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"CANADIANS NEVER ACCEPTED ME AS AN ARTIST"
Interview WITH FAMOUS ARTIST YOUNGO VERMA.
June 2002
 by - Dr. Khalid Sohail

 

Sohail: Youngo Sahib, when I think of you I think of that day when I was visiting India and in Delhi I saw a tall statue of my favourite poet Mirza Ghalib. I was so impressed that I took pictures of that statue. I wondered who had created that masterpiece. So when I discovered that you were the artist who had sculpted that statue, I felt honored to be your friend. Can you share with me how did you become aware of the creative gift that life has offered you?

Youngo: I was born in a small village in India in a goldsmith family. When I was a little boy there were no toyshops in our village. So when I saw other children making toys with the clay I was also inspired to do the same and then play with them.

When I graduated from high school I went to Delhi to study. Those days my elder brother was living in there. In college I started studying economics and commerce but one of my cousins suggested I apply to the arts college. When I approached the arts college they told me that there was tough competition to get in there. I appeared in the competition but I was not accepted the first time. Later on I found out that there were graduates from small arts schools who had applied and then there were boys and girls of rich upper class families who were accepted. I was not accepted but I did not give up. I started to practice my art and got involved in drawing and painting. When I applied the second time, I was fortunately accepted.

During my studies in the arts college, there was a week when we were supposed to make models with clay. When I touched the clay, I felt a special affinity. Maybe it was because of my unconscious relationship with clay as a child. I thoroughly enjoyed creating models and that enjoyment kept on increasing with time. I loved clay modeling. I was drawing and painting as well but clay modeling was my most favorite. In our third year of studies we were supposed to choose a subject for specialization and I chose clay modeling. It was not only my childhood love it was also the cheapest. I could not afford to buy papers and the college provided paints and brushes to draw and paint but all the materials for sculpting. They provided me with stone, wood, clay, plaster and cement, all the materials needed to sculpt. So in that college I learnt the basics of the art and craft of sculpting. There was a time I thought of commercial art, which can make money, but then I realized that I wanted to become a creative artist and not a commercial artist.

I feel that because I was born in a goldsmith family, the skill and craft of form and design is in my genes. I have inherited it from my forefathers. I enjoyed sculpting so much and I became so good in it that other students in the college started feeling jealous. I used to go to college in the morning and stay there till late at night. My teachers and professors were very impressed by my work. After my graduation, I took more courses and specialized in sculpting.

Sohail: Was there anyone in your family who was involved in creative art?

Youngo: Unfortunately not. But they designed jewelry.

Sohail: That is a form of art also.

Youngo: That is true. I am glad I was born in goldsmith family. It helped me in my sculpting.

Sohail: When you started sculpting wonderful pieces of art, what was the reaction of your family?

Youngo: It was not very positive. They asked me what was I going to do with that.

Sohail: Did they want you to have a profession to earn lots of money and be financially successful?

Youngo: You are right. They were thinking in terms of gold and silver and money.

Sohail: So they were disappointed that you turned out to be a creative artist.

Youngo: That is right. They offered me no encouragement.

Sohail: Was your family conservative? Did they object to your artwork from a religious point of view?

Youngo: They were followers of Hindu religion and tradition. They were not very dedicated but they were disappointed in me. They did not want me to be an artist.

Sohail: Were you a religious person yourself when you were young?

Youngo: Yes, when I was young, I used to follow Hindu rituals but after coming to Delhi the religious influence gradually disappeared and I stopped practicing religious traditions.

Sohail; when you were a young artist who impressed you the most as an artist?

Youngo: I studied a lot of masters and saw many art exhibitions and read a lot of books in the library, but I was most impressed by Michael Angelo. There was a time I created statues and figurative portraits very much like Michael Angelo. He was the biggest inspiration for me at one time.

Sohail: When did you graduate from Arts College?

Youngo: In July 1964 I graduated from Arts College specializing in sculpture.

Sohail: What was your dream as an artist at that time?

