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Romancing The City

Arpan Bhowmik’s paintings are poems on romance, realism, and serenity, but his loudest declaration is his romance with the city space, says Dr Satarupa Bhattacharya

Realism and romance have had an interesting engagement for centuries now and given the propensity of the arts today, we are, yet again, at the throes of the ushering rage of revisits to realism that combines with romance. Arpan Bhowmik (b. 1977) is one such particular case in point who has always been in love with both areas since the time he has been five years of age. The gorgeous hints of shadows carved around trees arranged side by side till they reach an arch of old architecture standing behind a deliciously yellow taxi has become a Bhowmik special that no one can miss in the busiest of walls nailed with different artworks from different artists. This speciality is so particular that one can spot it immediately and keep it in memory easily. One may see this as a remarkable feat to be so easily memorised, or as an act combining the popularist interception with the realist genre: in either case, Bhowmik remains poignant as a language interspersed with several possible meanings.

Bhowmik says that he began his artistic career sincerely after he joined the Government College of Arts under Calcutta University for a BA degree. It took him six months to prepare for the entrance exam when he was pursuing a programme at the Indian Art College under Rabindra Bharati at Dumdum. Even though he cracked the exam, he still got a seat in the applied arts department and not in the fine arts department: something he remembers fondly as he remembers the toughness of clearing the entrance exam. It became an important moment for him and it helped him realise his art career and practice.

He won several awards and accolades during his stay in college for his elaborate watercolours on paper. In those days, paper was only available in the standard size of 21×29.7 cm sheets. So, he decided to join four to eight of them with (Fevicol) adhesive and create a large sheet to give the feel and look of a canvas and created large works, which, at the time, seemed like very big feats. The annual show of his college had so many beautiful works that it was important for him to make a mark along with his peers who were also very powerful artists. Their efforts were very inspiring and Bhowmik felt elated every time he won an award for his work. He found it challenging to keep up with his fellow students, but he was always very piqued by those challenges. As soon as he passed out of college, Bhowmik began to look for platforms to showcase his works and he did. Then he felt that a lot of his works, at the time, were not being included in galleries because of his medium. His favourite medium had to change and he found his famous medium of acrylic on canvas.

Despite this change, Bhowmik wanted to keep his skills intact. He didn’t want to lose the bold to faint effects of colours on paper that he loved so much and so he began to paint in various shades of the same colour in acrylic. So much so that his canvas today doesn’t really explore more than three to four colours and each colour is muted or to create light and shadow effects of watercolour on paper. A striking yellow or a muddy red or a brisk shade of blue definitely takes a central seat in the narrative and becomes important to his paintings. During college, he had drawn realistic images to compliment his surroundings from his village – Janai, Dankuni in Serampore. Here, he learnt to visually recreate the hubbubs of the locale, such as the railway station and the thatched roofed homes. After his college, he felt the need to capture the essence of Kolkata. Nostalgia and the public commute systems began to intrigue him. The very best way to portray his thoughts on city life was captured through technique mostly while his paintings did portray architecture as landmarks and the pace of a city through technology simultaneously. The yellow taxis, the bright trams, the hand-pulled rickshaws, and similar other vehicles represented his idea of speed and commuting that is so essential to city living. It also signified the ease in movement and quality of life that is so present in cities as opposed to other places. The landmark architecture placed around these moving vehicles stands for the monumental history of the city that has aided in the politics of the space and adds to the telling of the enormous significance of its temporal function. Eventually, he travelled to other cities and his works captured those city spaces as well while keeping his subjects and romance in place. Bhowmik’s paintings have a tranquil quality which is hard to miss in his portrayals of a misty morning or a rainy day in the city. The darkness of the night or the pungency of the afternoon sun are also important features that help him in his cause to explore the city through his art. The weather and the time of day are all very visible subjects in his works. They evoke the sense of romance of an old city with its past set-in stones. Interestingly, this romance is evocative of the Durga Puja season, too, when foggy mornings warn Bengal of the deity’s yearly visits, or just the winter season laying emphasis on the fertility of the season and land.

When asked about his inspirations then, Bhowmik says that he had always enjoyed looking at Atul Bose’s oil paintings, Bikash Bhattacharya’s enormous body of works, and Abanindranath Tagore’s brilliant renditions of the Mughal arts. He finds Tagore’s miniatures so fascinating that he still remains transfixed by the artist’s skills. To him, such skills are celestial inspirations and he can witness the miracles of art in his predecessors.

Interestingly, Bhowmik does echo the Bengal renaissance in his artworks and his school is imbued in the depiction of cities as a reflection on Bengal’s progress as an artistic language and subject. The same city, often, picturised in its festivities and its rush is now being visualised in the most tranquil manner when a certain season sets in or a moment of the day becomes important.

Bhowmik’s portrayals are a reminder for art watchers to look at the simplicities of the cities too, when in its most serene moments, the city becomes less cruel in its pace or less complex in its means. Since, in a painting, Bhowmik is caught depicting this perfect moment, this image becomes quite close to a photograph. The realist genre – as ascribed to the likes of Rembrandt – has always dabbled at depicting reality in the most innate manner while engaging with the miracles of forms, shadows, and lights. Bhowmik builds on it while he brings elements of the miniature styles and the watercolour skills together on the acrylic on canvas medium. To him, his skill is not just about depicting, but about feeling the inebriant qualities of an artist’s journey. Of course, not to forget that Bhowmik’s paintings are a poem on romance, realism, and serenity, but his loudest declaration is his romance with the city space.

