Ankit Patel’s lyrical lines, contours and curves are simply majestic.
His subtle strokes in black and white are like a flowing river that can only be channelized not ceased.
His work has great balance in scales and proportions, forms and characters, poses and attitudes.
His art is full of life and cannot stand still.
Dr. Mulk Raj Anand in his inimitable style used to personify his work of art as “emotion in motion.”
Padmashree Dr. Parkash Kothari
LOOKING BACK INTO PAST:
ANKIT PATEL’S SERIES OF NARRATIVE DRAWINGS
Within the history of art, Drawing has typically been regarded as essential to the artistic practice and basic skill an artist. Drawing as “the mother of the arts,” serves as the basis for both painting and sculpture. It became analogous to artistic activity and essential to the development of Conceptual art also. According to Ankit Patel, “drawing as a verb,” has immense potential. The proximity of Drawing to thought naturally alignes it with Conceptual Art, where the idea was paramount to the object, and the resulting object, if there was one ,existed as a document of the artist’s thinking. The 21st century ushered in a renewed interest in Drawing and the re-materialization of the art object, with the return of the artist’s power of hand. Reacting against the ideological, theory- based art of the recent times, artists reengaged themselves with the use of drawing. During this time, contemporary artists began to expand the potential of drawing through new techniques and hybrid media. More than ever before, they fully exploited its brilliance and multivalent nature by pushing the medium across boundaries to new forms and possibilities.
It is a matter of approach to Drawing – as both a verb and noun – utilizing drawing as a fundamental and continuous part of the creative process, and also as their primary conceptual medium.
Ankit Patel does not favour thought over the manipulation of materials, and doesn’t perceive drawings to be limited only to the arrangement of lines on a page. Instead, he views lines as the basis for the investigation of formal and conceptual issues, and use traditional media and processes in order to systematically test the conditions, appearance and definitions of drawing. By transposing the qualities and processes of drawing on to a variety of contemporary media – he creates composite works that subvert conventional definitions of drawing by conflating this traditional medium and process with conceptually-driven contemporary art practice.
These autobiographical drawings clearly go parallel to his discovery and revelation of his identity and his affiliation with village life his use of humour in his first series of drawings to convey the experience of the young boy trying to find a place for himself gives way, to a fatalistic view in the later works. His quest is to situate himself in relation to his trans-local sources, to find his place in society. This can be contrasted with his sculptural image configuration, which is a quest to achieve a unified identity through exploration of memory and cultural roots.
Most of the characters in his drawings have a common background of an impoverished existence in the small fringes on the periphery of the big cities, and deal with similar themes arising from their situation as a child growing up in a tiny village. This series of drawings shows the artist’s shift in his preoccupation with the past and his memories.
In the series, he recovers, through memory, the lost paradise that was the village Motavarachha situated on the banks of Tapti river in Gujarat. The area is very fertile and inhabited mostly by the Muslim Vohras, Desai, Patels and Mali community. The Vohra community plays a crucial role in developing the socioeconomic conditions of this region. One can see a business class control the entire economy of the town. His reminiscences from his village childhood days echoes in this manner:
“During my school days I used to watch the migration of people from the kathiawad region. They were settled in the nearby fields in camps and lived in a gypsy style. Their makeshift dwellings in the form of tents always fascinated me as a child and aroused my curiosity. What surprised me was their belongings with all kinds of magical utilitarian objects such as lanterns, meticulously embossed wooden box with intricate decorative motifs made out of metal sheets, piles of firewood, limited utensils of different shapes and a few domesticated animals like goat and horses. The male members always carried a five feet long stick made of bamboo, and wore a churidar pyjama, a very casual headgear or turban and leather shoes (mojadi). They ate simple food like Bajra roti. They were very soft-spoken people with all the etiquette and a sense of respect to the village people. A hard working lot, they had what we see today in the diamond industry, a sense of dedication which has transformed it into the most prosperous industry in Surat.
