Born in Baroda, Altaf Mohammedi’s interest in painting emerged while in boarding school, the Sindhia School, Gwalior, under the tutelage of art instructor Niyogi, a nascent. His nascent interest was also encouraged by elder sister and noted painter Nasreen. Though brought up in an affluent family, Altaf was greatly inspired by Marxist ideologies, working at the Matunga Labour Camp, Bombay (1971-74), with a student organisation ‘Proyom’ (1969-75), and moonlighting at a mobile crèche.
As an artist, Altaf was committed to investigating different aspects of the human condition – loneliness, despair, fear and hope. Sometimes choosing the grid and the other times the curtain, Altaf created multiple pockets of space within his picture plane. The passage of time is layered with ambiguities regarding the purpose of life amidst haunting shadows and floating heads. Colour is used effectively to invoke the dark psychic recesses vis-à-vis the illuminated passages in which the artist’s self-portrait slowly dematerialises in its journey towards the spirit. Married to fellow artist Navjot, Altaf represented a period in Indian art where artists wished to speak of the struggles of the common man and engage with him, taking art away from its connotations of ‘high art’ associated with the individual artist.
In 1971, Altaf participated in the Film Division’s Documentary The Young Canvas. In the following year, he created murals for the Dawoodbhoy Fazalbhoy High School, Bombay. In 1994, he was awarded the Shiromani Kala Puraskar by the Government of India. In 1998, he participated in the exhibition Artists from India and Pakistan held in Hong Kong.