The mortal remains of artist Vivan Sundaram will be cremated in Delhi on March 30. Sundaram, passed away on March 29, and leaves behind a rich legacy of art, artistic conduct and activism. Born in 1943, in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh to Kalyan Sundaram, and Indira Sher-Gil, he studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda (1961–65) and at the Slade School of Art, London (1966–68) where he also studied History of Cinema.

According to a detailed statement by Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) of which Vivan Sundaram, was a founding trustee of, he had joined the students’ movement in May 1968, and had helped set up a commune in London. He returned to India in 1971, and continues his art and activism, “especially during the Emergency years”.

Sundaram’s art has transcended mediums and he has created elaborate and layered installations, using elements of sculptures, photographs and video. His work ‘Memorial’ (1993, 2014), was made “in response to communal violence in Bombay” stated SAHMAT. It was “a site-specific installation at the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta, now referred to as History Project (1998)”.

His other work drew from his family heritage (his aunt was the legendary Amrita Sher-Gil) and includes, ‘The Sher-Gil Archive (1995), and Retake of ‘Amrita’ (2001–06). He has made memorable art out of found objects and things discarded as garbage. His work has been exhibited to critical acclaim in India, and abroad. Vivan Sundaram also edited the two-volume, Amrita Sher-Gil: a self-portrait in letters & writings. He along with his sister Navina Sundaram, was the managing trustee of the Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation (SSAF), that was set up in 2016.

Most recently, shared SAHMAT, “Vivan Sundaram was one of 30 artists specially commissioned to make new work to mark the Sharjah Biennial’s 30th anniversary edition. The ongoing Sharjah Biennial 15: Thinking Historically in the Present (February to June 2023), conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, includes Sundaram’s photography-based project, Six Stations of a Life Pursued (2022), signifying a journey with periodic halts that release pain, regain trust, behold beauty, recall horror, and discard memory”.

Vivan Sundaram as an activist has also been vocal, and publicly stood up in solidarity on various human rights issues. As their trustee, SAHMAT stated that Sundaram has initiated and conceived art projects and curated exhibitions. The statement quoted his own words, “… my politicisation in the May 1968 student movement took on a specific ideological orientation by association with comrades from the CPI(M), though I have never been a member of the Party. On the art front, there was the setting up of the Kasauli Art Centre in 1976 – its informality and hospitality as well as active exchange and organised discourse.

“As a founding trustee of SAHMAT from 1989, I have been part of some head-on politics in the period especially from 1990 to 2003. I have curated on behalf of SAHMAT, many small and big exhibitions – installed and roving shows – that were exhibited across the country and that engaged with the public domain through innovative formats.”