Every evening we used to assemble at the outpost (Padar) of the village entrance neat the temple to perform puja and aarti. This was the meeting place for all the village people of all the age groups. All the religious functions and festivals like Nava-ratri/Dashara Ramlila(enactment of Ramayana), bhajan (devotional songs), were performed in this shrine complex, a place where the village life of Gujarat was recreated through its subliminal nostalgia. The shanty-towns have all been demolished now, yet in the minds of those who lived there, despite the hardship and adverse conditions, they were places of conviviality and community life.”
When the artist leaves this place, it is with a sense of loss. He moved to the isolation of an absolutely urbanized dwelling at Baroda. The questions that are, appear in these works; those of attachment and separation from the community of origin pervade all of artist’s present drawing series. Ankit Patel’s first two series of drawings plunge into the past, recreating in a theatrical, humoristic manner, the cultural conflicts experienced by the child as he encounters village society through school. School is the bridge between cultures, and it is the site of the boy’s attempts to find a place for himself. The young boy takes on a number of roles, depending on the occasion. Constantly called on to define himself, unsure of himself, he assumes the identity which allows him to survive that particular moment. In his work, the good-natured naivety of the child narrator is lost; the adult narrator is consumed bitterness albeit a soft bitterness.
The identity of Motavarachha, like all other villages of India, lies in its indigenous characters. It is very interesting to know how curious names are attached to individuals, with idiosyncratic qualities and aptitudes, sometimes due to their occupations and parental lineage and at other times as satirical nomenclatures. Somehow all such characters good or bad remain very popular and are known by everybody by their nick names. A look at some of individual protagonists will be highly rewarding.
The details of the characters used in drawings based on the verbal descriptions as narrated by artist.
Somlo Sot, (Sot in vernacular Gujarati dialect means a person whose eye is damaged) and popularly known as a one eyed person. Clothed in white pyjamas, black shoes without laces, he was known for his unsophisticated, dim-witted and superfluous advice to the village folks and easily became a laughing stock in the village.
Mohan Mahakali (Kali is synonymous with the dark pitch black complexioned skin like that of the ferocious from of goddess Durga as Kali from Hindu Mythology). By profession he was a farmer and moved around freely with unbuttoned shirt floating around as if hanging on a hanger. He was a staunch devotee of Goddess Kali.
Vallabh Complate (Complate is a colloquial word for ‘complete’ or perfect). By profession he was a tailor and did all of his work very meticulously. One fine morning he would install his huge antique looking sewing machine in the open verandah of the house. His sewing machine had always fascinated Ankit due to its complex technology. He was Ankit’s family tailor and remained engaged in sewing the clothes for the family members around the year. He was very skilled in his craft and never wasted even small pieces of unutilized cloth and recycled them carefully for stitching carry bags of different sizes and shapes and pillow covers. Children watched him engrossed in his job with a kind of excitement as if he was performing miracles to create a pattern oriented design in varied shapes. His wife was always assisted him in making button holes and hand stitching.
While everybody sat on the jute mattress, Vallabh Complate always carried his own chair to watch the Ramlila (divine plays of Lord Rama) during ten nights of Dasshera or Nav Ratri. He wore Khaki Half – pant, baniyan as an upper garment with his measuring tape was always hanging around his neck like a conspicuous looking object that resembled a serpent and that too was an object of curiosity for small children in the house.
He owned a bicycle which was very precious to him and never allowed anyone to touch it. He used that bicycle only for going to Surat otherwise he would shift the bike on the first floor of his house so that no one can borrow the vehicle from him. He used lantern on the handle of the bike during night hours, he dismantled the carrier so no one could ask for lift thus preserving the mortality of his bicycle.
Bhiko and Somi – The husband & wife duo were laborers in the field, found of country made liquor. Somi delivered a baby and the birth of the child was synchronized with the birth of his pet goat. For the kids, it was great fun to play with the baby of Somi and the lamb running around the huge mansion.
