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Talking heads!

Heads, and a tale


FACE-OFF : Paresh Maity's 'Faces of Life' (left) is a juxtaposition of several heads - expressing joy, harmony and relationships;Krishen Khanna's 'Bye Bye Miss Amery Teacher of English' is a tribute to the dying generation of Anglo-Indian teachers

Seven artists put their heads together in this show on portraiture.

Step into the Art Alive Gallery and you will be struck by the rows of heads that seem to be talking to one another - and to you. "That's why I call the show, Talking Heads, " says curator Sunaina Anand. A few years ago, she visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and the "intriguing, fascinating experience" she had there triggered the desire to curate "a collective show of some of our best contemporary artists whose works capture the imagination with their portraiture".

There are 44 heads on display in the show representing a range of styles from F N Souza, Krishen Khanna and Jogen Choudhury to Akbar Padamsee, Manu Parekh, Paresh Maity and Anjolie Ela Menon.

In the serene interior of the gallery, the sombre gaze of Miss Amery in Bye Bye Miss Amery Teacher of English by Krishen Khanna arrests your attention. Laced with nostalgia, Khanna's portrait of his mother's English teacher captures a lady with short hair wearing a hat, seated on an upholstered sofa. "She used to come to my home in Lahore in the early '30s to help my mother prepare for her FA exams, " he remembers. "More than anything, she represents a dying generation and my work is a tribute to that generation. " Though Miss Amery was English, ladies like her, especially Anglo-Indians, found themselves in a quandary as the British Raj drew to close. Should they stay in India or leave for Australia, Britain and Canada? Thousands left. "For anyone to be dispossessed is a very sad thing, " says Khanna who had to move from his house in Lahore to Delhi after Partition. "I don't really know what happened to her. I saw her more than 70 years ago when I was a small child of about seven or eight - but something about her look remained etched in my mind. "

Another Khanna sketch has a Sikh gentleman holding a hawk. "Both of them have that royal look about them. I must have seen him somewhere. Images of people I see often keep floating in my mind and I just put them down. I never get people to pose for me, " smiles the 86-year-old artist.

"What makes this exhibition special, " says Anjolie Ela Menon, "is the fact that it has some very early and rare Souzas, cross-hatch Jogens and very strong Manu Parekhs. " Menon has several works in the exhibition, two of which were painted specially for the show - one, called Head of a Girl, has a delicate feminine face half-covered, its eyes playing "hide and seek". "The rest were painted at different points in my life and Sunaina has put up from her own collection, " adds Menon. "When I see them now, after so many years, I realise how well they seem to depict the different phases I was going through and the consequent styles I adopted in my work. We always move from one phase to another - as an artist, you don't want to remain stuck in a rut. " These days, the 72-year-old artist has enhanced her use of colour. "I am in a happy state of mind and, I think, my work reflects that."

While F N Souza's (1924-2002 ) heads reflect the cubist tradition of distortion, Akbar Padamsee's are marked by a sense of mystique, with the subjects in the paintings gazing into the beyond. As Anand says, "There's a sense of enigma in them, a need to figure out where or what the subjects are looking at. It's almost as if they are challenging you to look into their minds and solve the mystery."

Calling the head the most important, dynamic and expressive part of the human body, Paresh Maity says, "I call it dynamic because it has so many dimensions, so much of everything - stuff that controls the whole body. " The artist has worked extensively with the head in his drawings, paintings and sculpture. Maity is particularly fond of his Faces of Life - "You see a number of heads juxtaposed here - profile, front, of men and women - all expressing feelings of joy, harmony, relationships, intimacy" - and Attraction, comprising two gigantic, larger than life bronze heads. Calling most of his work impulsive, Maity says it represents the varied textures of life - "both the soft and hard roads of life".

Jogen Choudhury's portraits in pen and ink and pastel on paper impress you with their strong lines and musculature, while Manu Parekh's have a subtle vocabulary of gentleness and sublimity. "When I paint heads, I don't paint heads alone, but paint experiences. And when I paint expressions, I create situations, " says the artist who continues to draw inspiration from his long tryst with the holy city of Benaras. While the dishevelled Prophet and Poet continue to reveal his fondness for bright colours, Two Actors (Father and Son), is quieter, capturing a "calm dialogue" between two generations. "There is no animosity here. There needn't always be conflict. There can be a sense of calm when the two are together, " says Parekh.

('Talking Heads' is on at Art Alive gallery, New Delhi, till December 10)

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