The artist is represented by Easel Stories Art Gallery, Noida

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The Treasure In Fine Print

Not one to love labels, Shyam Sharma’s art withstands any and all boundaries. However, his fascination with life and its correlation with nature is consistent in all his pieces, says Neelam Gupta

From being a student of painting to later becoming a reputed teacher of printmaking, Padma Shri Shyam Sundar Sharma’s journey as an artist is inspiring and commendable. As one of the finest and pioneering printmakers in India, the 81-year-old who lives and practices art in Patna, has been known within printmaking and educational circles for decades, but his extraordinary output still awaits discovery by the wider public. Considered both an experimenter and a perfectionist, the octogenarian, who is a very active artist, writer and art thinker, got his first experience in the art of printmaking from his father’s printing press during his childhood. Impressions of words and colours on the printed page made him aware of the mesmerising medium of printing as a form of expression. Born at Goverdhan in Mathura district of UP, Sharma joined Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts to get an education in fine art. During this period, he produced fine woodcut prints.

From there he went on to innovate in other forms of printmaking. He then took to teaching and became the principal of the Patna College of Arts and Craft. Not one to love labels, his art withstands any and all boundaries. However, Sharma’s fascination with life and its correlation with nature is consistent in all his pieces. They also deal with various moods of mankind. He brilliantly renders a cinematic quality in his artwork and it takes the viewer on a ride of interpretations, retrospections, and emotions. He works in various mediums such as glass and canvas, however, he gained huge appreciation for his prints, especially his woodcuts. He innovates in different forms of woodcut prints, in clay blocks and in mixed media. He has even modified the traditional technique into contemporary form with the use of paper pulp. Unlike artists who use printmaking to reproduce images of their paintings, Sharma treats the medium independently, and his creative experiments pushes printmaking into new directions. He travelled to China and Japan and studied their culture and graphic art in detail.

Spending decades in Patna, he has seen the development of art in Bihar for a long time. He has received many awards such as the International Print Biennial- Netherlands and National Award (Lalit Kala Academy) to name a few. He is a committee member of the National Museum. He spoke to Art Soul Life about growing up in Govardhan, learning from the masters and teaching art to some of India’s best-known artists. Excerpts:

What are the memories of your early childhood?

My memories influence my art. I was born in 1941 at Govardhan in Mathura district of UP. My grandfather was a school teacher there, but my father had a printing press in Bareilly. As we all know, Govardhan is a naturally beautiful and very religious place. If I remember correctly, there used to be a temple named Daan Ghati on my way to school. It didn’t have any idols in it, but people used to worship a boulder kept there. Every morning that boulder was bathed with milk and worshipped. In the evening, it was given the form of Shrinathji lifting the Govardhan mountain – the formless form of the morning blossoming into bright colours in the evening. I found it very magical. Like the artists of Nathdwara in Udaipur making pictures of Krishna Leela on the temple walls…the memories of those scenes are still alive inside me. There was Yusuf Chacha’s sign board printing shop and he used to make colourful sign boards. He often used stencil and even made borders with stencil. If I could even make a border with a stencil, that too would have seemed very magical to me. Similarly, before worshiping Goddess Durga during Navratri at home, my mother used to put five hands on the wall with turmeric and roli. Maa Durga is worshiped there. I used to keep looking at those hand prints. Yellow and red colour prints looked very beautiful. If she applied cow dung on the wall, she would imprint her handprints on it too. That impression has stayed with me.

When and how did you get interested in art?

Growing up with colours and pictures, I soon realised that I was attracted to creating and drawing. I must have been in the sixth grade when I felt that my inclination towards colours was increasing. After passing Class 8, I came to Bareilly and got first-hand experience of the art of printmaking. Impressions of words and colours on the printed page made me aware of the mesmerising medium of printing as a form of expression. I started studying art and passed my intermediate with art as a subject. Later, I took admission in the degree college there, but they didn’t have art and I was not interested in other subjects. I failed and decided to go to Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts and graduated with a diploma in art with specialisation in printmaking.

My guru, Jai Kishan Agarwal, who received the International Print Biennale Florence Italy award in 1974, taught me different techniques in printmaking and I made a lot of prints. At our Bareilly house, I would have got all the printing material from my father. But even there I would make wooden blocks with my own hands. After completing the final year, I moved to Patna in 1966 and joined as a teacher at the College of Arts and Crafts. I became an Assistant Professor and started the department of printmaking, which was the first college in Bihar where printmaking was taught.

Who were your art teachers at college?

I’m very grateful to my teachers who taught me the finer points of art. At Lucknow, Padma Shri Sudhir Ranjan Khastgir was our principal. I was fortunate that I had teachers like Nagar ji, Yogi ji, Shrikhande ji, Jai Kishan Agarwal, B. N. Arya, Nityanand Mohapatra etc., who not only taught me art, but also loved me like their son. R. S. Bisht and Avtar Singh Panwar were also my teachers, who taught me landscape drawing and composition. They were masters in drawing and their artworks were so inspiring. The old city of Lucknow with its streets and by lanes was full of Mughal architecture. I was interested in dramatics, so I took part in plays also. Jai Kishan Agarwal ji taught graphic arts, but I was more interested in printing. I used to work a lot at my father’s printing press during holidays.

What are your favourite topics of interest?