Bhagu-Bharthari – A potter who used to play the role of King Bharthari in Ramlila and in real life also, he pretended to be a king. He expressed this through his body language, with a loud roaring voice, He used to roma around on his bicycle which was considered as a symbol in the village.
Balu Bayalo – (Bayalo means feminine) He used to play the role of Pingla, (King Bhrathari’s wife). He had a feminine voice and even walked like a girl with long hair covering the shoulders. By profession he was mali (gardener) and used to sell flowers door to door.
Mahammad Ponio – Ponio means three fourth and literally he was three and half feet in height and was therefore named as a Ponio. He belonged to Muslim Vohra caste, wore a loongi and a round topi (cap), looked like Mullaji. He was known for his habit of stealing ripe bananas and mangoes. He stole from the field and hid himself behind the plantain bushes and it was difficult to spot him due to his short stature, he easily slipped into dense landscape. He uses to run like a Kangaroo. He was liked by the farmers of the village for he made scarecrows for them.
Tikam Kumhar was a potter. He was fond of dying his hair with henna and could be spotted as one with reddish golden hair. The entire village used earthen wares made by him and one could watch him talking to his donkey very passionately.
Lallu Titar (partridge) He spoke like a partridge. He was of a short stature and always wore high heeled shoes. He was a teacher in the village school. A well read person, very knowledgeable but scared of his wife and preferred to share his anguish with the village people. He expressed his regret quite often and stated his concern for himself by saying “nobody could understood my wisdom or knowledge” and out of sheer frustration he would use slang in his utterances.
Ratio Suthar was a carpenter. He was very smart and made a lot of money from commissions for selling wood and never employed any apprentice under him. Wherever he got a job for making wooden furniture, he would invariably catch hold of the fellow who assigned him the job for assistance, to save paying wages. He wore Dhoti-Kurta and kept in his pocket a typically designed three folded wooden scale, a kind of emblem of his trade.
Jai Singh Titalio (Titalio – means a very short tempered man) He was a cowherd and used to take cows and buffaloes for grazing to the distant fields and could identify each animal with their pet names as designated by him. At dawn, he would emerge as a tall man with dhoti and white folded turban as a head gear, metallic shine on his face with a beard and prominent moustaches, holding a five feet lathi (stick) across the shoulder. He would disappear with the duck.
Kushal Hazzam – He was a barber and could be seen in the house on very specific occasions for trimming beards, shaving and cutting hair or he could be seen in the village as a mobile saloon for the community hair cutting session for the entire family of all age groups. Military hair – cut was unavoidable for all the young kids in the village. Quite often his arrival was considered a kind of terror in the house for small children who ran to hide behind the corners in the house and literally had to be dragged for hair cut by the elders.
On his last visit to his village, Ankit Patel noticed rapid changes because of urbanization and commercialization. He felt the urgency to capture the past. Time is flying and these memories must be fixed in drawings before they are completely pass into oblivion. The artist is struggling contradicting energies within himself and the pull of the present. At the centre of these works is the silent figure of the father and his mother.
At last but not least, on behest of an inner compulsion and his stubbornness, he tried, effortlessly to break away the syndrome of harping only on a monopolistic medium, on which he had poured his rigorous years of manual labour to search his masculine gender identity through his sculptures in different medium. On contrary, his drawings are like convulsions, undigested thus ostensibly a hypertensive release of the real world around him. Therefore he never feel hesitant in confessing that these drawings are absolutely based on his personalized referential narrative drawings of a marginalized world of inconsequential creatures which everyone encounters in their day after day recourses but hardly get noticed.
