Sheikh’s precious memory of Akkitham: When I joined the department, you could enroll as a graduate student after class X, which is impossible to imagine now. Sheikh sir was a professor in the art history department. He took classes in English for graduate students, Hindi for graduate students, and sometimes Gujarati for local students. Like a teacher, he was always ready to go beyond the rigid rules if he felt that someone deserved better consideration. Coming from the south, my group mate Suresh BV and I didn’t know much Hindi, and when we asked Sheikh sir to allow us to attend classes with graduate students, he not only allowed us but allowed us also treated as one of them. We did some homework and showed up for testing with them. He moved to the painting department as HOD after a few years, and it’s kind of funny that Suresh and I eventually became teachers in that same department and even taught under him.
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FSheikh’s favorite work
I saw this work in the university quarters of Sheikh sir, known as Residency Bungalow, just before it was completed. He had taken a long leave to complete this work and two others which were part of the “Place for People” exhibition in Bombay and Delhi. I consider this painting to be one of the most important works produced by him in his long artistic career. Not only was this a major departure from his earlier works in terms of language, but in this work he also seemed to have found a voice to evoke his lifelong interest in literature, storytelling and the Indian miniature tradition. An autobiographical work on several levels, it takes place in Sheikh single-storey house of the gentleman’s residence, which becomes a stage to unravel intimate details.
In conversation with Sheikh
If I said that teaching came naturally to you without looking for it and that it nourished your own evolution as an artist, what would your answer be?
I don’t know how it came to me but I thoroughly enjoyed it from the start. An innate desire to share the pleasure felt in looking at a fascinating work of art has made the act of communicating with students a matter of joy. The teaching of Eastern and Western art histories revealed multiple modes of artistic creation. This led me to understand the various forms of creativity, which ultimately fueled my own practice as an artist. I learned to prepare before a lecture but opted to speak extemporaneously to improvise ideas while speaking to test my perceptions with the students. Similarly, the difficulties in reaching diverse groups of students prompted me to adopt a multilingual approach using Gujarati and Hindi in addition to English.
What do you consider to be the Baroda faculty’s most significant contribution to post-independence Indian art?
Being the first institution in the country to offer academic degrees in fine arts disciplines on par with the humanities and sciences, the new arts education in Baroda emphasized the idea of a citizen artist, articulate and aware of the history of past and present practices of art. Thus, the study of the world art history, aesthetics and languages alongside studio practice were formalized in courses. He encouraged students to inculcate an inquisitive mind and a critical attitude and broadened the scope of themes, with an awareness of the immediate environment, especially lived life. This resulted in the inclusion of questions of socio-political origin within the framework of creative quests. Emphasizing freedom of expression as an intrinsic human need and the embracing of ideas at the heart of creative pursuits, he viewed the practice of art as an ongoing process subject to review and change. Thus, in a sense, the Baroda experience changed prevailing notions of art as a secret profession and of the artist as recluse or wanderer.
Do you think that in today’s arts education it is necessary to focus on the interactive aspects of the various forms of artistic expression?
Absolutely. Not only between the different modes of practice of the fine arts but also between the other arts and the social sciences. I wouldn’t rule out the physical sciences either. To go further, I would venture to point out that the interaction should also extend to society as a whole, so that art is not seen as a domain of experts only, but as a social need shared by people from all walks of life. Personally, I think everyone should practice some form of art, be it drawing, singing, dancing, crafting and writing to find the creativity in our hidden instincts and give it a form of expression. Hopefully it can make us a little better human beings.