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The sanctified wall

An intimate account of anecdotes from the art world

Manish Pushkale. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Manish Pushkale. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

The Gond art of Adivasis was meant to decorate the walls and floors of their huts, representing their everyday quest for life. Artist Jangarh Singh Shyam was a pioneer in bringing this style of painting into the mainstream of arts. He showed in India and abroad, and his Landscape With Spider (1988) was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York, a first ever by an Indian tribal artist.

Manish Pushkale is a celebrated abstract painter, a trustee of the Raza Foundation, and was a friend of Shyam. They both began their journey in contemporary art at Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal. Shyam, coming from a tribal background, found an empathetic companion in Pushkale, a self-taught artist, himself an outsider to the art world. Later, Pushkale moved to Delhi in 1995.

In September 2000, Shyam was invited to spend a year in Japan. As was his habit, Shyam camped in Delhi with Pushkale. He decided to paint a wall as his gift for the house Pushkale had bought. The work depicted maya, the supernatural power, as the core concept. Shyam bid goodbye before he left for the airport with much warmth, excited and a bit anxious. The painted wall became a commanding presence at his friend’s residence. Several months later in 2001 Shyam made the headlines back in India. He had committed suicide in Japan. The wall at Pushkale’s home became the last work he’d ever done in India. For Pushkale, it’s as though Shyam is still watching over his friend, through this painted wall in the living room.

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