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Rajendar Tiku: celebrating the mundane

The Padma Shri award winner on his experience while growing up as an artist in Jammu and Kashmir

Artist Rajendar Tiku. Photos: Shantanu Prakash
Artist Rajendar Tiku. Photos: Shantanu Prakash

Contemporary sculptural practices aim at manifesting and giving a physical form to emotional expression. Often, and ideally so, the works of art breach the physicality of the medium and distinctiveness of the structure itself, and aspire to generate psycho-spatial relationships with viewers. For Padma Shri award-winning sculptor Rajendar Tiku, verbalizing his works is a tedious task. His work often does not have recognizable references, and when it does, it is employed as a component for telling a larger story. “Nature is not my inspiration. It is the mundane man-made objects, often discarded, that excite me," he says. As far as he is concerned, these tell the tale of time, movement and flow of energy, of existence, relationships, and significance in rituals.

Tiku, who grew up in Wadwan village, about 25km from Srinagar, was always interested in the visual arts. His interest in sketching was fuelled by watching his elder brother, an engineer by profession, prepare plans and engineering drawings. The traditional floor decorations to welcome the groom at Kashmiri weddings would intrigue him. “The concept of art education was completely non-existent in my village. But seeing my keenness, the class teacher bought two sets of drawing books with floral motifs—one for me and one for himself," he recalls.

Tiku graduated in science from Sri Pratap College, Srinagar in 1973, simultaneously taking evening classes at the Institute of Music and Fine Arts, in Srinagar. Most of the faculty members were alumni of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, and that proved to be a boon since the pedagogical pattern, syllabus and teaching methodology mimicked that school—the formal structure that offered a healthy balance of theory and practical. And just to be able to continue the evening art classes, Tiku enrolled for a degree in law at the University of Kashmir. Soon after he completed his formal education, he left Kashmir, moving to Jammu to teach sculpture at the Institute of Music and Fine Arts. This proved to be a culture shock. “The geographical, anthropological, social and political landscape was totally different. The Jawahar tunnel joining the two sides of the mountain was literally a time machine for me," says Tiku.

Artwork from ‘The Womb And The Sprout’.

A key influence were the wayside shrines that would pop up under a tree or around a stone, and within no time gather red and yellow threads, and bright orange vermilion. He began to understand how something ordinary could become extraordinary. Both the phenomenon and the visualization proved fascinating, and would be the core of his philosophy for years to come. “I came from a world outside. Just as the sea is something normal for someone living in a coastal area but for a visitor it’s awe-inspiring, the regular and mundane attracted me," he says. The intervention of the human hand became pertinent in his thought process. He was charmed by used objects like kitchen utensils, or the remains of old temple buildings that had developed an archaic visual and physical quality.

Tiku has had the most versatile practice, using a wide variety of media for his sculptures. Stone and wood were inexpensive and readily available in the area, and they became his preferred material initially. In Jammu, he worked with clay, mostly terracotta, but continued to make compositions with wood, found twigs and bark. His first solo show in Delhi, in 1989, consisted of works sized between 5-40cm. His frequent visits to Delhi and Jaipur exposed him to metal casting, and he began experimenting with a whole new process and sensibility. “An artist must know his material. The ingenuity becomes very evident if there is a lack of comfort in using a medium," says Tiku.

It is of paramount importance to him to achieve the desired character while creating a work. He does not hesitate to colour his wood or even stain his stones when he is not satisfied with the natural colours; it is not surprising then that the prolific artist, A. Ramachandran, once told Tiku that he was a painter who made sculptures.

As we walk through his solo show at Gallery Threshold in New Delhi, which opened on 27 October, Tiku explains that a work must gain an autonomous presence. It should be able to stand on its own, without the support of its creator or any text. I noticed that some of the works on display had been created 10 years ago. “I wanted to see if they pass the test of time; do they still engage and surprise me as a viewer? And only after I was convinced, they were ready to face the world," says Tiku.

The Womb And The Sprout is on view till 18 December, 11am-7pm (Sundays by appointment), at Threshold Art Gallery, Delhi.

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