In 1965, I won an all-India competition where my print was awarded. I was very excited and made up my mind to become a printmaker. I was very lucky when I got this offer to become an art teacher in Patna. Besides teaching, I used to work also. Yet in my free time, I made my own blocks and prints. I travelled during my off-days checking out works of other artists. I would always think about doing something new. I’d make prints and go to Shantiniketan, or go to Lucknow to Jai Kishan Agarwal ji. I’d go to Bhopal to meet J. Swaminathan, or Delhi to see art exhibitions. It benefitted me a lot as I learned new techniques.

When you were appointed as a teacher at the College of Art and Craft in Patna, how was the art atmosphere in Bihar?

In 1966, Patna was like the Bengal School and art grammar was considered art. Most of the students in Patna Art College came from Bengal. The teachers in the college were also mostly from Bengal, but after my appointment, the influence of Delhi and Mumbai started increasing. A few like Bateshwar Babu and Vireshwar Bhattacharya wanted to do something new. I started having art talks with them. The students started getting inspired by me. The graphics department started getting ready in 1966 and lithography work also took off. Later, we started experimenting in printmaking. We started sending students to see national and international art exhibitions followed by talks. Gradually, the thinking started changing leading to new experiments in art. Bihar started connecting to the national art network.

How did printmaking start in Bihar?

In the Buddhist period, Buddhist monks in Magadha used to take photographs on clothes. The beginning of making printing art with modern technology started in the 19th century. During the British period, an officer named Sir Charles D’Oyly, an avid and accomplished amateur artist, was in Patna. In 1824, he set up a lithographic press that he operated between 1828 and 1831 with the help of Indian assistants. He also founded the Bihar School of Athens Society and Jairam Das was appointed as his assistant. Both Indian and British artists adopted this printing style. Later that press was closed. Nowadays many printing presses are working. In this way, since the 19th century, the printing art style has been working in Bihar with modern technology.

Do you go out of your way to promote Bihar artists?

Today, my students in the country and abroad are making a mark in their art. Initially, most of the students worked only on the printing machine. But slowly I inspired them to work on the blocks and on Indian techniques. Those who wanted to try, they went ahead. Many of those who were in a hurry, later left printing and went into painting. Naveen, Prabhakar, Rakhi, Archana Sinha and Alok Prabhakar are meritorious students of Bihar and well-known artists today. Similarly, Subodh Gupta, Narendra Pal Singh, Vipin Kumar and Sanjay Kumar, all of them were once my students, but today they are the signature names of the art world. It was my endeavour to make my students as practical as possible. I introduced them to the right form of art by developing indigenous technologies. Earth and Space, which later won me the National Award, was the result of that. The Emergency in 1975 had a great impact on me. I made two series named Vegetarian Lion and Innocent Snake, which were full of humour, satyr and satire. The JP Movement also influenced me a lot. I listened to the poems of writers like Nagarjuna, Satyanarayan and Alok Dhanva and talked for hours to the famous writer of Bihar, Phanishwar Renu. It was from him that I developed an attachment to indigenous. I started using local material in my prints, like clay blocks and colours which I procured from the local market and they cost cheaper. In 2000, I retired from college and went to the US with my daughter for six months. They live in wooden houses and store old wood from those houses. I made big installations out of that wood. I also made scrolls on silk cloth. Till that time, I was working on subjects, concepts, and figures. But thereon, I worked in abstract form for the first time. After returning from the US, I did a show at the Lalit Kala Academy in Delhi. Here instead of wood, I made a slab of clay. In 2013 again, I went to Auckland. There I had a show in which I printed on paper. The Delhi Art Gallery bought the entire work, and in 2018, I received Padma Shri award and in 2022, Lalit Kala Academy awarded me a fellowship.

How did Corona and the pandemic affect your work?

Corona has had a deep impact on my feelings and turned me into something of an introvert. I have started working with form and space and my prints show birds and animals. But my bird isn’t a typical bird. It’s unborn and creative. I fit him into space, like trees. It is kind of a new experiment; my colours have changed, too. Earlier, I used a variety of colours in prints, but now I work only with black and white. Black colour creates a mystery. Now my forms are getting simpler. The decoration is also disappearing. Now seeing my art, a feeling of Indianness arises. You can say that my art journey is developing with experience and age. But I have never worked as a technician.

What is your view on the international art fairs, like Venice Biennale and Indian artists’ participation in these fairs?

The international biennale should continue. This makes the artist’s international identity. They also find it very good to learn. Today, I have my own identity or the international identity of many of my student artists from the biennale or Triennale. The biggest thing is that by participating in these, there is always a spirit of competition and constant in the artist, which gives momentum to the concept and size of his medium.

What is your take on our art colleges and the students that come in?

As far as art colleges in India are concerned, except for Shantiniketan, Baroda and Delhi Art College, the studies in other regional art colleges are not satisfactory. A big reason for this is also that preference has been given to those who study in UGC norms. Those who think about work and art are concerned with thinking. Therefore, the condition of regional colleges can be said to be good. Organisers should focus on regional colleges. Indian art has always moved with the times, but today its pace seems to have stopped. To break this stagnation, it is necessary that they take such steps which will bring ideological wealth to the students.

What is your opinion on Bihar artists seeking pension from the Lalit Kala?

