Of the many events being planned to commemorate the birth centenary of Mother Teresa, her exhibition of paintings is touched by rare intimacy, says Sunita Kumar, a painter, who has had a long association with the Missionaries of Charity.
The prestigious Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London had a one-day show of Mother Teresa paintings by M.F. Husain and Kumar on 30 June, and the exhibition is scheduled to open in Kolkata in November. Plans are also being made to take the exhibition to Hong Kong and Singapore.
Lines: A Husain work in the show.
As a long-time companion of Mother Teresa, a relationship which began over three decades before the Nobel laureate’s death, Kumar enjoyed special status, being her official biographer, a spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity and the person chosen to announce the news of Mother Teresa’s death to the world on 5 September 1997.
I got the urge to paint her when I found Mother seriously ill, two years before her eventual death,” says the trained artist and wife of tennis player and former Indian Davis Cup captain Naresh Kumar. “Mother would comment but never criticize my paintings,” the 68-year-old painter says over the phone from London. The nun wished to have children from the orphanages represented in the paintings. The 20 paintings Kumar exhibited at V&P. A included paintings of “Mother’s children”—orphans and abandoned children in her homes, people suffering from leprosy, and even nuns and sisters of her order.
Unlike the foreboding undertone present in the work of Husain, who was introduced to Mother Teresa in the late 1970s by Kumar, the latter’s paintings have an unfussy, life-affirming spirit. Having been privy to “the simplistic way of life in the Missionaries of Charity, where nuns used to be taken on an annual picnic to the Tollygunge Club lawns”, Kumar has attempted a similar, unambiguous treatment in her paintings.
Various stages and moments from Mother Teresa’s life have been given an artistic interpretation, starting with the Kolkata-Darjeeling train journey in 1946 during which she is said to have found her calling— working for the needy.
“I got married when I was only 18, but instead of being a housewife I did voluntary work at the Missionaries of Charity,” recounts Kumar. “It was around then that I met Mother and when she shook my hand, it did something to me.”
The painting exhibition, initiated by Husain and implemented by Kumar, is a homage.