Pune was not a part of the plan when Chennai-based artist Bhagwan Chavan was planning his latest exhibition ‘Freedom@75’—a tribute to 75 years of India’s Independence.
When Vesavar Art Gallery on East Street brought the works to the city on November 5 and renamed the show ‘Rajatva’, the response was encouraging enough for the gallery and the artist to extend the dates of what is to be a month-long exhibition till January 3, 2024.
Under the sloping roof, the white walls are lined with canvases that are abstract representations of the freedom struggle of nameless populations. What stands out are the dominant colours of saffron, white, green and blue.
Chavan began the project after a visit to the Mahatma Gandhi ashram in Maharashtra’s Wardha. He decided to represent the struggles of the freedom fighters by stripping his own process of certain freedoms.
Chavan did this in several ways — creating canvases that were the size of the original Indian flag— rectangles of two by three feet — and producing artwork on a total of 75 canvases.
He set himself a deadline of two years to complete this project. “Rajatva is nothing but command on what you do, or complete authority of your subject,” says the artist. He adds that he wanted to represent something different, but was unsure of how he was going to do that.
“I doodled and did some watercolour and pencil works, but I soon began to feel stuck. That’s when it struck me that we had come a long way from how the British had left us, and this progress was because everybody had put in their best. Could our freedom fighters or jawans say that they were finding life too difficult and quit mid-way? I needed to capture that spirit in myself. I decided to not give up,” says Chavan.
As evident in the collection on display, Chavan found a way out by increasing the size of the canvases, while maintaining the original flag’s ratio. The paintings draw from Bhagwan’s lifelong fascination with nature.
Working in his studio at the Cholamandal Artist Village, Chavan spends his nights absorbed in his craft.
His midnight walks are an integral part of his routine, where he immerses himself in the shifting patterns of shadows in nature and the soothing sea breeze along the East Coast Road.
In 1982, while in his third year at JJ School of Art, Chavan recieved recognition for his work from the Lalit Kala Academy during their 25th exhibition and was honored with the LKA award.