he lived in, nor from the time we live in now.

The show is a chain of connections built with observations, emotions and contemplations. His perceptiveness penetrated deep through his philosophies of life that he manifested on the white board. Whether it was politics of power and corruption, marginalisation of the working-class, displacement, or matters of life and death, Altaf (he dropped his surname) always spoke of truth.

The show is a recall of ideologies, particularly his Marxist political ideology that he believed in without any conditions. He took his work to the Matunga Labour Camp and to slums in Bombay, he worked with mobile crèches, printed counter-revolutionary posters with his wife Navjot and their friends in PROYOM, a Progressive Youth Movement.

The exhibition includes works from the 1960s onwards. The Altaf retrospective is a simple, linear one, says Kishore Singh, the President and Head of Exhibitions and Publications at DAG. “India has a long history of modernism, but many of its proponents have languished for reasons of neglect in the absence of appropriate infrastructure to manage their legacies. Altaf was an extremely important artist and resurrecting his work and ideology, speaks of its relevance today,” he says.  

Like literature, he says, artists tend to take positions, which means that curatorial selection does not rely on aesthetics alone, but must take social and political issues into consideration. “After all, we will visualise social terrains from the lens of writing, or art, several decades on.

But as a curator, do you have to be in agreement with the artist’s views? Can you be antithetical to them? A curator is like an editor, providing a perspective that is all-encompassing without drowning the artist’s voice,” he says. Today the world has not changed much from Altaf’s time of creative introspection, which makes the retrospective even more meaningful and inter-connected to the times we live in.
On till March 17, from 11 am to 7 pm, at DAG, Hauz Khas Village.

Good to know
Six films are being screened as part of the exhibit that have been created by his wife and artist, Navjot Altaf. The latter interviewed five people from Altaf’s life that helped understand him better. Among other things, there is a book with text by Nancy Adajania, who explains the role that Proyom (Progressive Youth Movement) played in the artist’s life. Sanjoy Mallik references his art to the times in which he created his paintings

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The New Indian Express