On August 18th, I went to the play presentation of Reena Jayswal, a student of Arts and Humanities at theย  CEPT university here in Ahmedabad. It was part of the Graduate Show 2011 which includes, film screenings, art installations and Photo exhibitions by students.
Amrita Sher-Gil Image courtesy- Sikhiwiki.org
The play was an ode to the painter Amrita Sher-Gil. A contemporary theatrical performance titled “The Sensualist” with projection of photos and videos, narration and acting, it was a complete experience. Reena Jayswal conceived and directed this presentation. Amrita Sher-Gil was interpreted by Heeba Shah who was natural and resplendant. The lovely Ratna Pathak was present for the performance.
The play was in the form of letters written by Amrita Sher-Gil to important people in her life, her mother Marie Antoinette Gottesmann-Baktay of Hungarian origin, her sister – Indira and art critic, admirer and friend Karl Khandalawala. Student of the Ecole des Beaux Arts – Paris, she returned home to explore herself as an Indian painter.
The play was a beautiful ode to the passionate and dynamic woman that Amrita Sher-Gil was. Her boldness when it came to defying the stringent societal rules for women, her openness about female sexuality in general and her exploration of her own sexuality more precisely reveals a women who was ahead of her times.
Self Portrait – Courtesy Wikipedia

All I knew about Amrita Shergill was that she was a controversial painter. She died young at the age of 28, the cause of which is not clear. The play revealed her complex and strong personality. She was a woman who knew what she wanted and refused to let anyone influence her. A revolutionary painter, she was not always appreciated during her time. Bold and outspoken, she lived life by her own rules. Her letters to her sister Indira and mother Marie Antoinette reveal a close relationship with them. Through these letters we are taken on her route to self-discovery through marriage, sexuality, painting, and her search for identity.
Her letters to Karl are moving and reveal a deep kinship but more importantly unveil for us her fierce individuality. The last part of the play an exchange of letters between Amrita and Karl was beautiful owing to the content of the letters themselves of course, but also because of the direction, the lights and the impressive acting of Heeba Shah and co – actor.

In Ahmedabad where there is a real dearth of contemporary art presentations, it was an extraordinary event. To think that I almost didn’t go to it. I wouldn’t have known but how I would have regretted it!!
Thank You Reena Jayswal for this beautiful experience and for introducing me to the tumultuous and free spirited world of Amrita Sher-Gil and, Heeba Shah who for me is now the living image of Amrita Sher-Gil.

I am now on the lookout for Amrita Sher – Gil – A self portrait in letters and writings edited by her nephew, contemporary artist Vivan Sundaram.

Read Words uttered in Haste’s post on Amrita Sher-Gil for more details on her life and paintings.
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