Dr. Shailendra K. Kushwaha
Head, Dept. of Art History & Aesthetics
Faculty of Fine Art, M. S. University of Baroda
“Even to step on to a bullock cart, one has to step on to a wheel”, says Ankit, conveying a simple deconstruct of his ‘back to the basics’ approach – to his life and his art. An artist’s art is his expression of his experience, fellings, perceptions, imagination and reactions to his surroundings. If Dali saw the deep and dark disfigurements of the human being and modern life as surreal expressions of the human spirit’s struggle, Ankit Patel made his personal experience a source of artistic expression in his drawings. The personal so intensely personal and close to the heart that it reaches out to make public all expression as if it belongs to everyone.
In all the eighty one drawings in black ink and sketch pen, Ankit’s beliefs are a way of life for he feels that from the moment a person is born, the circle of life is set into motion. Life does not unfold in linear lines but goes round in cyclical movement. A wheel makes things move forward – whether it’s a wheel of a bullock cart, a cycle, a sewing machine, a potter’s wheel or a ‘rahanta’ used to draw water from a well. To trace one’s origins to the point when life began and to move forward, a wheel sets into motion the passage of life and progress. It is a force which takes one back to the roots of existence and etches an identity for the person.
Minimalistic strokes, strong lines, clear images yet embodied by a completeness that the artist feels within himself as he draws forms from his memories of days gone by. His drawings tell tales. Each one has a story and each speaks through the completeness of lines which are forceful in their quietitude. The being is in constant motion, there is a fluid grace that is accompanied by a rhythm and beat of honest emotion. Uncluttered mind spaces lend to lines flowing in their own ‘sur’ and ‘taal’. The past in all its traditional village life motifs is the continuing thread but there is no sad yearning for going back to it. Rather its an observation of how things were then in Ankit’s village, Mota Varacha, on the banks of Tapti river, in silent celebration of the ways of life that were. There is no bitterness, no ranting against what the wheel of progress has transformed his place of origin to.
Ankit Patel reveals moments in each drawing. The story has a background which has often been heard by all of us. Mota Varacha is a little cut off village near Surat, which changed after a road was built to connect it to the city. Living among the people of the village was like living with one huge extended family. There were potters, carpenters, farmers, gardeners and bullock carts were the means of mobility. “When we entered our village, we would walk into aromatic lanes, perfumed with floral bouquets, wafting from roses and marigolds grown in large tracts of land. A cycle was a luxury. There was only one school till the 7th standard. Moving to Surat to study after the 7th standard was like jumping from a slow metre gauge train to a fast moving metro. The mud walls and wooden ceilings of homes have been replaced by concrete, sprawling mansions, bullock carts by luxury cars, ‘desi daru’ by ‘angrezi sharaab’, no one walks short distances, they use motorbikes. There are no future plans for higher education but wealth management and investment schemes are the talk of the town.”
Within this context, Ankit’s drawings are character sketches of people who belonged to his village with their own stories, idiosyncracies, foibles and daily lives which depict their individuality and speak a universal language. A language that comments on the socio-economic texture of village life, the fast pace of change and a recognition of a culture that is deeply rooted in folk traditions. Earthly and rustic, the intensity of it all is in the face because the artist has used honest strokes of his black pen – there is no going back once a line has formed its shape on paper. “Everyone went to everyone’s homes, no one was an outsider, now no one knows anyone and no one wants to.”
Muhammad ‘Pauniya’, a Muslim who made scarecrows for all the farms, mango orchards and banana plantations, is drawn in his ‘mullah’ topi, long kurta and lungi. He was 4ft, few inches tall, hence the nickname ‘pauniya’. Ankit recalls the contrast between his short stature to the 25ft tall mango trees that hung heavy with ripened mangoes and how he would jump up to break them off.
Narottam Bhai Patel has a long purposeful stride, straight, strong back and an umbrella swinging from one arm. A spirited man, a doer, dressed in a dhoti, kurta, ‘bandi’ and turban. With a white khadi towel flung across his shoulder. He walked through his farmland with a keen eye for detail. The drawing narrates the character and if a drawing in black ink can tell a story and delineate the person with just a few strokes, the maturity of artistic expression is self-explanatory.
