In this post, our contributor Harish Panchabhai writes about his rendezvous with artist and Professor of Sculpture Gauri Gandhi.
“Was it an unusual choice of study back in the day?” I asked, imagining myself to be a concerned Indian parent.
”No, it wasn’t unusual for me when I decided to take up fine arts to graduate in. It was rather an inbuilt quality that came to me through my father” said Gauri Gandhi, the professor of Sculpture at Flame University, Pune.
I met Gauri at my very first visit Flame University while I was planning to apply for an MBA. Upon entering the Sculpture Studio, I was instantly mesmerized by numerous art works kept all around the large studio. A set of clay eyeballs – large to small, open to shut – caught my attention and I knew I wanted to come back there to know more. Hence, after being selected in the university, I allowed myself to bunk a lecture in the very first week for a mini rendezvous with Gauri. I’d like to believe that my politeness and innocent looks (ahem!) helped me achieve my goals. I had so much to talk about, so many questions to ask and so much to learn.
“What do you mean by ‘it came to me inbuilt, through my father’?” I asked rather disappointed for not being able to be a good imaginative father. The answer made me realize that art did run in her family. “My father used to take me to various art galleries in Delhi when I was young. I still remember the time my father gave me a book and asked me to draw. That’s where it all started. I was very fascinated with K. K. Hebbar’s work, which is figurative and intriguing. Understanding art was a part of my growing up days. Not just that, our coffee tables always had art books, and we were regularly visitors to theatres and places like National School of Drama.”
A question that always bothered me was the difference between the art and architecture of the east and the west and how differently we perceive both. On one side, the western art and artists are highly looked up to, while we somehow ignore or don’t appreciate Indian art enough. Gauri, in her pensive style, responded very aptly. “Art is in abundance in India, however it has still not reached the masses. I vividly remember the time when I was in my art school. We were made to sit for hours at a stretch and made to sketch. It was there where my professors made us sensitive towards Indian art. Once, I went to Ellora caves and was asked to paint the simple carvings of Indian goddesses. I painted the same again and again and it suddenly struck me that something that I perceived to be so simple was actually so delicate and intricate. I believe that’s where I started looking at Indian art or just art from a different light.”
An artist gives his or her imagination a life through its creation. An art teacher initiates the process of this imagination among students and creates a pool of artists. Gauri has been doing both since years. I was obviously then excited to know how her journey of being an artist and an art professor been? “I was informed by a friend about teaching opportunities at Flame University and I decided to give it a shot since I as looking out for different avenues. I have not regretted it. Being a conceptual artist, the thought rules my form and material follows. Ceramics has been my forte and I have seen outstanding ideas comefrom my students. They’re always surprising me with the greatest of the ideas. It’s a form of expression. It is an ‘output’ to their emotions and thoughts. As they say, teachers are the first students. We, as professors, have to study in depth to answer the simplest of the questions.”
But an artist like her just doesn’t stop there. She’s also on a mission to make people more aware about various art forms. This is where ‘Art Mandai’, a venture of Gauri and her friends comes into picture. Every year on Republic Day, Gauri along with her group of artist friends gather at Pune’s iconic Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai and display paintings, which are up for sale for a nominal rate. “Initially people thought what on earth is happening? And that’s obvious. You don’t have people showcasing and selling paintings in a Mandai, do you? However, very soon people started approaching and before noon, all of our creations were sold off! It’s about bringing art to people, rather than waiting for them to come to art. It is our way to give it back to art and the society.”
At the same time, the professor within Gauri also makes the absolute effort to connect art and her students. At Flame University, Gauri has spearheaded an interesting workshop cum interactive session named ‘Art tête-à-tête’. “This year, we will have artists coming from all over India to interact and bring their creation to life, with our students. The students are ask to submit their idea from which the best ones are chosen to work on, along with the artists. The session would be open not just for Flame students but anyone across the country.”
An hour long conversation with Gauri made me fall in love with artists all over again. There is something magical, something unique about these people that sets them apart from the regular population. Gauri Gandhi’s dedication towards the art, its study and its promotion makes her an artist in a true way. I sincerely believe that just few more artists with the same passion like Gauri’s will take art to newer levels not just in India but everywhere.
A degree hoarder, Harish has a bachelor in business administration, an M.Sc. In Communication Studies and a PGD in International Business and after a short stint in the corporate and media world, is getting back to studies by pursuing an MBA. He’s had a rather nomadic childhood with his father being an army officer. Perhaps, that’s why his love towards various cultures, languages, art and craft grew.