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Analyzing Rameshwar Broota’s core concerns as an artist
In a career spanning close to five decades, painter, filmmaker and photographer Rameshwar Broota has moved from his images alluding to existential anxiety to sharp, albeit sarcastic satire to a classic heroism that borders on the cusp of both hope and despair. His central subject and concern is man, through whose aspirations and tensions, desires and disappointments, lusts and unending endeavors, the larger issues of life are deeply introspected. Here, God remains distant or indifferent, whereas the human 'other' is felt by its absence; the solitary male turns the sole site for conflict and resolution.

His paintings are often comprised of male bodies – muscular as well as emaciated – testifying the passage of time. The mystical male body though repeated acts of forceful resistance, swings between acceptance and confrontation - with its stolid musculature or skeletal frame. Born in New Delhi in 1941, he studied at New Delhi College of Art (1960-64) and worked there as a lecturer before moving to Jamia Milia Islamia and later to the Sarda Ukil College. He has served as Head of Department at Triveni Kala Sangam, Delhi. Among his selected solo exhibitions are 'This End to the Other', Shridharani Gallery; Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi (2011); 'Counterparts', Vadehra and Shridharani Gallery, Delhi (2009); a photography show courtesy Sakshi Gallery and Vadehra Gallery (2008); ‘Archeology of Experience’, courtesy Vadehra at NGMA, Mumbai & Gallery 88, Kolkata (2004-05).

Rameshwar Broota’s work has featured in many group exhibitions, including 'Figure/Landscape', Aicon Gallery, London (2010-11); 'Freedom to March', courtesy Ojas Art at LKA, Delhi (2010); '10 x 10', Gallery Threshold, Delhi (2010); 'Paper Trails', Vadehra, Delhi (2010); 'Progressive to Altermodern', Grosvenor Gallery, London (2009); 'Zip Files', Tao Gallery, Mumbai (2009); 'Master Class', The Arts Trust, Mumbai (2009). His noteworthy participations are 'Miniscule Marvel' at Gallery BMB, Mumbai (2011); ‘Manifestations V', Delhi Art Gallery (2011); 'Time Unfolded', KNMA, Delhi (2011); 'Expressions at Tihar', IGNCA, Delhi (2009); 'Moderns', Royal Cultural Centre, Jordan (2008); Festival of Art Biennale-Baghdad, Iraq and Havana Biennale, Cuba (1986); ‘India: Myth and Reality’, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK (1982); International Art Fair Biennale – Cagnes- Sur- Mer- France (1976). Among the honors and awards he has won are ‘Kala Vibhushan’ from AIFACS, Delhi in 1997; LN Gupta Memorial Award (1988); Senor Fellowship of the Government of India (1987, 88); and the National Awards from LKA, Delhi (1980, 81, 84).

Analyzing his practice and process, art critic Gayatri Sinha has mentioned in an insightful essay: “The artist imbues his work with undiluted simplicity even as he firmly locates himself within the ordinariness of the burgeoning Indian middle class. A practitioner of meditation (dhyana and yoga,) he also felt the contrary pull of the human world. In the early 70's, he was probably the first artist from India who turned outward with severely satirical paintings. Earlier, he had forayed into geometric forms, followed by stark figures of emaciated men, suggestive of the labor in New Delhi's growing streets.

“A decade later the emaciated anemic laborers of the 1960's paintings inflated into overfed gorillas, their humanness emphasized by bright striped sofas, their telephones and drinks as they sat in serious consultation on the course of the nation. Soon, the sharp geometrically defined spaces and massive figures evaporated under the insistent scraping and nicking of the blade. The artist realized that a figure need not be imposed on a canvas. Instead it could be coaxed, revealed or evacuated from its depths.” This process unique to him involves the over painting of the canvas with layers of paint. It’s more intuitive, and draws on his love for photography and the intriguing complexities of the photographic process.

A significant transition in the 1980's in his imagery was marked by the ape’s mutation into the Man - essential, transitory, and firmly athletic. He typically employed degrees of sexual suggestion in them to denote erotic potential. A few years ago, he turned to technology to sift through images and explore the various compositional possibilities. This gave way to the extreme close up of the bodily frame that emerged as the locus for his philosophy of man that exists outside the purview of traditional morality or even the possibilities of expiation. His metamorphosis into a photographer is indeed intriguing. Known for his strong masculine forms - actually intricate monumental drawings – Rameshwar Broota now infuses his photographs with a similar sensibility, albeit with a twist.

The veteran artist’s new series of photographic was recently on view at Vadehra Gallery, Delhi. Over 20 large size recent photo image series by him, entitled ‘Open Enclosures’ was showcased at Shridharani Gallery in the capital city earlier this year. The display was earthier in nature this time around, according to him, implying there were more open spaces and a less number of objects with a greater emphasis on detailing, as in his paintings. His intricately textured photographs paid attention to fine detailing.

Their scale was also much larger than usual. For example, a seven-ft long image of a dried up river bed that he captured in Himachal was comprised of a landscape - barren yet stunning - sans human element. The satire with which he framed a donkey and a tractor was such that both seemed cut off from the landscape that they belonged to. Construction overdrive in his favorite vistas of Himachal had apparently inspired some works. A top angle photo of a mountain side was photographed cluttered with houses. The fine detailing appeared very much like a miniature work of art.

"The caveman used to scratch & draw the movement of his fellow beings and animals on those dark walls. I believe I must have existed even then as an artist…," so he states of his painterly passion that juxtaposes the mythical with the real, to generate a sense of absurdity. The images and icons all form part of the artist’s subconscious self. He sums up the core of his creations to state: “The unconscious is a storehouse of past impressions and knowledge that one absorbs and retains. While assuming the body of an infant, one inherits the sum total of the experiences of one’s predecessor from time immemorial.”