Sakti Burman: At Home in the World

Artist Sakti Burman has been inspired by a multitude of cultures, languages, religions and philosophies, reflected in a retrospective of his works that opened on October 18 in Mumbai.

I first met Sakti Burman at the Pundole Art Gallery in Mumbai in December 1990. I was 21 years old then, and had just completed two years of writing for the Times of India. As a young art critic, I was launched on the outbound curve of gathering up a plenitude of impressions and experiences from the artists I met. Many of these artists, like Burman, belonged to that first, and heroic, generation of postcolonial Indian artists who wrestled with an array of historic challenges. How to represent the aspirations of a young nation-state while retaining an appreciation of its civilisational heritage? How to formulate a language inspired by Indic techniques of vision while mastering the vocabularies of the modern? How to seek membership in the transnational community of global art without exiling oneself from the debate at home? 

What struck me most vividly about Burman, at that first meeting, was his admirable freedom from the cult of the Great Artist. The paintings on the walls had been left to speak for themselves; he had already set off on his next journey. Settled comfortably into a chair, cheerfully oblivious to the visitors making the rounds of the gallery, he was making swift, elegant drawings in a sketchbook. Once drawn into conversation, though, he set the sketchbook aside and revealed himself to be a joyous, amiable presence, more interested in drawing out his interlocutor than in speaking of his own work. Refreshingly, his reminiscences invoked histories that included himself but were far more capacious than his personal narrative. He did not suffer from the need to stifle listeners with relentless autobiography. Even as he spoke, he would stop occasionally to make a quick drawing in my notebook, whether to illustrate a point or to offer a gift that happily eluded the transactional logic of the market.

Left: 1958, Sakti Burman, Spanish Church, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 50 Cms
Right: 1975, Sakti Burman, Magician, Oil on Canvas, 90 x 64 Cms.  

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