Edit, edit, edit is how Suneet would begin every discussion on which works to exhibit. You the artist are your best curator if you curb the tendency to show works for the love of the process, step back, take a thoughtful look and reduce the series to its bare minimum, just as your first work of the series is seminal the last is a step into the future. Don’t share it just yet. I remember so many of these gentle admonishments, suggestions full of wisdom and a profound knowledge of art. Of course i had to share his time with many other artists, there were chai addas in Triveni, laughter, conjecture, friends flocking around, gallerists looking for his tips on young artists, journalists angling for quotes. He was generous with introductions connecting like minded people and it’s through him that i met artists like Ambadas, Arpana Caur, the sculptor Latika Katt and the iconic Ebrahim Alkazi.
My memory of Suneet goes back to the JNU campus where he came to meet my father during the foundational years of the Students Federation of India.
We had just come back from a long stay in Moscow and he from London the air around us full of an optimistic revolutionary tide. Suneet of course went on to spearhead the SFI into its most vocal, impactful phase of the students movement with a natural acumen born of his humane outlook and unwavering belief in human equality. His studies at SOAS had provided him with diverse ideals like Patrice Lumumba, Ho Chi Minh and of course the legendary Palestinian resistance he had first hand experience of before he returned to India for his PhD.
Like the best of art and art writing Suneet’s essays though imaginative and analytical, always reflected the times we were living in, our society, the political milieu as he always gave thought to what was actually happening around us. He enjoyed my use of the Urdu word haqeeqat for this, a mix of reality and verity which could be identified in no uncertain terms, though perceived differently by different people. Often Suneet’s politics drew flak from some in the art community unfairly insinuating that he was biased in his art writing as a result of his ideology and political activism. Never short of a witty rejoinder Suneet faced such languid accusations with humour and a formidable expertise of art history, an awareness of diverse art practices and real insights into societies. While political activism clearly influenced his progressive position it never obfuscated his art writing which remained far from obvious, deeply intelligent, well informed and independent.
Art interpretation is not merely about conveying one’s response to an art work or an artists oeuvre, it means to engage in shaping thoughts to understand the world even universe and in the process of this engagement to develop a distinct voice of one’s own. Independence of thought is a tightly contested space in art and society and only those with the freedom to imagine, to vocalise and share artistic expressions free from institutional or commercial interference and censorship can continue to buoy that space and stay on course. Suneet was not reliant on any other and certainly not one to be pushed into a conclusion, if anything he was a contrarian, asserting his independence and handling obstructions with grace and ease. There was no anomie or detachment from community or culture, in fact he was extremely sociable, convivial, well travelled, lively in every gathering with love and support from his co workers, friends and family on whom he certainly depended in countless ways.
Suneet was particularly deft at interpreting movement, colours, gestures in paintings and drawings as well as sound and form in videos. His book The Art of Arpana Caur, writings on Orimoto Tatsumi, Felix Gonzales Torres and Zhang Huan demonstrate an engagement with art interpretation which is rooted in the ability to formally analyse the principal elements of an artwork along with the feelings it may evoke in the viewer. Suneet could present a complex idea in such a way that the meaning would reveal itself without being forced. Once the Galerie Romain Rolland screened my video, boat tied under a chinar, which has a background score of Beethoven’s violin sonata. For me the sonata was a musically intuitive choice while he in an impromptu gallery walk, evocatively pointed out to a group of viewers how the choice was evidently based on the fact that Beethoven’s music was embedded in humanism, freedom and self-determination akin to the people of Kashmir. Suneet titled my solo which he curated for Alliance Francaise the interconnected universe and against his own early advice to edit to a bare minimum he put works in all the media i work in. This was he said sharply to demonstrate how an artists individual points of reference drawn from different media like sculpture, painting, drawing, collographs, photography and videos can come together to reveal universalities in her art.
Not averse to benefits of the art market he often facilitated the way for younger artists or those coming from outside of big centres of art trade like Delhi, introducing them to gallerists and curating shows which ensured a platform to increase the visibility of their artworks. We discussed the possibility of artist run collectives which could provide work spaces for new comers and to encourage experiments in art by more established artists, funds for both are hard to come by and he in his mutinous way didn’t want to tie up with those who had the funds. Suneet was instrumental in creating a space in the art world for many of us who refused to hitch our wagons to commercial galleries and when we met this March, he told me he was spending even more now post Covid on young artists works to encourage and support them.
In the last conversation we had quite recently Suneet as expected dodged my questions about his health and started talking about Vivan being in the hospital. i had no hint of either of them passing that day but as they pass on both leave their brand of independence and defiance for the art world to remember for a long time. And with Suneet, many more outside the art arena too, in fact he saw to innumerable securely anchored buoys which are insubordinate rebellious and equipped to take the baton of change into their hands.