It is no surprise to find one of late Parisian artist Janine Mongillat’s mixed media works, where a baby doll, watch, sewing thread, necklace, and knitting needles are all enveloped in wool, covered in black paint and pasted on a canvas, welcoming viewers in the show “Sang Saath” at Delhi’s Shridharani Art Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam.
Mongillat’s work appears like a treasured find upon opening an old drawer left untouched for years. Another artwork features the replicaof a tall door with a circular top on a canvas made entirely of tea bags. Considering she was the closest associate of iconic abstract painter SH Raza, whom he married in 1959 and who died of cancer in 2002, many of Mongillat’s works, which have never been exhibited before, have found their way into the exhibition that celebrates the legendary artist’s association with the masters of Indian modern art — people he shared a close friendship with. These include artists Akbar Padamsee, Krishen Khanna, MF Husain and Ram Kumar. Their letters addressed to the artist were carried by him when he moved from Paris to India in 2010. These are also on view at the exhibition and that coincide with the third death anniversary of Raza.
As abstract painter Rafique Shah from the Raza Foundation takes us through the 39 works on display. He looks at Mongillat’s doll drenched in black paint and says how it elucidates a feeling of longing for a child by the childless couple. Discovered barely a few days ago from his archives, Raza’s untitled figurative painting showing three men surrounding a table and enjoying a glass of wine is another highlight of the show, and a departure from his trademark ‘Bindu’ works.
Raza’s another close friend, Ashok Vajpeyi, the managing trustee of the Raza Foundation, and who has helped put together the exhibition, says, “Raza had been friends with these artists for long and was very devoted to them. He believed that he was what he was because of his friends who helped him become who he was. The aim of this show is to depict this aspect of his life. It’s a tribute to their togetherness, which is very rare in the world of modern Indian art. They came together in the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1946-47 and had only one exhibition, but remained in touch throughout their lives.”
On display is an untitled work by Husain, where a woman dressed in a bright colourful sari sleeps beside her child on a floor mattress, rare portraits of the human face sketched by Akbar Padamsee in 1952 and 1953, Krishen Khanna’s Man with a Hawk, along with his A Suitable Boy from 1995 where a man looks at his female muse in admiration. Another black and white sketch by Khanna shows a body enveloped in disease and surrounded by people mourning over him.
Mongillat would often carry colourful wooden birds from India to France and use them in her works. A canvas made using a cluster of them, in myriad colours, adorns another frame in marine green. But memories of Raza’s favourite visual motif — the bindu — come flooding back with Aarambh from 2014 that reminds of a rising sun, as if hinting at a new beginning. There is also Prayas from 2015 where the entire canvas lies covered by a large bindu in black.
The exhibition is on till July 11