Satish Gujral's life in art began 70 years ago with a poignant series of paintings on the Partition. Then followed a range of public ceramic murals after Independence, sculptures in bronze, wood and granite, and architecture that extends from the Belgian Embassy in Delhi to the palace estates in the Gulf. Gujral's work has often redefined the experimental spirit of Indian modern art. The 93-year-old spoke to Gautam Bhatia on his Trinity sculpture recently unveiled at Delhi's Bikaner House, and his efforts to bring art to the public
A serious criticism of the city today is that it lacks public space and, hence, public activity. Where do you locate art when there is no constructed arena for its display or participation?
Earlier, most art was public because it was incorporated in important buildings. But gradually it became a precious item, for sale in a gallery. For people to develop an understanding, art should be placed in public areas. Art is a language that cannot be understood, unless it is communicated. And communication can only happen if art is made visible everywhere - in the subway, on roads, railway stations, parks, in and on public buildings. That's why Nehru insisted that 2% of all public building budgets should be spent on art. I don't want the people of my country to say 'I don't understand art'. It will only be possible when art is taken to them, to places where they can see it. You learn a language only when it's spoken to you.
Our cities are inhabited by businessmen, migrant labour, office workers, slum dwellers, executives, rag pickers, etc. In such a diverse spectrum, what role can art play?
When we talk about music, it reaches out to all kinds of people. That is because music as a language communicates a message to the audience, any audience; similarly, art communicates thoughts and narrates stories to anyone who's exposed to it. If art moves you, it hardly matters if you are a roadside beggar or a company executive.
Does public art have a role in social and cultural causes, or educating the public?
When public art was promoted in Mexico in the '50s, it received support from the leaders of the revolution. Local artists created murals on buildings so citizens could witness the revolution. But that was unusual; you can't force social issues on the public through art. Just because art is visible on the street doesn't mean it becomes an instrument of propaganda; slogan-making is not art. Creativity, wherever it occurs, should be allowed to run free.