Episode #1, A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy not so Far Away

Nupur Dalmia
Baroda, April 2017

“Walter & Friends”. The title alludes to an informal Whatsapp group where the show was first conceptualized. Walter D’Souza’s work is showcased alongside that of Anandajit Ray, Hans Kaushik, Nataraj Sharma, V. Ramesh, and Veer Munshi, originally with no particular intent, but with the serendipitous result of capsuling a particular time in Baroda with nostalgic significance. The show’s unusual, yet endearing inception is relevant as context of what these artists, and friends, share in common. They studied together at the MS University in Baroda, in the 70s and early 80s, and were together later at the Kanoria Center for Arts, where they also met Anandajit, a few years their junior.

Chitra's charity Show for Morvi Flood Victims - Ramesh as a crane and Veer as a frog

Nostalgia is a valuable emotion. It is integral to the friendships of these artists, their displayed artworks, and in the larger narrative of contemporary art. It is an essential human condition, a notion of longing, that also finds meaning in the scientific term, ‘familiarity bias’ – we are drawn towards what we know, and search for it once it is gone. Nostalgic memories are proven to create a sense of belonging, and a dichotomy between the ‘then’ and ‘now’, both of which fuel creativity and therefore explain how significant past experiences play a crucial role in artistic expression. It is visible in Anandajit’s bleak renditions of a dystopian present, in Veer Munshi’s bitter depictions of being forced to leave Kashmir, and in V. Ramesh’s quest for a utopian escape from existential tragedies. Indeed we are inundated by nostalgic expression in popular culture – for instance, with millennial hashtags like “ThrowbackThursday” and “Inthe90sIThought”, and with marketing campaigns like “Froot Loops – Bring Back the Awesome.”

Perhaps nostalgia explains why we never replaced the show’s title, ‘Walter & Friends’, originally intended as a working title. Its sweet sentimentality somehow befits the context as it celebrates Walter’s contribution to the building. The Banyan Tree on the façade, the Gabion wall in the basement, a railing here, mural there, stencils loaded with meaning, the entire structure is inherently bolstered with Walter’s art, seeking discovery from its audience. In a larger sense, ‘Walter & Friends’ celebrates the friendship of these six artists, and several others, who share a common history.

Veer and Nataraj leaping as frogs

In Walter’s words, it is impossible to fairly represent Baroda’s artistic narrative in a single curated show. ‘Walter & Friends’ then, is a happy coincidence that provides insight into a particular chapter of that larger narrative. It is holistic in its encompassing of diverse themes and mediums, but simultaneously of significant parallels in artistic experiences specific to the city. None of them conformists, Walter fondly remembers them as free souls who let their passions lead their way, but they did so with an unwavering focus. Determined to continue through the pitfalls in their journey without losing faith in their passion. Coming from diverse backgrounds, some even from different professions, these individuals shared one, perhaps crucial, quality – tenacity. They were audacious at times, but not reckless. Together, this group brings forth the soul that existed in the faculty at the time.

Reunited in Baroda.
From Left to Right:
V.Ramesh, Anandajit Ray, Nataraj Sharma, Veer Munshi, Walter D'Souza

This is a soul reminiscent of Nasreen Mohammadi; a faculty professor in MSU at the time. To quote a candid conversation with Walter, “she is THE person who marks the beginning of my journey in Baroda.” Walter is referring to her indulgent lesson on his first day of lecture at MSU. Having just quit his BA, Nasreen forced Walter to take responsibility for his decision to join the fine arts faculty as she asked him to stay out of class until he was sure of his decision. When Walter returned to her lecture a few days later, with only a sketchbook filled with drawings done in his time outside class, she happily allowed him to join the class. The soul is equally reminiscent of professors like Jyoti bhai, who, as Walter fondly recalls, would never miss an opportunity to record videos of the various skits they performed on campus; of Jeram Patel, who taught applied arts to Nataraj and playfully joked about his work being the mildest form of applied art because Nataraj’s true passion lay in painting; of Gulam Sheikh’s first year introductory class, wherein he spoke about art like a story and seamlessly punctuated it in his last class – eliciting much excitement and making the theory more of a learning process than a dreaded academic exercise; of Dr. Parimoo’s history classes that made them thankful to have access to the enormous collection of visual archives at the faculty; of Mani Sir, and Raghav Kaneria and Dhumal; of the campus stray dog, Dean, who’s name was later changed to Jogi, short for Dean Joglekar, when Dr. Rajan succeeded him as Dean and disapproved of the dog’s original name. These experiences are undeniably shared in the art of Walter & Friends; at times overtly emphasized, such as, for instance, recently when Walter procured a poster of ‘Jogi’ the dog, from Nataraj’s old works; and at times they are only felt.

Cuba - Anandajit, Veer and Walter