Kanwal Dhaliwal has drawn, sculpted and painted many themes from the life around him, whether he was in the country he grew up in or in the country he learned to call home where everything looked the same and nothing was familiar.

To start with the Deorhee interested him, an outdoor indoor space, a connection of the house to the outside world in a village-house of Punjab. In hot climates this space is important, especially to connect with other people and happenings in the village. During the day, this was the women’s room.  News of both death and birth arrived here first. The whole world existed there. His faces, done like landscapes, are more apparent on males. The land and their lives are really intertwined and this is reflected on their faces. The lawyers’ clients were mostly white bearded peasants and farmers, often illiterate, who do not know the law, get pieces of papers waved in their faces, and their dependency on solicitors who often listen to dozens of cases at one time. Alongside bewildering landscapes, roomscapes, and lawyers’ things in sheds, Dhaliwal’s peasants too sit in their allocated spaces.

His next series The Dilemma shows uprooted trees, torn roots, trees which look full and flourishing but lack roots, with big gaps between them and the earth. He shows split personalities who wonder where they are, why, and how.  He shows Punjabis and the traditional dupatta on a woman’s head becomes a river of freedom. He spoke of the old Punjabi saying about a snake which holds a poisonous lizard in its mouth, every way you look at it, you lose. “Can’t eat it, can’t leave it, for it will bite.” Dangerous either way, to go or to stay, a characteristic of the immigrant’s dilemma.

Then his Roots series followed which says there is a lot more than what is just seen on the surfaces of immigrant lives. Black and white dramas, trees hidden by black light and shade are now a part of Dahaliwal’s vision. He has used thinner, finer lines for trees and leaves and the background remains hidden. He brings this work to a new generation, especially to young immigrants born elsewhere, where only their skin color is a reminder of where they came from. People who do not know their roots or where they lie can never know them except as pictures, as fairy tales, as words in languages they sometimes understand and can rarely read.

He drew the landscape of our time where the gap between trees and their roots is wider; the sun is upside down, the earth’s horizon cut by a golden one. The leaves are silver and rest on gold but the cost is the loss of roots, for they are missing. He looks again at his earlier landscapes of golden wheat and mustard fields, siestas and fluttering doves.   

Another series is his portraits. He shows the writer Saadat Hasan Manto. The thunderstorm of Partition shatters Manto’s world.  Dhaliwal drew Gehal Singh Chhajjalwadi with his dismembered torso, Amrita Pritam on the backdrop of her poem on the Punjab’s partitionand Udham Singh Shaheed with his forbidden statement.

Dhaliwal is a painter who is very definite about what his work says. There are histories, feelings in his lines and any symbol is used deliberately. This is not a painter who says, “It is up to you to find the meaning.” He says this is the story I am telling you. Happiness, he says is saying and showing what I wanted to, exactly the way I wanted to.
........................................................................................................................................................Swapna Vora, Mumbai, Aug.2010