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From Punjab to Mumbai via England

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Art critic Swapna Vora reports on a rather interesting exhibition at Artists’ Centre on Rampart Row, featuring the work of a man who grew up in rural Punjab and moved to England to follow his dream. Here is what she says:
 “History is my passion, I want to know what happened and why,” says artist Kanwal Dhaliwal. He grew up in the rural Punjab, with its seasons, its harvests of wheat or mustard, its tractors, bullock carts and the stark, white hot, summer light contrasting with dark, much desired shadows.

“He moved to England and started depicting the themes of immigration, the country one grew up in, the country one learned to call home, where everything looked the same and nothing was familiar. Meticulously, with deep introspection, he paints these sometimes vertiginous experiences and shows homes with shoots but no roots, and horizons of fool’s gold glimpsed while traveling.

“The ‘Dilemma’ series show uprooted trees, torn roots, trees which look full and flourishing but lack roots, with big gaps between them and the earth. He shows split personalities who wonder where they are, why and how.

“Next we see his ‘deorhee’. Punjabi village homes have a ‘deorhee’, a hall at the threshold with perhaps two walls. He says, “The deorhee interested me, an outdoor indoor space, a connection of the house to the outside. In hot climates, this space is important for connecting with other people and village happenings. My village inspired me: my aunt talking to the folk next door, the deorhee’s entrance to the road, the goats or hens which sometimes lived there, a tractor parked for the night, and a charpoy. Always a charpoy!”

”Later, he drew women’s faces merged with landscapes and people and went on to paint peasants interacting with lawyers. “Small cases are so huge for small people. They get totally absorbed in their small worlds, so very important
to them.”
Dhaliwal spoke about Punjabi society, the rooted and rootless, and the heaviness of history. He shows a tree far from its roots, with no anchor, placed nowhere and the squeezing of immigrants under walls of silver bricks, symbolizing Britain and Canada. “He spoke of a major watershed in Punjab’s recent history: 1984. There is no Sikh today who does not have it engraved on his/her personal and social history: who did what, who was to blame, who gained, who lost. Pain is usually most unbearable when those who inflict it are known, maybe even trusted. Dhaliwal is highly skilled and his beautiful work is painted in humanitarian hues, sometimes unbearably so.”

 The artist’s work is on till April 17. And after you see this one, cross the road and go to the museum for the other interesting exhibition being held there – of Chinese antiquities, and gape at the terracotta soldiers.

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