Some artists dedicate their lives to arrive at that one thought, others just continue to revel in the numerous visions the world has to offer. Janine Mongillat (1929-2002), an artist from Paris and the wife of one of India’s renowned modernist painter, Sayed Haider Raza, belonged to the latter school of thought. While Raza painted throughout his life, Mongillat went on to make paintings, sculptures, mixed-media art and installations.
Seven of her artworks will be showcased at a group exhibition titled Sang-Saath.
The other members of the group are prominent Indian modern masters and Raza’s friends, all of whom she was closely associated.
There’s Akbar Padamsee, Maqbool Fida Husain, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, and of course, husband Raza. “In Sang-Saath, as the name suggests, we wanted to bring in the aspect of companionship between Raza and his friends. And the contribution of his wife to his art also speaks volumes,” says Ashok Vajpeyi, Raza’s close friend and Managing Trustee of the Raza Foundation.
Mongillat’s artworks are experimental and mostly abstract, in colours ranging from bright to sombre tones.
They consist of found objects such as tea bags, Indian toys and cloth scraps.
Vajpeyi informs that while Mongillat’s works might be in private collections, those in this show are the only ones that Raza brought from France when he finally moved to India in 2011. “Raza’s approach to art was mainly spiritual. He was stubbornly rooted in his approach and remained glued to the painting throughout his life while Janine moved between realistic, absurd to abstract. Her palette was more varied. One can say she blurred the lines between paintings and sculptures,” says Vajpeyi, letting on that a book comprising letters written by Raza to Mongillat is in the works by the Raza Foundation.
Raza and Mongillat grew close to each other when they were assigned the same studio of a teacher while pursuing fine arts at École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris.
According to Vajpeyi, both the artists respected each other’s approach to work and had separate studios in France. While Raza was quite well-known in Paris, Mongillat was also prominent on the Parisian scene. “She had a retrospective in Guebwiller – an important art centre in France. She was associated with French salons and her works were shown in many countries, including India at Mumbai’s Chemould Gallery in 1968 and 1988,” says Vajpeyi.
Indian motifs also influenced Mongillat’s works, noticeable in one of the works that comprise of an Indian doll, beaded necklace and parrot toys – the latter figures in three of the seven works on display. “As I used to see the couple once in every two or three months, it was my job to bring her parrot toys from Benaras,” Vajpeyi recollects fondly.
Another good friend of Mongillat’s was Arun Vadehra, Founder of Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi. According to him, she disliked those who were only concerned with Raza for his commercial value. '"People who never used to pay attention to paintings are suddenly interested in buying," she once told me while referring to the constant phone calls from buyers at their home. She also added, 'Earlier people used to come to Paris to see Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum. Now they will come to buy Raza’s works too.'"
At: Shridharini Art Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam On: 1-11July