That Common Story

That Common Story
signed and dated in Hindi (lower left); further signed and dated twice, titled and inscribed 'R. Broota. / 69 / RAMESHWAR BROOTA / 1969 / "That Common Story" / 267cm x 177cm / TRIVENI KALA SANGAM / 205. TANSEN MARG / NEW DELHI 110001' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
69 7/8 x 105 1/8 in. (177 x 267 cm.)
Painted in 1969
Christie's Dubai, 1 February 2007, lot 371
Acquired from the above
Rameshwar Broota, The Winding Spiral, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 1998 (detail illustrated, unpaginated)
R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, p. 225 (illustrated)

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Nishad Avari
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Lot Essay

Rameshwar Broota graduated from Delhi College of Art in 1963 and joined the institution as a lecturer soon after. In 1967 he was appointed Head of the Art Department at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, and has been based in the city since. Starting out as a portrait painter, Broota soon moved on to freer, less realistic figurative paintings in which he depicted people from marginalized sections of society that he encountered on a daily basis in Delhi. Works from this early period foreshadowed the artist’s decade-long series of satirical Ape paintings of the 1970s that took his commentary on socioeconomic injustice and corruption to the next level.

This monumental painting from 1969, titled That Common Story, mirrors Broota’s personal experiences of struggle as well as the daily challenges faced by members of India’s urban, laboring classes. The four skeletal figures here represent starving workers, dehumanized by bureaucracy and economic inequality. Employing scale to emphasize the helplessness of these withered beings, Broota makes it hard for viewers to ignore their plight. Through their hollowed-out bodies, the artist seeks to imprint their story on his viewer’s conscious, creating a platform on which their subaltern voices might be heard.

Painted before Broota turned to the figures of humanoid apes as a metaphor for the immoral and entitled social elite, the figures here represent the oppressed and silenced instead. “At that time I was concerned with the labour class, those hard-working people, and I thought they were suffering because of politicians [...] I was working very directly, drawing the labourers who were just starving and who didn't know what to do or where to go” (Artist statement, R. Dean & G. Tillotson, eds., Modern Indian Painting, Jane & Kito de Boer Collection, Ahmedabad, 2019, p. 244).

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