Sculpting his way to national honour

Lalit Gupta
Bestowed with highest national civil honour of ‘Padamshree’ for the year 2012, Rajendra Tiku, is proud and honored member of the rare tribe of contemporary sculptors in the country.
He is the son of the soil who in 1970s defied conventional Kashmiri Pandit community’s preference for a white collar job only to follow his calling of heart to practice sculpture as a vocation. It is in testimony to his single minded devotion and dedication that during last  four decades his creative art works have not only given a new meaning to present day practice  of modern art in our State but also influenced many a national trends.
Born in 1952 in Wadwan, Kashmir, an apple growing rural enclave, the calm and peaceful life
in the village for Rajendra Tiku was like a microcosm wherein nature and the culture  subsisted in a symbiotic relationship. While the fragrances in the air like all-pervading  entities revealed a world of details about surrounding rhythms and cycles of nature, of  swaying grass blades, exotic herbs, evergreen shrubs, colorful flowers, delicious fruits,  striking birds, and gentle live stock that is inextricable intertwined with the life of a  farmer, of his rootedness with good earth. The life inside his rural family home—ever alive  with siblings and the matriarchal presence of a wise and hardworking mother—was a traditional  affair in details of the cuisines, costumes, rituals and customs. While the village community  life bound by time honoured conventions of social exchange, mutual respect and tolerance, made  Rajendra Tiku to take in stride the harsh realities of austerity and struggle.
After passing out of the village middle school, he moved to Srinagar to study at the high  School, and later on to enroll for B.Sc course at S.P. College where the batch of brilliant  teachers honed his natural instincts and inclinations through subtle guidance and informal  exchanges. In those years of striving; he wishing to develop his childhood interest in  drawing, joined the evening classes in Institute of Music and Fine Arts, Jawahar Nagar. Days  were spent at physics, chemistry and literature; evenings at clay modeling and stone carving.
Three years went by in this fashion. He developed an ever growing interest in literature; and  he would stop at sites of wayside stone carvers to observe them at work and engage them in  conversation. He became increasingly aware of the art heritage of Kashmir. But he had not completed his diploma in sculpture.
In spite of commitment to his deepening interest, he was filled with apprehension: the  question to whether a life devoted to sculpture was indeed his vocation could not be answered  with absolute certainty. And he began reading for a degree in law. The Institute of Music and Fine arts modeled on pedagogical pattern of Baroda Faculty of Fine Arts provided formalized  training in which western and Indian art traditions were analyzed through courses in art  history and study of works of arts.
Rajendra chose to specialize in sculpture as he found himself drawn to art of primitive and  ancient cultures: Hittite, Incas and Australian aborigines along with works of modern masters  like Brancsui, Henri Moore, Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. During theses years he came in  contact with many leading artists of the country who visited Valley for annual artists camps  organized by State Art Academy. He spent time with leading artists like Dhanraj Bhagat, Janki  Ram, B C Sanyal, K K Hebber, Hussain and theses formal and personal contacts helped strengthen  his artistic resolve and influence his sensibility.
But during this period, he continued to search for his own idiom which he felt was ultimately  rooted in his native culture and landscape. Stone as a medium had a strong attraction,  archaeology fascinated him. The ruins of Avantipura and Martand and the geometrics of Islamic  architecture had much to offer to him. It was during theses ventures into Kashmir’s past that  as an artist he became aware of mytho-poetic aspects of shrines and temples, of the strange  stillness of vertical and horizontal tomb stones. The visual aspects of these were to become  part of his yet amorphous artistic vocabulary.
After obtaining diploma in sculpture, and teaching for some time in Burn Hall School, Rajendra  was appointed as artist\teacher at IMFA, Jammu and the idea that practice of sculpture was  part of his destiny was now translated as everyday reality wherein Jammu, his initial place of  posting, was to play a pivotal role as a ‘karam bhumi’.  Mainly inspired from the wayside shrines of Duggar, baolies, mohras, and sculptures besmeared  with vermilion and black and everyday arefacts which one way or the other depict traces and  signs of transition of time on their surfaces, he created a body of reliefs and three- dimensional works which with calligraphic and pictographic markings engraved on the surfaces,  emerged as syncratic talismans having a distinctive morphology also draw attention towards  human constants.
Though he had already received State Academy Awards in 1978 & 79, he got national recognition  and admiration for creative integration of different media like terracotta, wood and stone in  compositions that in addition also displayed accomplishment in the manipulation of surfaces  and textures. He received National Award for Sculpture in 1993 and 8th Triennial India  (International) Award in 1994.
He received Junior Fellowship of the Department of Culture, Ministry of Human Resource  Development, Govt of India (1993-1995) which was followed by Senior Fellowship (1997-99). In  1999, he was conferred upon the distinction of being an “Eminent Artist” by Lalit Kala  Akedemy, the national academy for fine arts, New Delhi. One who also specializes in monumental and out-door sculptures, the distinction and honours  came for him one after another. In 2005, as part of international recognition, he received  Pollock Krasner Foundation (New York) Grant for advanced work in sculpture. Under this grant  he created number of monumental sculpture at many places in country. One such sculpture is  presently displayed in the front lawn of Dhanwantri Library, University of Jammu.
He has held number of solo and group exhibitions, held presentations at seminars besides  penniung down publications in form of articles published in leading journals and magazines.
Rajendra Tiku’s seminal role as a teacher of sculpture at IMFA, Jammu, has also been one of  main reasons for catapulting Jammu as one of the happening centers of contemporary sculpture  in the country. Today many of his students are working as creative artists and designers in  Jammu as well as different parts of the country.
One who is a regular invitee in all important national level sculpture symposia and workshops  along with international participation at Switzerland, Israel, Russia, Egypt, Russia and  Thailand, etc just to name a few, Rajendar Tiku, is constantly envisaging giving an expression  to silent and sacred within the format and ambit of contemporary sculpture and try to find and  establish its relative dynamics vis-à-vis a particular surrounding, environment and space. In  this act he tries to materialize those spatial and plastic relationships, which are fueled  with energy to transport us beyond the particularity of the structure, the physicality of the  medium and situational framework into an area where the environment of our aspirations is not  only realized but also enhanced. This phenomenon in turn may relieve us of our direct,  physical or visual bonding with a work of sculpture and even while standing within its space  allow us to generate our freely expanding aspirational space’.
Thus he considers ‘sculpture as a larger phenomenon, of which a medium, its execution and  dimension etc. is only a part. The lot more beyond these attributes is its potential to reveal  truth: Its potential to work on us in return and impart meaning to our existence’.
Having the advantage of locating his own distinct creative expression within the global  scenario, today he is not only  making creative sculptures but also defining their practice  while working at his ‘karam bhumi’as well as ‘sharan sthali’—Jammu.