Multihyphenate Muzaffar Ali is no stranger to having his work scrutinised by strangers. The 78-year-old artist has not only made two of the most iconic films in Bollywood’s history, but he is also behind a successful fashion house and an author. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get anxious before displaying a part of his journey to the public through the medium of a much-anticipated art exhibition.
“I think all artists, in some way or the other, are worried about how their art would be received and perceived by the viewers,” he admits, as we sit down for a chat at Bikaner House, Delhi, where his first art exhibition in nearly two decades is being held. The artist says that more than his vision not being received in the right way, he is worried about the logistics of such a big exhibition. “There are so many things to do. It’s so important that people come and see the work, so getting people to come also is a big operation. I think there is a level of anxiety, but I’m not nervous because we have a good team.”
He continues to talk about how the perception of a displayed work helps him and can help other artists, gain a sense of empathy that, in turn, improves the art, “You don’t know which way people are going to react. You slowly start to see your art through people’s eyes and slowly it becomes about you being willing to see through people’s eyes.”
Titled Muzaffar Ali: Mystic Journeys in Art, the exhibition has been thoughtfully curated by art critic Uma Nair over a period of one year. As the title suggests, the exhibit displays the artist’s journey over the past five decades through sketches, paintings, portraits, collages, and furniture.
When asked about why he decided to share this side of himself with the world after so long, he simply states, “I’ve been painting a lot and I wanted to see it through people’s eyes and understand what they’re thinking.” He goes on to add how meeting Nair was the push that caused everything to fall into the right place. “It made a lot of difference to have a good curator who understood your work and knew how it should be presented to the world. That way it was very exciting.”
The exhibition displays over a 100 art works, spread across 11 different sections. Each section is called a Maqaam (destination), a reflection of how the art exhibition is supposed to shows us the artist’s life journey. The exploration of multimedia and his fascination with nature, immediately stand out. One of his Maqaam’s are all about his study of leaves and their life cycle. “The leaves were a very interesting discovery process,” he says, “What I saw in the leaves and how they began to speak to me and how they become a metaphor for me. I was a botany student, so I have studied leaves a lot and this just took its own leap forward.”
Whether its leaves, horses, or actresses from his movies (the two most popular works in the exhibition are portraits of actresses Smita Patil and Rekha), the artist uses a mixture of material to bring his vision to life.
“It’s intuitive,” he says, when asked about his artistic process, “When you enter a room and encounter a series of material, you need to see and understand what speaks to you and your vision.” He adds that his strong grasp of form and texture helps him bring a pleasing sense of harmony throughout the works in the exhibit, all of which have been created at different points in his life.
As he excuses himself to get something to eat with his grandson, who informs me that he is glad that people can see the art that has been decorating his house’s walls all these years, the artist tells me that he is excited to get people’s perspective on his work and is excited to see where he is taken next in his life journey.
And we can’t wait to visit the next Maqaam soon.