Although very simple in appearance, Gandhi was a photogenic figure. His enigmatic presence captivated the photographers and he was one of the most photographed Indians of his time. Not only that, he intrigued generations of artists to paint, sculpt and sketch him. Be it simple lines and curves that capture his iconic spectacles and walking stick, or a rather nuanced sculpture, artists of all times aspire to bring different dimensions of this persona. It can be said that Gandhi didn’t escape the imagination of almost all prominent Indian artists. Initially, the Nationalistic artists were creating imageries as part of the independent movement. Post-independence, Gandhi was represented as a symbol of resistance. Anytime fascists take an upper hand, the collectives of artists use imageries of Gandhi to express their resistance.
In this backdrop, sculptor Ramkinkar Baij’s famous bronze sculpture depicting Gandhi in mid-stride is an important one. Cast in the 1970s, it was originally conceived and executed in 1948 as a series of small but significant sculptures made in cement and plaster of Paris, in the immediate aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination. Sculpted in two versions, which portray Gandhi in unconventional forms, the works in this series are considered one of the most powerful representations of the national leader. A third version, a large-scale installation situated at the Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, was executed in the mid-1960s.
Bhupen Kakar, Nandalal Bose, KG Subramaniyam, and many other contemporary painters have used imageries of Gandhi. Eminent Chennai based artist K.M.Adimoolam is well known for his series of sketches and line drawings of Mahatma Gandhi done in the 1960’s. SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust) has been at the forefront of the resistance movement. The spontaneous anger generated by Safdar Hashmi’s murder on January 1, 1989 grew into a resolve to resist the forces threatening the essentially pluralist and democratic spirit of creative expression. Writers, painters, scholars, poets, architects, photographers, designers, cultural activists and media persons formed the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust/ Committee within weeks of Safdar Hashmi’s death. From its inception, SAHMAT has been a platform with a shared perspective and has welcomed the distinctive creativities of those who have been part of its activities. Sine 90s, SAHMAT initiated several art projects such as Addressing Gandhi, Postcards from Gandhi, etc., to raise their voice against the growing oppression. Many artists involved with SAHMAT created imageries and artworks using Gandhi and his ideologies. Ram Rahman, Gulam Mohammed Sheik, Bhupen Kakar, Surendran Nair, Abul Kalam Azad were few artists who had created Gandhi’s imageries during the turn of the century.
The drastic political change in India starting in 2015 has once again led to a nationwide proliferation of Gandhi’s presence in art. Atul Dodia has done a series of oil paintings featuring Gandhi and other political leaders. Riyaz Komu’s work of Gandhi done in 2016 garnered much attention. In 2019, Lalit Kala Academi organised an exhibition of 120 artists representing their expression of Gandhi. On October 1, 2021, an exhibition of sketchings of Gandhi titled Gandhi: Loneliness of the Great by A Ramachandran opened at the Vadedhra Art Gallery.