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Amit Ambalal's animals in Amdavad ni Gufa!

Posted by
on February 28, 2014 at 12:57 PM

Last week, for the first time in many years, the Amdavad ni Gufa threw open its doors to a quixotic show of Recent Sculptures by veteran Ahmedabad-based artist, Amit Ambalal. Replete with Ambalal’s trademark humour, the monkeys, dogs, elephants, tigers and other human-animal characters traipsing in the gallery seemed to have stepped straight out of the artist’s well-known paintings!

© Courtesy of the writer

The Amdavad ni Gufa is a wonderful space in Ahmedabad. Controversial and curious, eclectic and eccentric, funny and fascinating, strange and stunning. Originally called the Husain-Doshi Gufa, as two stalwarts in their own disciplines - Balkrishna Doshi in architecture and M F Husain in art - had come together to visualise and build it, it had to change its personalized nomenclature to the more generalized Amdavad ni Gufa under rather problematic circumstances. Ahmedabad ended its love affair with Husain in a very cantankerous manner, and for a number of years, this amazing over-the-ground and under-the-ground building-sculpture appeared abandoned and unvisited.

In its immediate neighbourhood is the Herwitz Gallery, again a Doshi-Husain venture with Husain acknowledging the enormous debt of contemporary Indian art to Chester and Davida Herwitz, the American art collecting couple, who in the mid-1990s, turned the Western perception of Indian art from something ‘folksy-ethnic-exotic’ to one that meant serious business. With their support, Indian contemporary art began to be accepted in several mainstream galleries in the West as well as in museum collections of contemporary art. Unfortunately the Herwitzes were killed in a car crash but their legacy became well-established. Over the last few years, the Amdavad ni Gufa complex began to be activated somewhat with a number of art exhibitions held at the Herwitz Gallery. A nice little café in the complex adds to its charm, attracting a number of young people to the landscaped space.

Last week, for the first time in many years, the Gufa threw open its doors to welcome a quixotic show of Recent Sculptures by veteran Ahmedabad-based artist, Amit Ambalal. Ambalal’s tongue-in-cheek sculptures of monkeys, dogs, tigers and other human-animals are placed on crisply-painted oil-barrels, and the small colourful sculptures are encased in acrylic cubes as they are caught and held in a dynamic moment of movement. It was a truly game-changing moment for the Gufa and I hope more such unusual work is shown there in the future.

Personally, the last time I had gone into the Gufa was in 1998-99. After that, it was once vandalized by anti-Husain protestors that caused its trustees to lock it up. Last week, when I was there again, I noticed the way its floor was ‘wavy’ as it would in a natural ‘cave’ setting and one had to be careful where one stepped, and not move languorously from one work to another as one would in the traditional gallery. The lighting was muted, spot-lighting the Amit Ambalal artworks, but in a way engaged with Husain’s painted walls, the sharp and strong drawing lines of both artists dancing a fascinating samba with each other.


Well, Husain is no longer alive, so how did Doshi react to you using the Gufa in this manner, I asked Khanjan Dalal, the young artist-gallerist running his Lemongrasshopper Gallery in Ahmedabad. “He was delighted,” laughed Khanjan, “He said this is exactly the way Husain had imagined the space to be used…”

About the veteran artist:

Born in 1943 in Ahmedabad, Ambalal has had no formal training in art, but has had the guidance of veteran artist and teacher Chhaganlal Jadhav. After graduating in Art, Commerce and Law, he joined his family business His passion for painting stayed on and he devoted all Sundays to pursue his passion; but he became a full-time artist only in 1979. 

Ambalal’s artworks can be divided into two very distinct parts; one of them is influenced by the historical Nathdwara style of devotional paintings and another is a contemporary style using which the artist depicts human behavioural tendencies through peculiar human/animal characters. Largely known for his simple portraits of life in India, a major segment of this artist’s creations is soaked in water-colours. He is especially renowned for working with untainted colours and amalgamating them on the paper itself rather than on the palette. His sculptures also employ the same animal characters – deer, monkeys, crows – and are like snapshots of human life!


Designer : Amit Ambalal
Photography :Courtesy the writer

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