Cocooned inside the multilayered facade of National Gallery of Modern Art’s (NGMA) exhibition gallery is a microcosmic world of wooden highrises, plans on paper and architectural jaalis and domes of what make up the country’s (and even those abroad) best-known buildings.
The mention of which conjures up unforgettable Delhi landmarks — the Engineers India House, one of the first to be erected in Bhikaji Cama Place in 1983; the sprawling Asiad Games Village that emerged between 1980 and 1982; or the imposing Pragati Maidan’s 130-acre permanent exhibitions’ pavilion that was built in 1972 to commemorate 25 years of India’s independence.
With a career spanning over five decades, architect Raj Rewal, 80, is the one behind these resilient concrete structures. And now, NGMA hosts its first architectural exhibition with Rewal’s retrospective, titled “Raj Rewal: Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape”.
Rewal worked in architectural offices in Europe before returning to India in 1962 to practice and teach. His structures merge the Indian aesthetics of “rasa” with functional design, power with romanticism and opulence with elegance in this time capsule. Spread in Jaipur House and the temporary exhibition gallery, the exhibition traces the architect’s prolific oeuvre through categories such as Houses and Housing Projects; Research and Educational Buildings and Campuses; Public Buildings; and Offices.
“His architecture is the product of self-reflexive considerations of both his foreign and indigenous roots that foreign critics have valourised as ‘critical regionalism’: that is, the critical adaptation of the principles of European Modernism to local traditions,” say architects and curators AG Krishna Menon and Rahoul B Singh’s note.
Jaipur House introduces Rewal’s career timeline, starting from his first structures in the ’70s to a few recent ones such as the Metro Bhawan (2007-2009) on Barakhamba Road.
Old-fashioned wooden models, along with maps, plans, photographs and sketches of his prominent structures — from institutes to housing complex, to even his home in Soami Nagar, Delhi — inhabit room after room. In the gallery are details from his works, including some in progress, which are corroborated with jaalis and domes that comprise his signature elements.
Perhaps a refreshing element in the exhibition is Rewal’s cartoons in miniature style — sardonic portrayals of men, women, and Nehru topi-donning rotund figures in various scenes of life. One has a bearded lean baba with a caption “Caste marks can’t be hidden under cap”. Rewal talks of his mother’s wish for him to learn art, and his consequent stint as a cartoonist for Shankar’s Weekly.
Talking about Rewal’s cartoons, Singh says, “He started doing them around the ’60s-’70s, and a lot of them were published in magazines overseas. These were intended not as political cartoons, but as a means of reflection. They were always playful and had a certain lyrical quality to them.”
“Raj Rewal: Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape” is on at National Gallery of Modern Art, Jaipur House, India Gate, till June 16.