Piraji’s art teaches us the value of tradition and meaning of modernity

Mumbai’s Akara Art Gallery is hosting a retrospective of Piraji Sagara, the distinguished painter and sculptor from Ahmedabad who passed away in 2014. The artist was highly influenced by social conditions of his time and world literature, writes Bhumika Popli.

Piraji Sagara, who died in 2014, always preferred to work with wood, a medium that can pose serious difficulties for even veteran sculptors. The artist realised that he had an innate ability to infuse life into any piece of dead log. After all, he belonged to the Sagara community, widely known for creating outstanding objects from wood.

Sagara’s oeuvre includes a number of paintings and sculptures, but it was his wood works that earned him international acclaim. Whittled Space, an exhibition going on at Mumbai’s Akara Art Gallery, has on display 13 wood works and two paintings by the late artist.  

The exhibits allow visitors to understand Sagara’s way of working with wood. “Right from the late 1950s to early 1990s, the artist had produced large number of works using different styles and materials. We have showcased a couple of works from each of his style,” says Puneet Shah, director, Akara Art Gallery.

The range of the artist’s vision can be seen in these painted and carved sculptures, relief works and collages, all done in wood. Sagara was quite a known figure till about 2000, but later on due to health issues, he more or less retired from public life, and his works began fading from the public memory. 

With this exhibition, Shah wanted to re-introduce the artist back to the world. He says, “I took these works because they were so ahead of their time and the technique itself has an international quality attached to it. It made sense to show these in a contemporary gallery.”