Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi
Condoles the passing away of renowned artist Sohan Qadri
He breathed his last on 1st March 2011 in Toronto, Canada
A condolence meeting will be held
on Sunday 6th March 2011 at 4.30 pm
in the Conference Hall of Chandigarh Lalit Kala Aklademi
State Library, Sector 34 A, Chandigarh 160 022, India
Tel: +91 (0)172 2620448
Sohan Qadri 1932-2011
painter and Punjabi poet born 2 November 1932, Chachoki, Punjab, India; died 1 March 2011 Toronto, Canada
Artist and poet Sohan Qadri who has died at the age of 78 in Toronto after a prolonged illness, leaves a rich legacy of poetry and art deeply immersed in Indian tradition. He is one of the few Punjabi painters who have made a mark on the international art scene.
A poet, painter and Tantric yogi, Sohan Qadri was deeply engaged with spirituality. Qadri rhythmically serrated and punctured the surface of paper as part of his meditation practice. Relying on a language of orifices and elongated paths or lines, he abandoned representation in search of transcendence. Serenely composed, his works are intended to arrest the viewer’s thinking process and invite him or her to enter a metaphysical realm. The artist started exploring spiritual themes in the 1950s.
He was born in the Punjab, in the village of Chachoki near Jalandhar. At the young age he was initiated into yogic practice first by Bikham Giri, a Bengali Tantric Vajrayana yogi, and few years later he became close to a Sufi figure, Ahmed Ali Shah Qadri, whose last name he adopted. From them he imbibed an ecumenical and a deep spiritual yearning.
He received his fine art degree from the Government College of Art in Simla, India, against the wishes of his parents. After finishing his studies, Qadri formed the Loose Group of painters and poets in India in 1964. He taught art for four years at Ramgarhia College Phagwara. Soon after he became part of the circuit of the Indian modernists that included M.F. Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Ara, Ram Kumar, and Sailoz Mookherjee. Mulk Raj Anand, was the first to recognise Qadri’s talent and organised his first exhibition in Le Corbusier’s brand new architectural complex in Chandigarh. He was the mentor friend of Shiv Kumar the poet.
Soon after, Qadri departed for Nairobi, Kenya in 1966, where under the patronage of the African cultural figure Elimo Njau, he had a successful exhibition at Paa-yaa-paa, a non-profit art gallery. At the time, the gravitational pull for artists was Paris, where Qadri lived for a few years. He eventually set up a studio in Zurich before settling in Copenhagen where he lived for more than 40 years.
In the 1970s, he, along with a group of artists and counter-culture figures, illegally occupied an old gun factory, which eventually became the famous free city Christianna. He traveled through East Africa, North America, and Europe. Throughout the course of his career Qadri interacted with an array of intellectual figures including the architect Le Corbusier, the surrealist painter René Margritte and the Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll, who said: “Sohan Qadri with his painting liberates the word meditation from its fashionable taste and brings it back to its proper origin.”
Qadri was immersed in painting and meditation for decades. His dye-suffused paintings on meticulously serrated paper reflect his Vajrayana Tantric Buddhist philosophical beliefs. Dr. Robert Thurman, professor of Eastern religions at Columbia University and director of Tibet House, says: “If words were colours, Qadri’s art would not be as essentially necessary as it is.”
Sohan Qadri has had more than 70 exhibitions across the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. His works are in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts; the Rubin Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. His paintings are also in notable private collections, including those of Cirque du Soleil, Heinrich Böll, and Dr. Robert Thurman.
Despite the fact that he lived most of his life in Denmark, an overiding sense of Eastern ethos pervades his art.
Sohan Qadri with his painting liberates the word meditation from its fashionable taste and brings it back to its proper origin, uninfluenced by Western propaganda, misunderstandings and corruptions. – Heinrich Böll (Nobelprize lit. 1972, Köln)
You may look at his paintings as symbolic representations of the “serpent power”
(Kundalini) or as mere form and colour to enjoy as pure art . . . an exceptional artist. – F.N. Souza (Painter and Writer. New York 1976)
His art is enigmatic art, immaculately executed.
