Beyond Abstractions – Artist Kanwal Dhaliwal

The Squeeze

The Dilemma

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His imagery is as eloquent as the measured words he chooses. Kanwal Dhaliwal, a UK based artist, doesn’t lace his observations with honeyed sweetness or hypocritical duality. Rather he explores the dilemma of Punjabi migrants through his work.  Sardonically he professes ” Not only is art universal, but even human beings are the same world over.” And yet he deems displaced beings find it difficult to adapt to alien nations. Why? “Immigration is not natural but self-inflicted”. Interestingly he who labels the new generation as “half divided” feels that the older one hasn’t changed at all. In fact the very first time he encountered Punjabi faces in UK’s shopping centres, he was disturbed by the uncanny realisation, “It was as if they had moved from one village to another, from one cocoon to yet another”. In fact his works reflect this very predicament. In one particular sculpture, he juxtaposes three generations, where the new ‘lost’ generation is depicted colourless, symbolising their cultural divorce

Roots1In yet another work he compares immigrants to a rootless tree, severed off by a silver line, indicating a grip of material world, further enhanced by gold leaves.

He muses, ” I agree that an art work isn’t mere story telling but ought to convey” Employing identifiable forms like trees, architectural images and above all expressive faces in his creative expression, each facet of his work communicates.


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He says “Undisputedly my works are not realistic (academic) but nor are they abstract. Abstraction at best was an experiment, which equipped artists with freedom of expression. Now we must use it sensibly.”


Kanwal Dhaliwal is totally attuned to the village and is singing the song of its life and nature. His drawings, paintings and sculptures have the native beauty expressed with vigour and vitality derived from the place of its birth. A simple ‘deorhee’ a place at the entrance in a village house, becomes a metaphor in his hands, expressing the moment and movement and the rhythm and unity of Indian life and thought.

Here the village women of all classes and categories grouped together and talked their hearts out. Kanwal felt here was the core of culture where one could observe the totality of life. He studied with love and care the faces of women of all age groups. The intense drama of life stimulated Kanwal’s imagination and found expression in his sketches, drawings, paintings and sculptures.

The suggestion of three-dimensionality in his drawings inspired him to take to sculpture. He integrated architecture with the faces of the village folk, which not only manifested a sense of belonging but also the serenity of the village.




The Dream

‘The Courts of Law’ is an extension to the series

Where the Deorhee (entrance hall) in a village house was the focal point to study the female faces, to observe the male faces I opted for the sheds (Chambers) of the solicitors from the courts of law of East Punjab. These are the places in the district towns of the state where predominantly men of virtually all classes, particularly farmers gather and find chance to share ‘themselves’ with each other, whilst waiting for their turn to see the advocate (solicitor). The serious concern about their matters can well be read on the faces of the ‘clients’- the expressions of uncertainty and despair in contrast to the stable face of the advocate, however, is the main concern of the artist.

Immigrating to Britain has considerably influenced his subject matter, however again the people around him were his new subjects. He concentrates on the theme of inter-cultural conflicts resulting out of abrupt union of the rural East with Western urbanism. More recently he has shifted his attention towards the impacts of being culturally uprooted.

The Village

The Village


The Immigrants

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