Of memories and nostalgia

Of memories and nostalgia

At the peak of his career in 1990, Dr Shivdev Singh decided to swap the scalpel for paint and brushes. He was interested in nurturing his life-long passion that he never let go off even during his hectic days as a paediatric surgeon. “After a long thought, I retired from surgery to pursue art full time. That time, I was at the top of my career and sensed it was time to move on and art was the only thing that could have fulfilled me as a creative person,” says Los Angeles-based Singh.

Singh moved to the US in 1971, but the fondness and longing for his native village in Punjab seems to have grown in the last four decades as his latest exhibition ‘The Village Pond: Cultural Reflections of Punjab’ that concluded on Monday was as an ode to the quaint village life whose memories are nestled somewhere deep in his memory and whose reflections were prominent in his works.

“My present works are more about my memories of my village folk, its culture and innocence. I have painted largely from my memories and the photographs I took of these villages, motivated by my grandchildren who would ask me about my childhood years,” 79-year-old Singh tells Metrolife.

“But yes, now I realise that there are many changes. There are no villages left anywhere, they have become small towns with concrete roads and lots of vehicles,” he says, adding he would like to document these changes in his next show.

These cultural glimpses have been projected well in the paintings. As in an oil painting titled Midday Break, women take a break from their hard toil in the fields and Singh adds a sense of open landscapes, typical of Punjab countryside.

Women in their beautiful phulkari dresses and exquisite bridal jewellery find place in Singh’s paintings as well.  Traditional events like giddha, jaago, wrestling matches and village fair were brought to life in Singh’s colourful and skilful depiction of the Punjabi
way of life.

Singh retired from the surgery to pursue art full time and spent four years in the College Arts department at Lancaster, California. “I subsequently trained at Art Institute of California and painted live models,” he recalls.

After seven years of learning the craft, his first exhibit came in 1997 in California, followed by Chandigarh in 2000 and another in the capital in 2009. But he feels his present body of work is closest to his heart. “I have concentrated on portraits and more figurative work this time. Painting expressions, faces and hands are far more complex and that excites me as an artist.”

There are 20 oil paintings on display and the show has been curated by art historian Alka Pande who feels “a  recurring  leitmotif  in  Singh’s  art  has  been  his  complete  absorption  with  the  cultural  tropes  of  Punjab.”

“Be  it  the  folk  songs,  the  folk  rituals,  the  traditional landscape  which  he  paints  time  and  again.  As  with  a lot  of   diaspora,  memory,  nostalgia,  identity politics  become  repeated  metaphors  in the  creative  expression  of  their  medium,” says Pande.

Admitting he has a great repository of childhood memories that he has been never removed from his roots. “My memories and nostalgia live with me.”

“The Indian diaspora in the US is large and varied and hence, the connection with people from India and my own state always remained alive. Secondly, I have a house in Chandigarh, so meeting friends, going to the same clubs, visiting the same places always brings back this nostalgia in me,” he says.

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