Youngo: That is a very interesting question. I had a dream to become a great artist like Michael Angelo. I was very optimistic that one day I will fulfill that dream. My professors saw a promise in me. I was offered big projects and I was successful in executing them. I used to create unique masks and sculptors. I used to have exhibitions. And then I was asked to make the statue of Mirza Ghalib by the Vice Chancellor and the President, the statue you saw in front of Jamia Milia.

Sohail: How did you feel when you were creating that masterpiece?

Youngo: I had a feeling of great joy but I was a little nervous too. I had never done such a big project but I had a lot of confidence in me because great teachers trained me.

Sohail: How long did it take to complete that masterpiece?

Youngo: I took approximately four months. It is not a long time but I was asked to complete it in that much time.

Sohail: How did you feel after you finished it?

Youngo: I felt good but a little dissatisfied because I could not create a masterpiece I was hoping to create. If I had more time, I could have done a better job.

Sohail: For everybody else it is a masterpiece. If the Vice Chancellor and the President asked you to create you must be very well respected in academic and political circles.

Youngo: All I can say is that I was doing very well creatively as well as financially.

Sohail: Was your family proud of you when you became successful?

Youngo: They were less interested in my art and more interested in my marriage.

Sohail: Tell me more about that.

Youngo: My father got me engaged. But I did not want to get married because I wanted to see the world and travel. I knew if I got married I would not be able to travel and explore the world.

Sohail: So you did not get married.

Youngo: I cancelled the engagement.

Sohail: Was that another disappointment for the family?

Youngo: A big disappointment.

Sohail: What kind of social life you had in India?

Youngo: I had a few close friends, but a big circle of acquaintances.

Sohail: Were other artists jealous of your work?

Youngo: Once there was an exhibition of five artists. Others were senior to me but I got the most attention and praise and reviews. I think that made them jealous.

Sohail: That was in 1960s. What happened in 1970s? What was the next step in your creative journey?

Youngo: I made a lot of sculptures and created ceramic masks. Then I went to Germany and studied art there and travelled in Europe.

Sohail: For how long did you stay in Germany?

Youngo: For ten years.

Sohail: What part?

Youngo: Mainly Frankfurt.

Sohail: Can you share with me some of your experiences of Germany?

Youngo: I went to Germany as a tourist and as a tourist I was not allowed to work. In the beginning I did not have any friends. So I became a student and to earn a living I had to sell my art. It was not easy to survive. I faced great hardships. There was a time I used to sell T-shirts in the clubs to pay rent and survive.

Sohail: How did you survive not knowing German?

Youngo: Gradually I made a circle of friends who knew English. I learnt enough German to buy groceries and get by in my day-to-day life.

Sohail: How was your social life in Germany?

Youngo: Over a period of time, I made lots of friends, men as well as women. We used to drink and party and have fun. I had a nice time.

Sohail: Did any of the women you met in Germany wanted to married?

Youngo: I had lots of girl friends in Germany and some of them wanted to marry me. They even told me that I would get my papers if I married them but I did not want to get married for the sake of papers. I wanted to get married for the sake of love.

Sohail: What did you do creatively?

Youngo: I made portraits; I created sculptures, busts and heads. I created full size sculptures. I sold my drawings and had exhibitions. I even created erotic statues that I could not create in India. I was getting well known. I even got a job offer for 4000 marks but they still would not give me my papers to stay there permanently.

Sohail; How did you decide to come to Canada?

Youngo: I came to Canada for the first time in 1981. I had a visa for USA and then came to Canada to visit a friend in Orillia.

Sohail; was it easy to get a visa to USA?

Youngo: They asked me what is the assurance I will go back to Germany and I told them that my girlfriend was waiting for me and I was planning to get married. I also told them I had nearly ten thousand dollars so they gave me the visa.

Sohail: Did you need a visa for Canada?

Youngo: No, not those days. When I came to Canada I was well received. There was an exhibition and I met the Mayor as well as the Member of the Parliament. They all liked my drawings and paintings. They even published my interviews.

When I went back to Germany I got sick and was admitted to the hospital. That was when I was diagnosed Diabetic.

Sohail; How did you finally come to Canada?

Youngo: I had to get married. It was a paper marriage and I appreciated her help. I am in Canada now since April 1981.

Sohail: What was your dream when you came to Canada?

