New Delhi: Symbolising
power and movement through centuries of kingship, the march of
civilisation and modern living, horses remain vital to man's
artistic imagination in the world of contemporary art.
The horse motifs in Indian and Asian art date back to the early
Vedic age when migrants from Central and West Asia - from the
Caucasian region - came to the subcontinent on horses.
In the ensuing millennia, horses galloped to the streets of haute
art in the 20th century.
Kolkata-born NRI artist Aslam Shaikh, who has spent the last 18
years of his life in London and the Middle East, paints horses.
His horses adorn Dubai's millionaire sheikhs' homes and that of
fashion designer Armani.
The 42-year-old artist's horses have a surreal look to them -
painted with cubic precision in raw acrylic shades and holy
inscription of "Karvala" from the Quran. He is in India to paint a
series of 21 large format horses, "Horses of Arabia", for an
exhibition in Dubai in March.
The horses on the artist's canvas represent the angst of the
Islamic festival of Muharram - "a connect between human sacrifice
and god", the artist explains.
"Horses to me represent movement and the moment. 'Horses of
Arabia' represents good over evil. The concept is mystical and
mythological. Horses were central to the Ramayana and the
Mahabharata," Shaikh told IANS.
The artist, who studied restoration in London, says he has been
"influenced by old masterpieces".
Shaikh says 'Horses of Arabia' will be followed by "Warrior Horses
of Chhatrapati Shivaji" for a Mumbai exhibition followed by
"Celestial Horses" from Indian epics for one in Delhi. Each series
will feature 21 horses.
Part of the proceeds from his exhibition will go to a shrine.
Art promoter Nina Pillai of Triveda Art says: "Horses have an epic
quality. The animal is a universal symbol of power. The horse
power drives. Shaikh's 'Horses of Arabia' are the prophet's horses
- the ones that his sons rode."
"In the Ramayana, horse is a symbol of victory. The Ashwamedha
horse - ceremonial victory horse that king Rama sent across the
country as a seal of dominion over the land - was only stopped by
his sons Luv and Kush," she adds.
Pillai is promoting Shaikh's series of horses in Dubai and India.
Art writer and critic Aruna Bhowmick says "every culture has its
own interpretation of horses as a leitmotif because art portrays
mythology and epic".
In contemporary Indian art, the two most popular horse motifs are
of M.F. Husain and Kolkata-based Sunil Das.
Husain's horses have run a long road - they are famous worldwide
for their mobility on the canvas and cubic structure that breathe
raw power into their galloping forms.
Art historians say Husain's galloping horses are reminiscent of
Duldul - a celestial horse that belonged to Hazarat Imam Husain,
prophet Mohammed's martyred grandson. They were inspired by
Muharram processions that Husain saw as a child.
In Pandharpur, a temple town in Maharashtra, where Husain was
born, he often watched one of his grandfather's friends work with
horses. It bred in him a love for the animal.
In Santiniketan, Husain met Xu Beihong, the celebrated Chinese
painter of horses, who was loved by Rabindranath Tagore.
Xu (1895-1956) is often hailed as the pioneer of "galloping horse"
in contemporary art. His ink and pen drawings of moving horses -
with deep interplays of light and shade and fluid strokes -
commanded hefty price at sales worldwide.
A Chinese reform artist, Xu gave his horses a freshness and life
that the traditional Chinese horses lacked. He combined ancient
Chinese and European techniques.
Das, India's popular post-modern artist, owes his career to his
horses. "I must have painted 7,000 horses during 1950-1960."
His affair with horses began as a student. "A teacher asked me to
draw animals. I spent days and nights in the stable of the Kolkata
mounted police. When I got my first award for drawing a horse, the
people at the stable were very happy."
Das' horses are powerful, stylised and sombre - painted in
charcoal and ink on paper.
Amitesh Verma's horses are big and powerful - waiting to take the
world by storm. "He is the only artist among the younger
contemporary artists in India who draws horses with charcoal on
canvas," says artist Jeram Patel.
Verma from Bihar fell in love with horses in 2001 when he begun
sketching their anatomical forms near the Delhi Race Course. His
horses are in the tradition of Husain and Das - though less
stylish and closer to life.
"The stark raw power of the animals draws me to them," Verma told
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)