Sneha Shah and Carina Kohli reflect on the works and achievements of the late Keshav Malik— a prolific poet, art critic, curator and arts scholar
Sitting on the banks of the serene Yamuna in the 1960s-1970s, Keshav Malik began his journey as a poet and art critic. A verse from The Singular, a poem from his collection Rippled Shadow, holds a mirror to the man unlike any biography or obituary does:
“He will not talk as plural; he, a bare mouth-piece
To the singing of seas, shall indeed singular be.
He cannot claim more, his comments his own, are not
The general lie or moan.”
In Malik’s context, the term “art critic” shouldn’t be taken in its conventional implication. He would interpret the world around him—including art—with a rare sensitivity and poetic lyricism. An art critic for the Hindustan Times (1960-1972) and The Times of India (1975-2000); editor of Thought, Indian Literature; co-editor of Art and Poetry, and the author of several publications, his contributions earned him immense recognition and respect. For his achievements, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991 by the government of India for his contribution to literature.
It would be unfair to remember Malik for his achievements alone; his words were laden with meaning and a deep reflection on the world around him. It is evident that his poetic inclinations impacted his art writing. “Poetry is the foremost sense-maker of experience”, he once said. He saw poetry as a filter to cleanse one’s being and recover one’s lost self-continuity. “Art, and the purer of the sciences, invest the world of every day with new meanings, fresh symbols, whereby to express the refreshed vision or a timeless quest,” the critic wrote, quite lyrically, exploring the significance of art in society in his book Dus Mahavidyas: Ten Creative Forces.
Artists adored Keshav Malik, kind with his words, and humane and sensitive in his approach to criticism. He wouldn’t pass judgment on any work of art, writing based purely on his aesthetic sensibility, and would sometimes respond through poetry.
“His art criticism did not come from art history; it came from his deep understanding of aesthetics as a poet. He responded to the works of art according to this aesthetical understanding. He never hurt anybody by making a harsh judgment. In fact there was no need for him to be harsh on any artist. He belonged to a world of dreamers; beauty, harmony and poetry were the rules of that world,” artist K.S. Radhakrishnan reminisced in a conversation with a blogger.
This legendary icon of the Indian art world passed away on June 11, 2014 in New Delhi, India. A revolutionary to the core, he will be remembered for his sensitivity and wisdom through his passionate dexterity for words.