Youngo: I thought Canada was a country of immigrants. I was hoping to be accepted as an artist here. I knew I was a good artist. But it turned out to be different. It was very frustrating. I was asked to go to Welcome House and when I went there I was asked to go back to school for six months to become a teacher in secondary school. I told them I have been teaching in the universities, I don’t want to go back to the classroom and then teach secondary school students. I told them I am a professional artist. I applied to many community colleges and universities to teach but they did not even invite me for an interview. All the letters I got were the letters of regret. When I went to art galleries and showed them my art they told me it was nice but it was not the style of their gallery so my art work was not accepted. It had been very frustrating, so frustrating that finally I had to go on welfare. I got so sick that my Diabetes got worse and I had to go on insulin. Then I had a heart attack. In the end I did not accomplish anything here. I think it is all because of the discrimination of this culture. Canadians never accepted me as an artist.

Sohail: So what has been your routine over the years?

Youngo: Over the years I have been sitting at home unable to do anything. After my open-heart surgery my health got worse. I have no studio, no place to sculpt. There was a time I made a few portraits and sculptures in Canada, even one of the Mayor of Mississauga. I worked very hard. I created a beautiful sculpture. But it was not appreciated. Four weeks ago I called her office. She was not there so I left the message on the answering machine. A week later she called me home at 10pm and asked me, “What do you want?” I said, “I want to see you. I haven’t met you in a long time.” She said, “Why don’t we have lunch together.” Then she asked, “ What do you have in mind?” and I responded, “ Right now I don’t have anything in mind but I may when I see you.” Then she suggested I call her secretary to set up an appointment. She added that she was very busy and did not have time even to see her family. I said I would think about it. I am so frustrated I did not even call her office to make an appointment. I thought since I had made a wonderful portrait of hers, she would offer me something.

Sohail: Did you get any help from the Indian community?

Youngo: Unfortunately most Indians work very hard as they struggle. They want to save not spend. The ones that are affluent are impressed by art created by White Artists. I also think that if I have to depend on Indians for my art then I should go back to India. In India I am very confident I will flourish. But now my health does not permit me to travel much so I am stuck.

Sohail: During your stay in Canada for twenty years was there a time you seriously considered of moving back to India?

Youngo: I seriously thought about it in 1983 when my brother expired. Since we are only two brothers, I thought I would look after his children that he left behind. I sold my art and collected some money and when I was ready to go to India, I got sick and could not go.

Sohail: I see a statue of Faraz in your studio.

Youngo: yes Pakistani Urdu writers asked me and I took that project. But it was very hard, as Faraz would not sit still. He wandered around with his glass of whisky. It took me a long time to create it but it was left behind. People who had asked me to make it, did not come back to take it so it is still with me.

Sohail: I have seen you mixing with Muslims and people with other faiths. What are your religious views now.

Youngo: For me they are not Muslims they are Human Beings. I respect them all and do not believe in any prejudice or discrimination based on religion.

Sohail: You sound like a Humanist. What is your relationship with the institution of religion?

Youngo: Now I have no personal relationship with religion. I am not a follower of any religion. I respect all religions but they don’t mean anything to me.

Sohail; I see in your studio that you are drawing again.

Youngo: Yes, I have a new wave of creativity and I am drawing again. I am realizing that I am 65 now and society has not given me anything. I am gradually becoming aware of some cosmic energy and that cosmic energy is not only helping me deal with my frustrations but also inspiring me to create again and my new drawings are also depiction of that cosmic energy, the energy that is part of the whole universe.

Sohail: Is the creative energy you are feeling now different than the energy you experienced when you in the university?

Youngo: It is all together different. When I was young it was physical. Now it is different. I can call it spiritual since I do not have any other word to describe it. Or maybe I can call it cosmic energy because it is not related to religion; it is part of the universe. Now I am developing a better understanding of humanism and moving away from materialism.

Sohail: Any last comment you want to make?

Youngo: I want to share that I was always impressed by your personality as you are a sensitive, liberal and open human being. I have met many writers and artists who only boast. You are the one who believe in action rather than talking.

Sohail: Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and precious thoughts.

Youngo: I appreciate your time and your interest in me and for your inspiration. I am very grateful.

 

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