It is wrong to say that they are seeking a pension from Lalit Kala Academy. They are demanding their rights, the Academy has opened Regional Art Centres in Delhi, Lucknow, Calcutta, and Bhubaneswar, but facilities were not given to them to work. They are demanding those facilities. In these four centres, five states come under each centre. There is a branch office in Patna, in which displaced artists come and work. They should get more facilities. Both the number and quantity of their scholarship should be increased. Raw material and latest equipment should be available. The number of experts should be increased. Art activities should be expanded in backward states. The artist spends his whole life with minimum means. He does not have much money at the end of his age, so he must get social security from the government.

What is the future of art considering the fact that NFT is taking off in a big way?

Today, when everything is being sold online, art will also be sold. Can’t stop it, it only benefits the artist, not harm. He can sell his art work sitting at home. He doesn’t need to take all his stuff to the exhibitions. By participating in online exhibitions, he is taking his works to the people. I don’t think it will do any harm to the art. Talking about duplication, it has happened in the past and will happen in the future. The original workmen will not be affected by this.

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Making the Invisible Visible

Delhi-based contemporary artist Priyanka Sinha creates images of our core containing no noise, but a deep silence that joins us to sink into our inmost soul, says Jyotish Joshi

Priyanka Sinha is a well-known proficient artist working in abstraction. She has accorded captivating visibility to her paintings by depicting figurative forms in abstraction. Her colour use is fine, in which she reveals the unmanifest with the aid of lines. This unmanifest or invisible becomes visible when she gives it a form by expressing the relationship between the wall, the surface and the sky. When looked at with considerable attention,it seems as if it is not a figurative or shape creation. The figures emerging from rectangles, planes and slant lines emerge in the form of small houses, in which somewhere there is an open door, somewhere there is a peek-a-window, somewhere there are figures springing up on the wall, and somewhere there are objects in the shape of a coil like divine feminine energy, whose colouration amazes us with the coordination of its combinations and configurations. These include the unnamed and formless fragments of our inner world; those whom we feel consciously or unconsciously, or from whose imagination the reality of our inner self arises, there is an attempt to judge them very carefully.

The distinction between fantasy and reality is absent here. What is present is beyond the manifest and the unmanifest lying in that solitude in which we find ourselves in a world created by us or passed down to us. All this is only possible when we try to escape the outside world and descend within ourselves. These images of our core, composed by Sinha contain no noise, but a deep silence that joins the observer to sink into his inmost soul where many unfamiliar, seemingly insignificant figures, seem to float on the easel.

These works contain a music-like melodious voice, which is felt within us. It is not without reason that the German philosopher, Schopen Hauer said: “All arts tend towards music.” Art progresses to music only when it finds its own rhythm, in which the artist’s self dissolves and gets absorbed in art. Then it vibrates. Sinha’s art seems to find that music, no doubt about it. In these works, the artist’s own world is apparent, which we perceive or feel to be non-apparent or invisible, being lost in some inexplicable world, for a long time. Wassily Kandinsky writes in his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art: “When the artist expresses his subject in abstraction, he realises his inner self in his art.” That is, the artist’s feeling or understanding of his own core is in fact the merge with the inner of the viewer and thus the invisible becomes the visible and the visible becomes invisible.

Says the artist: “There are few ephemeral intimations that exist in our direct and indirect peripheries of seeing. These indirect and inert intimations play a central role in my works. The armature of these imperceptible intimations here obviates the skeleton of manifested confirmations. The strong armature of my painting depicts the colour of the blood throbbing through My Veins, and working as the oxygen for my artwork.The hope which gives me the support to stand and look forward to a better time is invisible even for me.” As such, these works of Sinha record her strong presence in contemporary Indian abstract art and also assure us of her future.

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The Feminine in the Divine

Tat Tvan Asi – you exist in everything, and the universe exists within you, forms the core of multi-disciplinary artist, poet and dreamer, Seema Kohli’s solo London show comprising a unique selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, etchings, and serigraphs.

Throughout art history, the beauty of the female form has been one of the oldest and most commonly depicted motifs in visual arts. For Delhi-based Seema Kohli, one of our most versatile and hugely talented artists, her work is primarily a celebration of the female form and energy, the source of the twin forces of creation and destruction. Shakti, the divine cosmic energy manifest through female embodiment, has been extensively explored, engaged with, and retold through the 62-yearold artist’s exhaustive practice that spans over three decades embracing a variety of mediums, including paintings, sculpture, installations and performance. So for someone who narrates a multitude of stories through her canvases, interweaving the spiritual and mythical as well as the personal and universal into her work, what does a solo showing, and that too, at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts mean? Kohli says for so many years, she had been visiting the great institution. “Now, I was there myself at that very space presenting my experiential video Parikrama and my narrative performance Circle of Our Own as an extension of my show,” says the artist, who had her first solo show in London from October 26, 2022, to November 6, 2022. “My performance was followed by a talk about my work with Dr Sangeeta Datta (Baithak), Priya Singh from Bonhams, and moderated by Manmeet Kaur,” she informs. Kohli says she was overwhelmed by the response of her friends and collectors whose homes she was already a part of as artworks. but meeting for the first time. “Art lovers from different nationalities, faiths and identities were pouring in and connecting with the inner sentiment of love and consciousness. And even expressing either in their poetry, music or movement responding to the images. We even had the honour of having the Indian High Commissioner to the U.K, H.E. Mr. Vikram K. Doraiswami, and his wife, Sangeeta at the special preview on October 27,” she adds. “The exhibition, which Sangeeta Ahuja of the London-based SA Fine Arts Gallery. and I had started planning in 2017 over a phone call, introduced by mutual friends, finally came into being in 2022. It has a collection of around 50 artworks, especially curated for London and worldwide audiences,” she informs. The solo exhibition titled Tat Tvam Asi – you exist in everything, and the universe exists within you, forms the core of this unique selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, etchings, and serigraphs, including hand-painted archival prints based on Kohli’s video and performance art. Each work has a narrative and an insight into Kohli’s oeuvre, which is predominantly based on the theme of ‘Shakti’ – the energy. Through her works, Kohli brings to light the intricate connections of divine energies in our body and in the universe. “Using the body as an instrument to unshackle the confines of the body, flesh, and blood, the intellect becomes subservient to consciousness, readily supplying the mantras and slokas latent in the subconscious,” she explains. “Engaging with a wide circuit of references, like religious iconography, world mythology, philosophy, and

