Mrs. Sujata Bajaj: The Versatile Painter

IJ Anita Tejwani
Published on: 28th September 2014
One needs to unravel the persona behind a creation and re-trace the routes that are at the root of the signatory's aesthetics to analyze the inspiration and appreciate the art. A small town girl Sujata Bajaj, daughter of parents who were a part of India's struggle for independence, was born in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, in 1958. The youngest of five siblings, she has fond memories of a happy childhood growing up in a close-knit Marwari family with a strong commitment to Gandhian ideology. Jaipur, the pink city, perhaps, predestined Sujata to fuse with colour. Although she moved to Paris and spent five years in Stavanger in Norway, she never really separated from India. She has kept that millennial culture of service to others.

She is an Indian by the clothes she wears, the food she eats and by the way she paints, seated cross-legged on the floor. Through her window she sees the treetops and the sky. "It is a way of conserving a link to the earth. It is also a way of meditating. I forget everything else," says Sujata.

Sujata is quintessentially Indian, but she is even more so because of her childhood. "I didn't understand then, how extraordinary my childhood was," says Sujata. She then adds, "But yes, I had the feeling that I was receiving a lot. My parents moved around with the most unusual people like, Gandhi Bapu, Vinobha Bhave, Kakasaheb Kalekar. I remember in particular the philosopher Kakasaheb Kalelkar; whenever he came to our house, he would sit next to me, and before joining the others, would tell me a story. It was, in a way, his entry ticket, a little ritual between us; he had to tell me a story when he came in and when he left. My parents were incredibly open-minded. There was no question of any talk of caste in our house. All castes and all religions were welcome. I could as easily meet the Dalai Lama as eat at the home of my maid who was an untouchable. For us, the caste distinctions, which bog India down, did not exist. I didn't have many toys or clothes. My life was very simple but very rich. I received a great deal from all those people."
sujata bajaj,versatile painter
"In India you have often to choose between freedom and emotional security, and I had the good fortune to enjoy both. My sister was like a second mother and this gave me great strength," says Sujata. Her childhood was different from that of her brothers and sisters. "Ma would often say to me: 'When you were born we had electricity and fans at home; when you were born, all was well'," remembers Sujata. 'Ma': you have to hear Sujata utter the word to understand how much the love and strength of her mother have helped to carry her forward and make her what she is today. It was her mother, who noticed Sujata's love for drawing when her daughter was just three or four years old; it was she who encouraged Sujata to leave India and discover Paris and the museums of Europe. And again, it was she who accepted her daughter's independence in a country where women have often submit to their fathers, then to their husbands, and finally, to their sons.

When Sujata announced to her parents that she was going to marry Rune, a Norwegian, her father asked her just one question: "Are you sure of your love for him?" and her mother added: "Don't forget, life is like an artist's palette, it has all the colours." But it is not only the sense of freedom that Sujata has inherited from her mother. She also has her father's stubbornness: a man, who worked till he was 98, set an example for his daughter. Like him, she gave herself wholly to her art. "When you are strong from within," he would tell her, "when you believe in what you are doing, everything is possible; you can achieve anything."

After completing her high school Sujata left home to study fine arts in Pune, and received a gold medal upon finishing her first degree. She lived with her brother's family, and would continue to be with them for the next twelve years dedicating herself to her passion and working up to eighteen hours a day. When she did a portrait and was not satisfied with the result, she would compel herself to draw a head every day, refusing to eat until it was done. It is with the same resolve that she took to eating only grapes for ten days in September every year. "I don't like grapes but this shapes my will," says Sujata.

After Sujata took the first prize in a University competition entitled "Composition with a folkloric symbol", M.R. Kelkar, an artist and a professor of fine arts, proposed to organise an exhibition of her works in one of the premier galleries of Pune. This was in 1978 and Sujata wasn't yet twenty. All those who had helped her were present at the opening. When the moment arrived for her to take the mike and speak, Sujata burst into tears of joy and emotion. That evening tears and silence were her way of thanking life.

In 1990, she was walking in the Marais neighbourhood with a friend. The two had emerged from a beautiful Parisian gallery on Rue Charlot, and Sujata was dreaming of just such a place to exhibit her work. She had already held exhibitions across India, but how should she go about it here, she wondered! At that moment, a woman came out of the gallery and accosted her on the sidewalk. She enquired, "Are you an artist?" "Yes!" replied Sujata. "Can I see your paintings?" asked the stranger. Of course, a few months later, Christine Marquet de Vasselot inaugurated a solo exhibition of Sujata in her gallery. Later, she presented her work in the Salon Découverte of the Grand Palais and in galleries outside France. Surely this was a lucky star shining on her as her name suggests. In 1994, as Rune's diplomatic assignment came to an end, Sujata was pregnant. "I had always wanted a daughter, perhaps, because of the close ties I had with my mother. I try to transmit what I have received. Helena has never hampered my work. On the contrary, she has given me plenty of energy. Becoming a mother nourished and inspired me. My daughter has always respected my hours of work and my space even when she was small. She knows she mustn't disturb me when I am painting. She has an uncommon sense of colour. As a child she would tell me that blue and yellow go well together because they are like the sky and the sun," narrates Sujata. The little girl was born in July 1995.
Sujata works every day, seated on the ground in her white and sparse apartment that is in complete contrast to the colour and profusion of her canvases. Her white cat Nicy, is at her side even up to two in the morning. It never scratches or paws at the work in progress but simply accompanies it. Sujata is preparing exhibitions around the world in Paris, Mumbai, New Delhi, Tokyo, London and Hong Kong, working with acrylic which allows for spontaneity or with mixed technique on paper. At night she dreams of painting, of a stroke she needs to modify here or there, of harnessing, to use her husband's expression- this 'overflow of energy' that fires her. She does quite simply what she has to do, to make colour come alive.

Sujata Bajaj spends her time between Pune, Norway and Paris after having completed several prestigious solo shows at Commonwealth Art Gallery, Edinburgh, U.K, Mac---Robert Art Centre, University of Stirling, Centre d'Accueil des Etudiants du Proche--- Orient, Paris, France. Galerie Jean Louis Voisin, Pourville--- sur---Mer, France. Galerie Bernanos, Ministère de Education Nationale, France, Galerie Christine Marquet de Vasselot, Paris, Galerie Art & Data, Frankfurt, Germany, Maison de Norvège, Paris, Galleri Nordstrand, Oslo, Norway.

Her Achievements:

2003 "Raza Award".
1991 Bombay Art Society Award.
1986 Selected for International Youth in Achievement, Cambridge.
1986 Best painting award, Nasik Kala Niketan.
1985 Painting selected for inclusion in the National Collection.
1984, 1979 State Art Award, Maharashtra.
1983 Outstanding Young Person of Maharashtra.
1982 Outstanding Young Person of Pune.
1979 Chancellor's Award, S.N.D.T. University, Mumbai.
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