Faith - Manu Parekh in Benaras 1980 - 2012

Faith is the first solo exhibition that Manu Parekh has held in Delhi in six years. With this show, the artist claims his right to believe in his experiences, in his work and in the spiritual, while acknowledging the tremendous impact the idea of faith has on human life and perception. Banaras as a place has become the crucible in which Parekh has shaped his ideas about creativity and life into an art practice.

For this exhibition, he has made a new body of work, pushing himself to achieve fresh ways of exploring a familiar repertoire of forms. Out of this desire to paint, which is prolific, Parekh’s canvases have grown fecund. Adjacent to this is an older series of works which depict landscapes of Banaras as seen from a boat and even some earlier works that allow us to see how Parekh has evolved forms over the years. In many of these paintings, he explores sexuality and masculinity as fundamental aspects of his art making. The link between Banaras and his lifelong obsession with sexuality as a form of faith and of creative dialogue is evident. So is his interest in ornament, refinement, excess and craft.

Faith showcases the work of a major painter who has worked for more than five decades in the studio and as a creative resource person for vernacular artists. This body of work shows how artistic obsessions continue, discontinue or evolve over the longue durée, in the context of an art world that is just beginning to identify and narrativize a more detailed account of the diverse modernisms that make Indian modern art.



The art historian Baishali Ghosh has written that, “Benaras is a trope for Manu Parekh to paint landscape.” Parekh was impacted by the landscapes of Rabindranath Tagore and F. N. Souza. The former rendered romantic views of undivided, rural Bengal while the latter claimed he could invent scenes with elements taken from places anywhere in the world. Parekh was inspired by the possibilities of representing and decomposing the real. The result is a set of outdoor scenes of temples, steps, lights, trees, etc., viewed from a boat. These elements never come together as whole vistas but remain as detached observations made in a language that hovers between figuration and abstraction. Through his Benaras paintings, Parekh contributes to the two hundred year history of making visual travelogues of this ancient, living pilgrimage center by artists as diverse William Hodges, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Ram Kumar and Dayanita Singh.



When Manu Parekh got off the boat and climbed the ghats of Banaras, he saw people turn stones and stumps into gods and goddesses. Faith is alchemical; it can bring forth the sacred into everyday life and it can reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary. These paintings depict transformations brought about by belief. They also allow us to see how the artist’s long obsession with finding or making the world sexual and of seeing this process as central to making art becomes linked to his perceptions of faith. Faith, in Parekh’s eyes, is not some transcendental, disembodied experience; instead, it is profoundly corporeal and sensorial. The spiritual and the worldly are mutually constitutive.



Engaged with observing the aesthetics of faith in Banaras, Manu Parekh began to look at his repertoire of forms in new ways. As his drawings in this exhibition indicate, he has been interested for decades in the sexuality of art making and the mutated vision an openness to sexuality facilitates. The artful and the organic have doubled and re-doubled over the years so that the same form can become buttocks, breasts, testicles, etc. With the turn to Banaras, Parekh began to array these familiar images into hieratic compositions that echo the centrifugal and centripetal movement of ritual diagrams. The artist appears to perform a sacerdotal rite that sanctifies the relationship between sexuality and creativity.



Flowers have been a major theme in the history of modernism. Sunflowers by Van Gogh, magnolias in a vase by Matisse and calla lilies by O’Keefe have become iconic still lifes. Manu Parekh began to paint flowers as still life but soon they metamorphosed into vulvas and suns that can radiate carnivorous desire. Flowers also became important in Banaras when he saw the same humble marigold ornament the living and the dead, the human and the sacred. In the large works in this section, Parekh has taken his floral fixation further to create abstract and expressionist gestures that literally bloom on the canvas. Naming this series Chant again serves a sacerdotal function, though Parekh has created large textile-like paintings that appear to explode the formality of the religious even as they conserve the conventions of modernism.



Manu Parekh’s drawings are rarely seen. Drawing is an important activity for the artist; he has sketch books that date from the 1960s onwards. The act of rendering forms in private allows Parekh to filter, sort, isolate, repeat and change the vocabulary of his paintings without feeling the pressure to resolve ideas fully. In that sense, Parekh’s drawings are hardly about the end result but more about the process and the joy of working with various materials to populate a blank sheet of paper. These drawings have been selected to allow viewers to connect his private exercises to the final works in this exhibition.