literature, I weave together a story to recover the lost feminine narrative in cultural history,” she adds. Kohli’s harmonious compositions and intricate detailing with an exceptional use of gold leaf and blue render a fantastical world of stories, myths and legends. Deeply meditative and calm, Kohli’s semianthropomorphic divinities surround themselves with trees, birds and animals in the lap of nature. The exhibition is also available on a virtual gallery platform on the website of S.A. Fine Arts – For those who came in late, Circle of Our Own, a live narrative performance by the artist, is another step in her journey exploring the divine feminine energy, Hiranyagarbha, or the “Golden Womb” – space where Prakriti (nature) emerges, where everything is in a constant flow of renewal and rejuvenation. As for Parikrama, the Sanskrit word translates literally as the “path around something”; in a Hindu (and Buddhist) context it means the circumambulation of sacred spaces. It is about her personal parikrama of three such spaces: the Saptamatrika caves at Ellora, the Chausath Yogini Temple, Bhedaghat, also called the Golaki Math (“circular lodge”), and Mahadev Pani, a Shiva cave temple in Madhya Pradesh.

London-based art historian Sona Datta, who curated Kohli’s show, appreciates the uniquely Indian, yet universal appeal of her art. Having served as the Head of South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts and curated the Bengal Collective at the British Museum among others, Datta has a long history of introducing works of historic significance from the Indian subcontinent to a discerning audience abroad. Little wonder that Kohli caught her eye. “She is interesting because her art is different from the flat global contemporary art, which tends to look the same. The elements of Shakti and Tantra are palpable, in a brave and unselfconscious way. I believe her appeal lies in her contemporary way of addressing timeless and universal themes.” Kohli, who admits that she doesn’t do any sketches at all, says whatever she feels like from within, she lets it just flow. She believes in creating stories that reclaim the lost feminine narrative in cultural history. ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ displays works that are diverse in range, yet collectively portrays the message of the oneness of humanity. There are, of course, the famous Golden Womb pieces, with the overarching theme of regeneration of life. The tapestry here throbs with a life of its own.

Kohli has had over 30 solo shows in Venice, Brussels, New York, Dubai, Singapore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and many more. She has participated in international biennials (Venice, Shanghai, India), and art fairs (Hong Kong, Basel, Beijing, Madrid, India). Her works are in collections of the National Gallery Of Modern Art, Bengaluru, Melinda Bill Gates Foundation, Rubin’s Museum, MOSA-Brussels, and Kochi Museum of Arts. Working with oils on canvas, inks, mixed mediums, ceramics and printmaking, her work has redefined the basic contours of figurative art in India, finding admirers across the planet. Her work captures in its entirety the perpetual change, order, strength and fragility, colours and rhythm, melody and exuberance of the elemental world. Her work can be seen as public art as murals of 10ft x 100ft at the T3 Delhi International Airport, Mumbai International/Domestic Airport, the Defence Ministry, Tata Residency, Manipal University, ONGC, Tata Center of Excellence, Park Hyatt, Chennai, Leela Hotel-Delhi, Bengaluru etc.

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Remembering Nandalal Bose

Pioneer of modern Indian art, he openly denounced western techniques and his colours were positive, lines more assured and compositions more compactly structured, writes Dr Harsha Bhargavi Pandiri

Indian painting has come a long way in the last decades and in diverse ways. One of the known artists of revivalist movement at the turn of the century was Nandalal Bose, who used art as a communication tool to express humanity, family and friendship. As the country celebrates 75 years of Independence, it is important to inform the new generation about the valuable contributions of the people from creative fields. Remembering Nandalal Bose on the eve of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the National Gallery of Modern Art is yet to organise an exhibition with all his works presented in a thematic setup. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann ki baat 2.0’ on August 25, 2019, had said. “There is a famous art show called the Venice Biennale where people from the world congregate. This time, in the India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a very interesting exhibition based on memories of Gandhiji was organised. Of special interest were the Haripura Panels.” A Padma Vibhushan awardee, Bose designed the Emblem of India and beautified the original manuscript of the Constitution. His work on the original hand written Constitution is the resemblance of his empathy, apprehension of the country in diverse aspects. Bose had drawn the emblems for highest awards given by the Indian Government such as Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri. His artwork adorns our Constitution lending it a new, unique identity. The very commitment and reverence of Bose have made him, along with the Constitution, immortal. The themes of illustrations depict a fragment of India’s vast historical and cultural heritage. The illustrations were created using indigenous techniques of applying gold-leaf and stone colours. While Beohar Rammanohar Sinha is credited with the Preamble Page, it was his student Dinanath Bhargava who sketched the National Emblem. Bose shared a personal rapport with Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. His close association with Tagore woke up a poet in him and his contact with Gandhiji woke up a patriot in him. He was asked by Gandhiji to create a panache of paintings at the Haripura session of Congress depicting Indian social life, thus awakening use of khadi and embracing swadeshi. Thanks to Tagore, he generated awareness about the use of watercolours in paintings as opposed to use of oil, which was accepted in the west but was very elitist and expensive.

