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Bhupen Khakhar

Born 1934. Died 2003.

Bhupen Khakhar Biography

Born in Mumbai into a middle-class Gujarati family, Bhupen Khakhar trained as an accountant but moved to Baroda in 1962, where he chose a new career path as a writer and an artist. Largely self-taught, Khakhar later became a key figure at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. Khakhar and his peers organized the landmark exhibition Place for People which traveled to Delhi and Bombay in 1981. The exhibition marked the move away from the Modernism associated with the Progressives and developed an Indian Post-Modernist aesthetic, which centered on the representation of the human figure within a local context. Khakhar chose to portray ironic depictions of social types and mocked the tastes and aspirations of the Indian middle-class by doing so. Khakhar continually pushed the boundaries of subject matter, often touching on topics that were controversial and derived from autobiographical references,

In 1976, Khakhar made his very first trip abroad, facilitated by a cultural exchange program by the Indian government, which took him to USSR, Yugoslavia, Italy and the United Kingdom. In the UK, Khakhar stayed as a guest with artist and friend Howard Hodgkin, who he had previously met in 1972. At the behest of Hodgkin, Khakhar returned to the UK in 1979 as an artist-in-residence at Bath Academy of Art.

On 20th June 1979, Khakhar opened a solo exhibition at two adjacent galleries of Hester van Royen and Anthony Stokes Ltd. Khakhar began to engage with the UK art scene, which in turn steered him towards future exhibitions with the Knoedler Galleries (1983) and Kapil Jariwala galleries (1995). In 1986 he had a solo show at the Pompidou Center in Paris. He was later given a retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid in 2002, making Khakhar one of the most lauded Indian artists.

In 1982, Hodgkin included Khakhar’s work in a curated exhibition Six Indian Painters at the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) in London, as part of the 'Festival of India'. Khakhar is known to have been the youngest of the artists in the show and by doing this, Hodgkin “wrote him into a genealogy of artistic greatness.” (‘Chronology,’ Bhupen Khakhar, You Can’t Please All , Tate Enterprises Ltd., 2016, p. 176) This proved to be the beginning of a long-standing relationship with the Tate Museums; later in 2001, Khakhar’s work was part of the exhibition, Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis and most recently in 2016, the Tate held an international retrospective, You Can’t Please All in honor of Khakhar. This exhibition was accompanied with an expansive new publication made possible by the generous support of Hodgkin and his partner, Mr. Antony Peattie.

In the 1970s, Khakhar bore witness to the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in the UK. After interacting with artists such as David Hockney, this became the hallmark of the next phase in his artistic production, which made him the first Indian artist to freely disclose his sexual orientation through his work.
In the year 2000, Khakhar was honored with the Prince Claus Award at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Among other honors, he won the Asian Council's Starr Foundation Fellowship in 1986, and the prestigious Padma Shri (Indian Government's award for excellence) in 1984. He passed away in 2003.

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