Khodi masi had a limp. But she was fond of dressing up in matching clothes, well ironed and accessorized with jewelry, a ‘jhanjhar’ in her ankels, ‘gajra’ in her hair. She knew what she wanted from her life and stood for the Gram panchayat elections. The depiction of her persona is one of energetic lines, the flamboyant traits make a statement in the movement of her ‘lehnga’ and her ‘dupatta’. A round hoop in her ears spells out her fondness of living on her own terms.
Ankit grew up seeing all the women from his village fetch water from the river in gleaming brass pots. When the government installed a ‘sarkari’ tap, it became a picnic spot. To watch water trickle out of a tap was magical and exciting. The village would wait for 5 pm when water would flow from the tap. The nexus between the flow of water and its inherent link to human existence is central to the artist’s psychology. The image of water dropping from a tap and a figure waiting by its side is a common visual experience for most of us in India. The magic of water flowing for a simple village boy is hardly ever talked about. The drawing expresses that wonder.
Jai Singh, 71, held an interesting 10 am 5 pm job. He was a shepherd of sorts. With an umbrella, a stick and a ‘potli’ of food, he would stand at a crossroads of a mohalla, give one shout and bang his stick on the ground in a set rhythm to call all buffaloes from all the homes. Women of all houses knew it was time to untie their animals for their daily routine walk into the fields. He took them to graze about 25 km from the village and returned by 5 pm every evening. Jai Singh knew each buffalo by name, “Ramu Bhai Ki bhains” or “Bhika Bhai k ibhains. The movement of his herd is present in the drawing as is his caring and giving nature spelt out.
Some of Ankit’s visuals are about the festive season, where couples dance in gay abandon, long hair flying to musical beats and turbans held high, feet not touching the ground, swaying with cheer. The drawings convey the same kinetic energy that Ankit’s sculptures have. The carpenter working using his saw, children playing with wooden spinning tops – the spin of life, the circular motion drivels down to a picture that depicts tribals killing birds with bows and arrows. The defiant and dangerous body language of the hunter and a slight shudder of the bird’s wings, helpless in its arrest translates into another way of life that was a part of the pastoral scene in the past.
Keshav ‘Kanaki’, who sold smaller grains of rice, Parag ‘Paanwala’ who went abroad to earn a living, whose children came back to install a water filter plant in the village which solved a lot of health problems and stopped misuse of water are subjects of Ankit’s drawing in this series. Sona kaki made ‘bhubhuti’ to cure ill health, marital discord, wore only black clothes. Vallabh ‘Complete’ was a tailor who would camp at one house till he finished stitching clothes for the entire family. The wheel reinvents and motion is a constant force.
The entire series of Ankit’s drawings paint a panoramic vision of life and the way it was to show up the absolute antithesis it is now. Simplicity is a force. Movement is not only a technique but, the distance travelled by each line in ink is felt in its curve, its bend, its turn and curl. The black and white can be colourful if the theme is all about the colours and shades of life passing through in a circle. These paintings are the base from which sculpted pieces will evolve.
As a sculptor, Ankit makes stillness move. Known for creating motion and action in static sculpture, Ankit Patel uses primeval sensations as his creative force. His trajectory with life is simple and transparent. It shows up in his art as well. His art is not conceived in a vacuum. Its an outcome of visual imageries from his rustic roots that others from urban spaces find romantic. Quaint folk traditions, even farm equipment have become Ankit’s means of creation. He immortalizes the spirit and essence of his childhood, casting memories in bronze. The aim is to transcribe a movement, freezing ‘it’ in a stance that conveys mobility. How things look when they are moving get framed in Ankit’s mind. The flow is then an endless pursuit. Earthly charm and quietitude, a will to exist ‘just like this’… .
Mita Kapur, Jaipur
(A literary consultancy)