Indian artist Ashok Mody’s entire body of work is inspired by one person — Gandhi. Through his acrylic paintings, featuring portraits of the great Indian leader and important moments from his life, the artist tries to capture the essence of Gandhi’s spirit and message.
“Indians revere Gandhiji as the father of the nation and as a mahatma or ‘great soul’ because he successfully led the nonviolent struggle that won us independence from colonial rule and because of the principles of simple living, truthfulness and social equality that he lived by. Gandhiji is admired around the world as an icon of peace and nonviolence. For me, his life and work are a constant source of inspiration,” Mody says.
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The Mumbai-based artist is an architect by profession and began painting as a hobby seven years ago. He is in Dubai on the invitation of the Indian Consulate, Dubai, and displayed his paintings at a cultural event organised by the consulate to celebrate Gandhi’s birth anniversary on October 2. He is at present exhibiting his work at the India Club in a solo show — “Remembering Gandhiji”.
The show features his abstract, graphic-style interpretations of familiar images such as Gandhi spinning cotton yarn on a “charkha”, or spinning wheel, and historic events from the Indian freedom movement such as the Dandi March. Mody enjoys doing portraits of Gandhi and has depicted him in many different moods. “I am honoured to be invited by the Indian Consulate and value this opportunity to take Gandhiji’s message to the multicultural audience in this city,” he says.
On the eve of Gandhi’s birthday, Mody spoke to Weekend Review about his work and the relevance of Gandhi in modern India and the world today. Excerpts.
Why is all your work about Gandhi?
My father was a committed Gandhian. He wore khadi (hand-spun cotton) all his life and lived by Gandhiji’s ideals. I learnt about the different facets of Gandhiji’s life through the stories and anecdotes my father used to tell us, and I was fascinated by what I heard. In fact, I believe that Gandhiji has always been a part of my being. So when I started painting, it was most natural for my work to be inspired by him. Due to my busy schedule as an architect, I have very little time for painting, and I want to use it only for spreading Gandhiji’s message. I hope that my paintings will rekindle an interest in this great man and his message.
How relevant is this message in today’s world?
I am amazed and happy to see that more than six decades after his death, Gandhiji continues to live in the hearts of most Indians. During my exhibitions around the country, people of all ages have spoken to me about the connection they feel with him and how they have been influenced by him. I am touched to see the invitations for my exhibitions, which bear his portrait, often framed and hung on the walls of many homes. This indicates how much they respect him and how relevant his message is even today.
How do you choose the images for your paintings and what do you want to convey through these images?
I am constantly on the lookout for pictures of Gandhiji in books, newspapers, magazines and online and use them as a reference for my paintings. While I love doing portraits of him in different moods, a lot of my paintings are inspired by Gandhiji’s quotes or by things said about him by other famous people. For instance, my painting of Gandhiji walking away with his back to the viewers, walking stick in hand, is inspired by Einstein’s famous words — “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” And another canvas showing Gandhiji standing tall reflects his wise words, “I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Similarly, my painting of Gandhiji and his followers at the Dandi march in April 1930, which was a turning point in India’s freedom movement, recalls the strong plea by this frail-looking man, “I want world sympathy in this battle of ‘Right against Might’.”
Did you deliberately use a modernistic style to connect with a younger generation?
Being an architect, I am naturally attracted to basic graphical forms and have tried to bring architectural elements into my paintings through this abstract style and the minimal use of colours. My palette is mostly black and white, and I use bold primary colours in the background to give my work a contemporary look. I am happy that my work appeals to all ages.
Who is the turbaned person that appears in many of your paintings?
I love to paint the twists and turns of the turban because of the beautiful graphic patterns they create. The turban is an integral part of traditional Indian attire and of our culture. Hence I have painted these anonymous turbaned faces to represent the common man.
How do you feel about exhibiting your paintings in Dubai?
I have lived in the UAE in the 1970s, and as an architect I designed many important projects of that era. So it is wonderful to be back as an artist, and especially to be part of the celebration of Gandhiji’s birth anniversary. It was a very special experience to display my paintings at the Indian Consulate, Dubai, during the musical performance by the Malhaar Choir on October 2. My paintings endeavoured to bring Gandhiji alive visually. And their concert, titled “I am Gandhi”, touched the soul of the audience through beautiful renditions of Gandhiji’s favourite songs and numbers that embodied his spirit and values. The show conveyed the message that Gandhiji lives on forever in our hearts.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.
Remembering Gandhiji will run at the India Club today, from 11am to 8pm, and tomorrow, from 11am to 6pm.