As a disciple of Abhinandan Tagore, Bose used watercolours extensively in his paintings whether it’s the illustrations in the Constitution or the setting of panels of paintings in the Haripura session of Congress. Recognising their capacity for suffering and sacrifice, Gandhiji drove women out of their hearths and homes into the thick of freedom struggle. Reflecting these moves of Gandhiji, Bose depicted women in household courses, but engaged in creative pursuits. His portraits of Gandhiji with his Dandi are more than iconographic. A linocut and a watercolour became a testimony of India’s freedom and the cruel ways of the British. Bose was among the first to recognise that the image of Gandhiji alone had the potential to unify a movement beyond the realm of a select few to express collective will of a new nation. He created several posters in support of the civil disobedience movement, but they were immediately torn down and destroyed, virtually none survived. Tagore recognised the abounding talent in Bose and invited him to serve as principal of Shantiniketan. He did linocuts for his book Sahaj Path. Tagore visited Japan in 1916 and was impressed by the artworks for their remarkable clarity of statement, brevity, and direct expression and distrust of needless detail. His letters from Japan indicated the art movement to take a new turn. He also wanted miniature format and gain in visual impact. Bose was a pioneer in introducing landscapes at a time when portraits were the dominant theme ever since the Mughal paintings. To him the credit goes for digging in themes not only for landscapes, but also social life of common people. At a time when photography was little known, Bose during his travels used to come up with paintings which were modelled on photography capturing the natural scenic beauty. He came up with a travelogue with paintings showing a bird in flight, a flower in bloom, a mountain under mist, the branches of a tree swaying gracefully in gentle breeze, the rich tones and textures of life in the countryside, the splendour of starlight, night sky. Capturing the iconic instances in those epics was a striking feature of Bose paintings.

For instance, the desperate battle of Abhimanyu when he was trapped in the chakravyuha. These pictures captured the struggle of Pandavas in their fight for justice. Apart from these, his yet another focus was on depicting the various shades of love, like Yashoda and Gopal, Radha Krishna, Parvati and Ganesh and the spiritual yearning of Mira. Bose gets the credit for depicting the birth of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He did splendid work in depicting Buddhism and the life of monks. His artworks tried to focus the attention of the public on household art forms like Alpana. His first exposure to mural paintings was in 1909 when he went to assist Lady Herringham in copying the murals of Ajanta caves that influenced his later artistic expressions. His association journey with Lady Herringham, Arai Kampo, Havell, Abaindarnath, Coomaraswamy, Okakura, Sister Nivedita, Gorpius, Bauhaus, Ramakrishna also influenced his works. He introduced techniques like Jaipur fresco, Gesso work, stained glass etc. The decorated walls of the Basu Vijnana Griha, walls of a room in the old library building in Shantiniketan with large floral scrolls based on Ajanta – Bagh motifs are some of his excellent works. The National Gallery of Modern Art has a wide range of 6,000 artworks by him. The unpredictable nature of his work had a style that was personal as his signature. He was committed towards professional excellence and social accountability. He was groomed with individuality and independence in his work by Abindranath Tagore. He was a modernist, proclaiming himself to be classicist and openly denounced western techniques. He believed in idealisation of the human figure rather than distortion. His drawings were free, sensitive and elegant and his palette, crisp, delicate and succinct. Pioneer of modern Indian art, contextual modernism and his colours were positive, his lines more assured and his compositions more compactly structured.

Dr Harsha Bhargavi Pandiri holds a Doctorate in Communication and Journalism from Osmania University, Hyderabad. She is a gold medalist in post-graduation in communication and Journalism. After working as Assistant Director with the Telangana State Information Centre, New Delhi, she’s presently working as Assistant Director (Public Relations), National Gallery of Modern Art, Government of India, New Delhi.

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Monumental Moments

Nivedita Mishra veers away from creating works within the format of an average sized figurine and takes bold strides into the arena of mammoth sculptors with the ease and artistry of a confident creator, says Subhra Mazumdar

Sculptor Nivedita Mishra, does not sculpt her works according to the conventional norms of her art form. What this entails is that this artist veers away from creating works within the format of an average sized figurine and takes bold strides into the arena of mammoth sculptors with the ease and artistry of a confident creator. Spending an evening with this creator one realises that forms, in sizes ranging upto nine feet and eleven feet are the average output from these five feet and more, sized creator, for whom the ‘bones’ of her structure are developed around strength and simplicity using the least malleable of materials: hard granite stone, which she chisels, using just her muscle power and a hand-held drill.

As for her subjects of depiction, there is nothing derivative or even down-to-earth in them. These works draw the viewer’s imagination into the very primal source of human thought, namely the wellspring of Shiva’s spiritual energy that was presented to mankind in the form of Devi or Durga. Hence the latest series of works from the Nivedita Mishra studio are based on the depictions of numerous Shakti Sthala associations, which are today worshipped as spaces that had received the bodily parts of the goddess when she was being carried round the universe.