–Jenny Bergin (The Ottawa Citizen, July 7,1972)
Sohan Qadri, in a few words, believes in an inner and outer sphere in the life of man. Striving to establish contact with this world within, with one’s true self, he sees as utterly essential for all of us. His art belongs to something of the most refined one can perceive, something which touches “the ultimate secret”. We can experience his works directly and with strong presence, and thereafter we can slowly decipher and extract their secrets. – Virtus Schade (Art Critic and Writer, Copenhagen 1978)
“Qadri’s origins are in rural India, and as a boy, he was initiated by a Sufi and a vajrayan Tantric guru; this led to his lifelong practice of meditation and study of Buddhist philosophy, both of which inform his work.”
– Robert A.F. Thurman
Qadri’s unique collections of poems written in classical Punjabi idiom include Mitti Mitti, Navyug New Delhi (1987); Boond Samunder, Lok Sahit (1990); Antar Joti, Navyug (1995). Amarjit Chandan’s long conversations with Qadri in Punjabi were published in Hun-khin (The Now Moment) Navyug, 2000.
Such widely respected poet scholars as Harbhajan Singh and Jaswant Singh Neki greatly admired Qadri’s ‘poetry’ (which Qadri called ‘the other poetry’). Sati Kumar wrote:
Neki approaches Qadri’s creative process from the point of view of the bãni utterances of the Sufis and Nanak. One can surely try to understand Qadri’s poetic accessories from the viewpoint of Indian thought, but to me it seems that this ‘other poetry’ is a specimen of another – a kind of inverted – lore. Only those who know the other lore can read this poetry. It can cause a headache to linguists for its grammar that is not to be found elsewhere and its word-formation that is also rare. Kabir’s language was described as sadhukkarhi – the language of sadhus. Qadri’s language, too, is of his own making. There is no doubt that Qadri has walked into Punjabi poetry like a not so polite sãdh mendicant and there is no match for his crisp and ringing language that sounds like a sãdh‘s chimta tongs. After a very long time an original poet appeared in Punjabi poetry.
Harbhajan Singh wrote on conversations Hun-khin The Now Moment:
The knower of the mystery Kabir had said, jo ghar jare apna chalé hamaré sãth – let him join me who is ready to set his house on fire. To set one’s house on fire means to get rid of one’s words, their meanings, one’s senses, habits and beliefs. It means to come out of the boundaries drawn by them. Only when one renounces one’s parents, neighbours, ancestral heritage, the legacy of untold centuries crystallised in the discriminating sense that judges between good and bad does one the earth as mother, truth as father and the parrot as teacher. The Now Moment provokes one to face such challenges. That is why Qadri does not share anything with the tradition of Punjabi poetry. Even in Urdu poetry, Ghalib is the only one who abides in Qadri’s circle. …
These conversations cannot be understood if we remain confined to our education. If we wish to understand them, we must first break free of our limitations.
(This and Sati Kumar’s quote translated from Punjabi by Rajesh Sharma)
Qadri’s poetry in translation is published under the titles The Dot & the Dots, Poems & Paintings, Stockholm (1978); The Dot & the Dots, revised edition, Writers Workshop, Calcutta (1988); Aforismer, Danish translation, Oslashmens Forlag Copenhagen (1995) and The Seer, Art Konsult, New Delhi (1999).
Qadri was generous in designing book covers for his writer friends – Surjit Hans, Sati Kumar, Ravinder Ravi, Jagjit Chhabra, Amarjit Chandan and others.
Jesus The Christ
Everyday a Jesus
walks on this earth
to care and share
with heartfull heart
and healing hand,
He goes on loving
the lowest low
yet keeps on being with
the highest High,
Every morning he tries and tries
every evening he is crucified,
A man and a human
still hangs up there-
Who will care and spare
amoment to SEE?
The Tree in The cross
is close to THE CHRIST
Watching and witnessing
in silence – indifferent.
Sohan Qadri – 1997
Siddharata The Buddha
Every tree has a Siddharata
Sitting quietly under and ponder,
Every morning a Siddharata
Moment by moment
his eyes droop
to look deep down within,
– a nameless smile spreads on his face,
his silence deepens deeper,
Full and emty under the Tree
a man & a human still sits there,
Who will care and spare
a moment to SEE?
The Tree in The Valley
is close to THE BUDDHA
Watching and Witnessing
in silence – indifferent
Sohan Qadri – 1997
His two daughters Pooja and Purvi and a son Soham survive him. Qadri migrated to Toronto, Canada a few years ago and was unwell for quite some time before breathing his last.
Portrait of Sohan Qadri by: Amarjit Chandan, 1991, Copenhagen
Information about Sohan Qadri collected from various sources.
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