Whatever its errors, the compilation is successful in providing insight into the underlying motivation behind Sobha Singh’s work also touching upon the artistic environment of the time. At the outset, it is important to note that Sobha Singh spent most of his life at the culturally active centres of Punjab such as Lahore, Amritsar, Preetnagar and Andreta, the latter now in Himachal Pradesh. Although he was the contemporary of many well-known artists like Amrita Shergil, B C Sanyal and Krishan Khanna. Lahore became an established centre of art during the first half of the 20th century. British influence on the art scene in Lahore was significant, as one of the biggest cantonments in the Indian subcontinent was located in Lahore. Amrita Shergil, one of the most iconic artists of her time, got her education, training and exposure in Europe before settling in Lahore. She started exploring women in rural landscape of Punjab on her canvas. B C Sanyal got his education in North-east India and settled in Lahore where he started his school of art and made sculptures of eminent political personalities. Likewise, Naura Richards started experimenting with theatre in Lahore, which was a hub for creative and artistic innovations.
For Sobha Singh, art is a medium to strengthen solidarity as “art obviates that we are not suffering under the brutality of the social axe in isolation but everybody is living in similar circumstances. There are people living more painful lives.” He describes how art takes us on journey from ‘selfishness’ to ‘selflessness’, from ‘incompletion’ to ‘completion’. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Sobha Singh did not engage with Western styles of art, adhering to a school which was evolving indigenously. Some of the artists displaced from Kangra got royal patronage in Lahore in the early half of the 19th century. These artists of the Kangra School of art were excellent exponents of miniature paintings. Some of the local artists followed these artists. Sobha Singh writes, “These people [artists of Kangra] were reluctant to share their skill but still some of the local artists became skilled in their company.” Sobha Singh engaged with this school and worked to fine-tune their depiction of Sikhs as he thought that artists from Kangra could not comprehend the anatomy and facial expressions of Sikhs. Sobha Singh writes, “… they paint side poses. Most of the faces look similar. Close attention reveals that faces of women, boys and grown-up males look similar but their attire made them look different.” (Page 71)
Sobha Singh has had been criticised for depicting Sikh gurus devoid of their warrior spirit, casting doubt on his knowledge about their contemporary life. Sobha Singh explains the motivation behind his interpretation of the Gurus thus: “I don’t claim that my paintings are physical representation of Gurus. I have tried to manifest their spiritual qualities.” Most painters and Sikh preachers focus of atrocities committed against the Sikh Gurus and their followers. Indeed, bloodshed occupies central space in the museums of Sikh history. It can be argued that the paintings depicting these gory scenes solidify communal divisions and refresh mutual hatred, sidelining the composite culture and shared history of centuries. The importance of Sobha Singh’s depiction of Sikh Gurus and love legends lies in this context.
While discussing the state of art in Punjab, Sobha Singh refers to the well-established traditions of Christianity and Buddhism. He argues that Christian and Buddhist iconography has become standardised over the centuries as generations of artists worked to evolve images of Christ and Buddha. No such tradition exists in Sikhism, a result of consistent turmoil in the region, restrictions imposed by religious bodies and lack of patronage. Sobha Singh appears to be well aware of his contribution and historical role in the art of Punjab. He writes, “Prints of my paintings are available in the market. Children satisfy their creative urge by copying these paintings. Now I have made two profiles (side poses) which children can copy easily. It may facilitate a new lot of artists emerge in Punjab.” A recent feature in Punjabi Tribune, profiling a young painter, Harmesh who has copied paintings of Sobha Singh gives life to Sobha Singh’s conviction.
1.Shobha Singh made this painting of Guru Nanak in blessing pose for Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), an elected body for the management of Sikh Shrines, in 1969 on the occasion of it's quincentenary. This painting is on display in the Central Sikh Museum, Amritsar. SGPC had it printed and circulated on a massive scale, making it the most popular image of Guru Nanak. Sobha Singh has painted Guru Nanak in different poses over a period of four decades. Some of these painting named ‘Meditations on Guru Nanak’ were purchased by Chandigarh Museum.
2.Sobha Singh painted many versions of Sohni-Mehiwal in his lifetime. The first one was painted in 1944 in Sekhupura (modern-day Pakistan) and presented to a friend. He painted the lovers again in 1948 in Andreta, a hill station in the Kangra district of the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. A visiting USSR ambassador purchased the painting, perhaps due to a feeling of proximity to Mehiwal who is said to hail from Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Both these paintings are untraceable. This depiction of Sohni-Mahiwal was painted in 1952 and sold to Dr Karan Singh, Sobha Singh’s lifelong patron and heir apparent to Maharaja Hari Singh, the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. The artist retained copyright over the original and made reprints available in the market. Sobha Singh painted two more versions of Sohni-Mahiwal in 1970 and 1984, both of which are on display at the Sobha Singh Art Gallery, Andreta.
3.Sobha Singh painted Heer-Ranjha in 1970. He retained the original, which is now in the possession of the Sobha Singh Art Gallery, Andreta. It has been printed and is easily available in the market.
"Hri" - a sound or a vibration, the utterance of which awakens the empathy that is an inherent part of every sentient being. Regionalism must no longer remain a prisoner of platitude, since there is a consensus that geopolitical friction, poverty and pressing environmental issues as well as cultural and social dislocation must be addressed through the regional framework. There is a need to revive and energise discussions of regionalism on the platform of mainstream politics, public information and research, with a dynamic Southasian sensibility.
International Film Festival of Kerala invites you to the launch of the book Project Cinema City, edited by Madhusree
In Southasia today, the immense importance of archives for the overall advancement of society is yet to be recognised. Moreover, the resources set