Thus, in her works, the sources for her subjects are the essential divine parts that have inspired the shapes and textures of her art. Her giant-sized anatomical output ceases to be a mere exaggeration of the human anatomy and becomes elements of form and rhythm that somehow weave themselves into a spiritual way of creating rhythm and delicacy in her hands. The seemingly rough surface of the stone, which the sculptor deliberately leaves untouched, evokes the minimum of human interference for purposes of ornamentation, or anatomical reasons and thus concentrates the viewers’ attention on the innate philosophy that she has expressed through her sensitised and essential treatment of her material of choice. The leitmotif of her art is not an attempt to make the stone a feature for recognition of the body parts of the goddess, but a powerful form that is unmistakably a depiction of the Shakti peetha objects that tradition states fell on sacred spots of the land of Bharat and has now become the cornerstone of homogeneity in the philosophic acceptance of profound truths. And this is not all, for this artist’s primal source of creation is the idea of ‘Nari Shakti, not through its commonest emblematic choices as in the form of Durga, but as the 64 Yoginis. Thereby, she bridges the human and the divine in its most popular universal conceptualisation in the sphere of art, namely the feminine form. Having lived for over 15-17 years in western Odisha, an essentially tribal friendly part of the state where Tantric knowledge has acquired widespread scholarship, Nivedita has experienced the in depth understanding of yogini ideations through her lived opportunities. In her milieu the yoginis were flesh and blood individuals who visited and It was therefore a foregone fallout that in her latest exhibition, which had come into fruition after a preparatory stage of 17 years, this unique concept should find expression in the most exploratory journey visible. Using her sculptural expertise, this time in metal, the artist infused life into malleable metal through her creation of 64 Yoginis, a bronze conglomerate of individual torsos with each facial expression transcending beyond aestheticism and intellectualism into the realm of the super spiritual that critics have adjudged as canonical outputs of religio-mythical iconography. What viewers were gripped by was the variety of facial expressions of all the 64 sculpted personae. interacted with the local folk around.

Even their ornamentation and their anatomies, such as the shape of the nose, are deliberately underlining the statement that humanity is interlinked and yet each of us is an individual identity as well. An artist who is also an out-of-the-box exhibitor of outdoor artworks, Nivedita makes use of borrowed space to advantage by placing her specimen references of figural contours delightfully juxtaposed into garden settings. In other works, Nivedita uses the exterior façade of the cemented gallery building and the floors and walls of studio space as areas to exhibit the dimensionality of her sculptures. In the bargain, these works acquired another form of artistic dialogue, comprising eye-catching attractions both within and outside the exhibition precincts of the Shridharani Gallery. It was the placement of this conglomerate of 64 yoginis that made the focal energy.

While the outdoor area was occupied with references to the expose of the Shiva cult in the form of human sacrifice references, the semblance of a cremation ground, having the tell tale samples of such destinations, the explicit end of this conceptualisation was achieved by placing of the model of a gallows contraption, alongside. On the other hand, the interior space was contrastingly serene and yet equally soul jerking in its effect. It was the placement of a conglomerate of 64 yoginis that spelt out the Indian spiritual wellspring of focal energy. Around the amalgamation of the 64 yogini torsos was a binding force of femininity depicted through a floor spread of powdered haldi sourced from the natural grown product from her area, where the cult of Yogini practices is a living practice. Thus the aroma of freshly ground spice wafted the senses into imagining a setting where the yogini per se, was not an extraneous concept, but one that was interlinked in the persona of every woman who exudes a bedrock of inner strength, which needs no frivolous outward signs to make its presence palpable to one and all. Incidentally, the familiar pungency of the spice not only freshened the air indoors, but when the light fell on the features of her sculpted shapes, the shadows of these statuesque forms fell obliquely on the yellow mass making their appeal a duality born of aromatic vibrancy like none other.

Even the wooden platform on which the whole composition was mounted had an old world and reclaimed air, as it was constructed from salvaged railway sleepers. The wood was bereft of any cosmetic touches adding another dimension of otherworldliness to the environs. Then as the visitors arrived at the opening of the show, they were induced into the appropriate frame of mind with chantings from the slokas sung by a duo of special pandits who graced the occasion, coming all the way for this special inauguration from Varanasi. Today, while the exhibition doors have long been drawn at the gallery, the specimen creations have been given a new lease of life in a garden setting, where the silver grey of the granite is a repository of the wisdom of the ages, and the greenery sprouting beneath one’s feet becomes the image of new life absorbing the ancient wisdom passively and graciously.

While this is just a temporary halting ground before the works are shifted into their designated exhibition areas as outdoor sculptures, Nivedita is busy in her studio, which too, is a covered area roofed with eco-friendly bamboo where the artist and her muse can be seen chiselling, rubbing, etching and shaping yet another form, based on the wisdom of mankind and brought into focus through her massive or diminutive shapes preparation for the next exhibition, in another venue and at another time.

