“Art is the inner necessity for me to express my self – known and unknown”

Divya Sudarsanan

Mahirwan Mamtani is a painter, graphic and a multimedia artist who discovered art at the age of six, but had to discontinue it due to unfortunate circumstances. The love of art lingered and he resumed it at the age of twenty when he went to study art at Delhi Polytechnic.

Recently, Mamtani held an exhibition titled “Masks – what is behind?” in Munich. Günter Ebert, an art reviewer called it: “A remarkable exhibition with an unusual exhibition title, in the form of a question that points directly to the central content of the visual art presented by Mahirwan Mamtani.  There is nothing superficial behind but only reality behind the masks which Mahirwan Mamtani wants to depict in his art.  A mask, according to Mahirwan , not only hides but also emphasizes and strengthens characteristics which otherwise would remain faceless in the truest sense,” adding that, “In the Indian tradition of linking Western Europe with elements, Mahirwan Mamtani represents more than the autonomous artistic value by bridging the gaps between cultures.”

Born in Sindh, 1935, Mamtani arrived in Delhi after the India partition 1947. He says of his difficult life, “I left in poor conditions and in sickness. I had to work at the age of 16 to earn money for survival.  Besides work, I studied in the evenings. I did my Bachelor of Arts 1955, and received a National Diploma in Fine Arts from the Delhi Polytechnic 1962.  Four years later, I was awarded a scholarship by DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service to study at the Academy of Visual Arts in Munich in 1966.”  Since then, Mamtani has lived in Munich, Bavaria and its surroundings, along with showcasing numerous exhibitions across the globe.

Ask him if his venture into graphics and multimedia were incidental or deliberate, he says, “Basically, I am a painter.  In the 70s, I did a lot of graphic editions in Germany because there was a demand for graphics at that time, and I was also ready from inside to do so, but now I do not do editions like before. My serigraphs received several awards among others:  an international award at the 10th International Biennale of Prints in Tokyo in 1976. In 1981, I worked on my animation films (Super 8) – “Centrovision” and “Faces”, in which I animated my graphical works.  I painted Mandala faces on wood, they looked like masks, I wore them and started dancing in my studio.  Photographs and videos were taken at the same time with the help of a self-timer.  I over- painted photo sheets with acrylic colours and called this series of my work “Transmuted Photos”.  Afterwards I enlarged these figurative works on canvas with acrylic colours, and I call these series “Mandala Conscious Beings”. Some large size masks done on wood inspired me to do some installations integrated with other materials like cloth.  Similarly, I have been integrating the dance videos taken in my studio with other photo materials to create again new works.  So with me, it is a chain of different disciplines integrated into my art.”

Mamtani does not consider one medium to be challenging than the other. He says, “There is always a passion for creation, and I do not see it as a challenge but as an inner fulfillment and evolvement.” For him, art and spirituality are interconnected. “It is a spiritual process for me,” he adds.
 
Has India and the art scene evolved vis-a-vis globally? He says, “In the 60s, in Europe, people did not know about modern art of India!  A few Indian artists used to exhibit in other countries but there was hardly any recognition.  This discrimination was only based on the economical situation of India, which has changed for the last 5-8 years.  Now, Indian artists are being recognized globally. Art has changed both creatively and commercially, too.”

Mamtani is inspired by “music, my inner self and my own creations,” and agrees that an artist’s life is a lonely one, but an artist needn't necessarily ascribe it to them self. “I agree that an artist's life is a lonely one from the angle of common people, but he doesn´t feel so. A real artist is always connected to his work day and night.  On the other hand, he requires loneliness in his studio for the creation of art,” says he. When it comes to his art and discipline, he believes that “there is always a thread of inner continuity of my art, whether it is painting, drawing, graphic, photography, videography or installation -  each medium involves different discipline.”

Among the many memorable responses he’s had over the years to his work, he considers the one  where Dr. S. Radhakrishnan viewed his exhibits in 1962 as a memorable one. On his favourite work, he says it’s impossible to choose one because “each of my work contains a drop of nectar of a different flower, how can I as a creator not enjoy all?”  Some of his personal and favourite artists are Kandinsky and Dali.


Mamtani unwinds by working among other things. He says, “For me, there is always work.  I also cook, play drums, work in the garden. I travel; every year I go to India for about four weeks, meet friends and relatives.  I also go to Portugal, where my daughter lives, and paint there as well.”