Of Magic, Memory and Loss

Riya Kumar

Uncovering magical realism and a world of life, death, love and loss in the works of IARF grantee, Javed Akhtar.


In June of 2021, MAP in partnership with 1Shanthiroad Studio launched a relief fund to support artists and their work during the difficult times posed by the Covid 19 pandemic. Open to all practising artists in India, the relief fund received an overwhelming response with over 1000 applications. Twenty artists were selected by an independent jury comprising Paula Sengupta, Radha Mahendru, Indrapramit Roy and Suresh Jayaram. The jury members also offered mentorship conversations to the artists. 

In an attempt to showcase the exciting work that was achieved under this grant, we have placed the grantees and their artworks in conversation with each other, to respond to and facilitate a conversation around the common themes or concerns addressed in their art.


An unsettling disquiet lingers through Javed Akhtar’s paintings. With hints of magical realism, he intertwines nature, memory and dreams in the creation of works that contemplate human relationships and anxieties. 

Set amidst what appears to be a dense forest, The Wounded Lovers depicts two figures standing in close proximity to each other. The figures are cut open; flesh is made visible. In a conversation with the artist, he recalls his time studying in Santiniketan, where he often encountered lush greenery. He records his observations of nature in a sketchbook, frequently returning to these images and memories in the making of his works. For the artist, these memories transform into dreams. The jarring presence of the figures is deliberate and harks back to his observations of animal carcasses within these otherwise serene scapes. 


The Wounded Lovers, Javed Akhtar, 2021, Oil on canvas, H. 153 x W. 153 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

Such figures recur in other works. In Untitled II, two animal carcasses hang suspended in a butchers shop as two human figures loom in the background. The depiction of carcasses might recall the works of Francis Bacon where slaughtered animal figures could be read as expressions of human anguish.  As a witness to the destruction brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic, Akhtar reveals that the blending of grotesque elements highlighted the death, loss and violence that accompanied the pandemic. 

Untitled II, Javed Akhtar, 2021, Oil on canvas, H. 25 x W. 20 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

In another work from the series Wounded Lovers, the artist again depicts two figures, obscured, in a desolate landscape. A body of water surrounds them as they stand against a railing on the front porch of a non-descript house. The artist harnesses watercolours to achieve a hazy, misty quality to the work (Lovers II). The phrase “lovers” is almost a misnomer as the work evokes a sense of isolation and loneliness, amplified by the landscape.

 The Lovers II, Javed Akhtar, 2021, Watercolour on paper, H. 46 x W. 60 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

In the Garden of Love, the lushness of the forest is contrasted with a black hole at the centre of an encirclement of shrubs which evokes a sense of uncertainty. To the left, two naked figures – presumably lovers – embrace each other, reflecting a commingling of depictions of love riddled with feelings of anxiety and emptiness. Yet, despite its disconcerting nature, Akhtar notes that making art offers a space of solace, a way to cope with uncertainty and loss. Straying away from graphic depictions of violence,  he often employs the language of magical realism; electric hues of red, yellow and purple illuminate the sky as seen in a work titled The Lovers

Garden of Love, Javed Akhtar, 2021, Oil on canvas, H. 60 x W. 76 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

 The Lovers, Javed Akhtar, 2021, Watercolour on paper, H. 70  x W. 135 cm, Image courtesy of the artist

The melding of the sinister with the beautiful, the palpable tension between the two, tread through his works as we confront a world of life, death, love and loss.


Riya Kumar is a Curatorial Assistant at MAP. In her free time, she reads and watches instagram reels featuring golden retrievers.  

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