DAG 2, The Taj Mahal Palace Colaba
22 July 2023 – 4 September 2023
11:00 am – 7:00 pm
England shaped Altaf’s political consciousness as well as his persona. He engaged in the anti-apartheid demonstration at Trafalgar Square held against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela; a peaceful protest at the American Embassy opposing the bombing in North Vietnam; the Aldermaston March against the nuclear bomb; the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; he became a member of the Youth Wing of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the Young Communist League (YCL). Any examination of the theoretical aspect of Altaf’s work must start with the knowledge that the work in question exemplified an element of ‘existentialist’ thought.
Most of Altaf’s art is intimately connected and concerned with human conditions and individual sensibility; it proclaims a consciousness of an artistic calling that had its basis in existential anxiety that was further translated into an affirmation of an externalisation of his inner world. His thematic concerns and pictorial content were integral to identity politics that were posited against the framework of social awareness and class conflict as a mode of articulation. It was informed by a political consciousness where angst was a pointer towards social disparity and struggle. Was this, then, a socio-critical commentary whereby Altaf played out a role of social responsibility? Or a political gesture in conformity with the artist’s political and existentialist convictions?
‘Art is born out of a natural compromise between intellect and humanism,’ he wrote in 1967. His sympathies had always been with the radical Left and tended toward idiosyncratic anarchism. Altaf was twenty-four when he returned from England and at the time there were several radical political movements coming to the fore in India, among them the Left movement and the students’ movement. He returned to an extremely active political scene. It is in the early 1970s that Altaf began to share political confidences with Marxist academics of Bombay University, artists, filmmakers, and sympathisers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the CPI (ML). There is continuity in the thought process, issues, and concerns from the 1970s to the subsequent periods in Altaf’s life and career that provide a sequential framework, a transition through self-actualisation, where he can find himself, find meaning in relation to his art—particularly in understanding the painter's creative process as an act of necessary self-assertion. It is a time when one finds Altaf re-evaluating his involvement with painting. The foundations for this can be seen in the drawings that make up this exhibition.
These drawings testify that his expression is intensely personal and largely expressionistic, recognising the unavoidable limitations and inherent contradictions in the constant questioning and continual revision. Within this, the intensity of rendering the personal, was constantly negotiated with aspects of a larger, wider concern. For there can be no ethical action without critical reflection. Altaf aimed to continually bring out new aspects, not by exploding conventions through criticism, but rather by organising himself to be able to relate to his subject matter in a way that seemed beyond all convention.