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Creativity Takes Courage: Indian Modern Artist Amarnath Sehgal

Indian Modern Artist Amarnath Sehgal

If emotions had a face, it would actually look like Amarnath Sehgal’s artworks. He was a multifaceted modern Indian artist who worked as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, textile artist and poet. Though he made huge achievements from his artworks, he is little far from being well known. Sehgal was born on February 5th, 1922 in Attock known as Compbellpur, a city in Pakistan. He practised art in his childhood but his standard education led him to pursue a degree in Industrial Chemistry and Physics. Amarnath Sehgal initially pursued a career as an engineer before turning his focus to the arts. In 1947, he studied at the Mayo School of Art (known as the National College of Arts since 1958) and Lahore School of Fine Arts. Following this, he studied Art Education for three years at New York University. 

Sehgal works are remembrance images of the living conditions in India after partition. His extraordinary, partial sarcastic works capture the psychological strains of the tragic event and describe the sickness that lies behind the enormous economic and social changes in India. His approach to subject matter ranges from obscure natural calamities to wars and poverty. He was one of the numerous artists who attempted to depict motion and show movement over time through different mediums. His inspirational artworks always have a piece of my heart.

Cries unheard, Bronze, 1958 by Amarnath Sehgal

People usually say history is the history of domination, meaning that accounts of the past are determined by those who control the narratives. Perhaps this is why so many amazing artists couldn’t get the response that they actually deserve. He doesn’t use any abstract tricks to suggest motion, instead, the painter has captured the emotions at intervals of time, and the use of lines shows the mood of the atmosphere. Interestingly, the energy and action in his pictures come from real events and it’s visible in his study of movements and moments. His Indian mythology and history with the inflexions of European art forms and styles, where he used abstraction and expressionism through the colour, make him different from the other artists. 

Anguished cries, Bronze, 1971 by Amarnath Sehgal

His attraction towards India’s great leaders led him to the creation of the bust of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi etc. Most of his works aesthetically nourish the art of abstraction. Sehgal enjoyed success in his lifetime, with his works forming a part of private and public collections all over the world, including the museum in Paris, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, among others. He also received numerous awards throughout his career, one of which was the Lalit Kala Academy Fellowship in 1993 – the highest honour in the fine arts conferred by the government. In 2008, Sehgal was posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in recognition of his contributions to art and culture.

Sehgal’s vast composition, spanning painting, prints, drawings and sculptural installations, reveals his persistent probes into some of the fundamental themes of our existence. His works travel varying focal lengths and time scales; from close details of the skin of a fruit or the brimming shirt-pocket of a passerby, it might expand to register dense people-invade. Some works might be meditations on the transient present while others reach back into history and overlay the past onto the present through citations of momentous historical utterances. His artworks are meditative in their own sense.

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