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A return to the public eye

Themba Ka Mathe

It took the idea of a cultural bridge between South Africa and India to get Aziz exhibiting again.

After more than three decades of reflecting on the socio-political conditions of one’s city and country, especially in the light of globalisation’s effect on nature, what does a legendary artist do to continue being relevant to his environment?

Remain stagnant, and repeat himself? Complete the full circle by going to the genesis of his artistic roots? Teach or just retire?

For iconic Indian artist Aziz, lending a lifting hand to young artists as a way of inspiring them to greatness is an honour he cherishes and embraces with warm hands. The virtuoso painter from Hyderabad, India has come out of “two decades of exhibition withdrawal” to resurface in a group exhibition in Pretoria.

There is an air of modest and royalty whirling around his silver greyish beard and long blueish Indian robes as he walks around the jacaranda perfumed yards of the SANAVA gallery in Pretoria.

“I can’t stop painting, it is like breathing for me,” he says. For more than two decades, Aziz says he only stopped exhibiting so that he could open space for others to express themselves too. “I have continued painting for my many collectors.” His collectors are spread across Europe, Asia, America and Africa savouring his magical and endearing three dimensional embossed technique paintings.

It took the idea of a cultural bridge between South Africa and India to get Aziz exhibiting again. “I think there are three great souls whom I respect a lot—Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela—all symbols of non-violence who have spent their lives in the service of humanity,” he says.

It is testimony to his honour for the country that gave the world two of these great souls—Mandela and Gandhi; that Aziz naturally decided to come and be a part of the journey they started.

“I have always wanted to come to South Africa. For me cross-cultural exchanges like these are important for understanding and appreciating each other. Communication across cultures is an informative exercise and I’m looking forward to seeing more works from local artists.”

His first idea of South African landscapes came only recently through artistic paintings that were exhibited in his home town as part of the first leg of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa.

Since then, Aziz has reciprocated the gesture by bringing along a small sample of his paintings: one of them a small relief painting of the ancient holy city of Varanasi, often considered a pathway to heaven for Indians. Another painting he brought is that of the Golconda, the symbol of the city of Hyderabad.

“I brought along a symbol of India.” Ironically, the majority of the first South African Indians who came to South Africa as indentured labour were from South India, and Aziz says he wanted to give them a glimpse of where they came from.

“I would like to encourage them to come and visit their roots.”

The other works by Aziz loom large in the exhibition room of the SANAVA gallery, evoking a unique appeal that leaves many a viewer either mesmerised or confused at the technical thoroughness of his work.

This is a man who is widely acclaimed for giving a pulsating and enduring life to wild horses, forts and banyan trees as he captures and preserves the originality of the natural environment in his three dimensional emboss technique.

“You see, I recreate. I create what is already there. I am fascinated by temples and fort architecture,” he says as he points out his work.

His art is not just about depicting nature, but he has a deep care for the environment and people which he transfers to his palatte to express his Gandhian credo of forbearance and simple living.

As part of his own special way of connecting with South Africa, and the “two great souls of human civilisation” he admires, he is using this trip to debut a unique set of portraits that celebrate both Mandela and Gandhi.

Over the next weeks “the recluse”, as Aziz is known, hopes to reconnect with South Africa artists, get to learn more about their artistic traditions and practice, while absorbing what the country has to offer.

“I want to work on the landscapes, rock formations and flowers—unique to this part of the world. Yes I would like to come back, perhaps on an artist in residence program if I can find one.”

“I see that there is still a strong influence of European art in South Africa just as in India.”

His few trips to the local museums around Pretoria have shown him, that there is a change that is evident and new forms of creative expressions are on display.

“From what I have seen I would still consider South African art is in the post-modern phase in its leanings. Young painters from democratic South Africa are trying to find their roots, and discover their identity. I think they should not stop learning or challenging themselves.”

A big part of the learning will come from these kinds of artistic exchange programmes, Aziz reckons.

“It will be great to see a steady traffic of artists and exhibitions across South Africa and India. And more non-profit and person-to-person dialogues should begin.”

As he leaves the gallery, Aziz says that he hopes his paintings and those of his countryman will give pleasure to South Africans.

In India and other parts of the world he is known for giving joy, and spreading happiness through his artistic works. Maybe that’s how many art lovers in South Africa will remember him for. That way Aziz would have completed a full-circle of global appreciation.

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