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Master Strokes

Samir Mondal has endowed watercolours with the status of oils by developing textures and structural features, but never losing their originality and elegance, says Saswati Chaudhuri

Samir Mondal has a name that is hard to forget, and the same could be said for his glorious artwork. It is not easy to forget the beauty of it once you have cast your gaze upon it. Hailed as the watercolour man of India, 70-year-old Mondal is an artist evolved by nature. Much before his paintings for the 2007 Bollywood blockbuster, Taare Zameen Par, became the talk of the town, the illustrious painter started his artistic odyssey from Balti, a small Bengali village in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal.”It was such a small village that there was no trace of town-like features and no facilities. In fact, there was nothing,” recalls the Mumbai-based artist. “But it was rich in terms of nature’s bounty. It was an undisturbed rural location with a small river, ponds, boats, trees and plants, a village temple, rituals and local festivals, customs and traditions, and simple people living friendly with each other. It was like growing up with nature freely without any restriction. No light, no noise like cities, it was so untouched by modernity that there was no paper,” he says. Can you imagine that he used to write on palm leaves in his childhood? “It sounds like I was born a thousand years ago,” says the artist credited with a continual revival of watercolours. He describes the Sonai River in a very artistic manner, reflecting his deep observation from early childhood memories. “Sonai with its crystal-clear water without any undercurrent was the lifeline of that small village. It was not very broad and its water was very sweet which was used by the villagers for their daily life, he remembers. Mondal was the eldest among six siblings and his father was a teacher at a school in a different village. That school had a pucca building and that is where Mondal started his schooling. Although no one, including himself, knew that he would be an artist of this stature as we know him today, being close to nature definitely helped lay the foundation. His family shifted to another village near Basirhat town as his mother wanted better education for her children. Basirhat was well connected with Kolkata by road and train. Many significant Bengali families lived there. Mondal joined Basirhat High School, which had a grand building and he found people using the radio and reading newspapers in many houses near his home! It was a progressive change for him but as a whole, the financial condition of people was not so good because it was just after independence and the country was yet to develop a proper system for better public life. During his growing years, there was no understanding about becoming an artist, butkeen observation towards nature in detail gave him pleasure. His narrative description about the flowing water in the river, playful fish near the boat, colourful flowers and foliage gives the impression that he always had an artistic sensibility and spending time with nature was the formative chapter for today’s Samir Mondal. In school, art as a subject was not very significant, but he used to draw on plain white or ruled school notebooks, which left his father fuming as he considered it was a waste of stationery. Buying colours was an expensive affair. So the only available colour was wax crayons, not good enough for colouring. “Those crayons were like colourful candles,” he says. But he noticed some of his friends using watercolour cakes to paint with a brush mixing water and using thick quality papers. He used to draw with ink and pencil and watched movies with neighbourhood friends and listened to city-stories from a relative of his friend who lived in Kolkata. “Sulekha inkpot and writing tool, which was dipped into the ink to draw or write was the reality at that time. Along with that, local cultural events like yatras, meaning watching village theatre at night, was extremely interesting,” he says. Like every Bengali teen, story illustrations and Bengali comic book pictures were his favourite. These events gave him exposure about the creative world, but it wasn’t much for him to decide to be an artist. His art teacher at Basirhat High School, Sri Sudhir Sarkar, was from the Government College of Art and Craft and was a batchmate of many well-known artists like Ganesh Haloi, Sarbari Roychowdhury, Uma Siddhanta and others.

Mondal saw some watercolour paintings done by his teacher, which were framed and displayed. But he was shy to interact with the teacher and also felt those artworks were of a very high level for him. Moreover, the weekly art class was not very impactful, though his friends appreciated his drawings and other craftworks. Kolkata was completely unknown to him and for someone from a low income family, it made more sense to go to the Basirhat college for graduation, learn typing and find some job as a teacher like his father, or a clerk to earn and support the family. But as luck would have it, one day a relative of his friend from Kolkata asked him something specific about his plan for further studies. No one ever asked him this and his next question was “Would you like to try studying art?” Mondal didn’t know the answer because he didn’t know anything about it. Next, the same person offered to arrange a meeting with a teacher of the art college in Kolkata. This conversation created curiosity and a new direction. When he told this to his father, his parents also started thinking on those lines and enquired about the course from their sources, but the information was not very positive, so there was no clarity. For Mondal, however, going to art college was destined. He met with his friend’s relative, who happened to be sculptor Sunil Paul, Head of the Sculpture Department, at the college. At the same time, another friend invited him to stay with him in Kolkata as a guest for a few days to see the city before making the decision. Mondal recalls these two events changed everything. He joined Indian Art College, which was the second popular fine art institution in Kolkata, but after a year he got admission in Government College of Art and Craft. So it was a six-year study for him. He lived in his uncle (mama)’s house in North Kolkata and used to walk more than 8 km everyday to reach his college to save money. His walking route was through Bidhan Sarani, which gave him a deep understanding about the city and as an artist that was a true depth of his passion. He feels this was the most valuable period of learning and inspiration. Crucial statements from teachers gave him artistic wisdom. He recalls how eminent artist Gopal Ghosh, his teacher in the second year, once did a watercolour painting in class that left Mondal mesmerised. “The way he applied the strokes, put colours on the paper and continued to look at the painting for a while and worked on it again to finish taught us how a human touch creates a piece of art,” he says. Mondal, on his part, has given a new dimension to the watercolour medium, which is generally considered second-rate, or less vibrant and difficult to handle compared to oil on canvas medium. He learnt continuously by watching the works of other painters throughout his journey, got influenced by some of them and over a period of time came out of that influence as well. Not only paper, Mondal has done watercolour paintings on leather, wood, canvas, glass and even on mirrors. At his alma mater, there was a trend of regular watercolour practice for students. It was the British school technique of transparent watercolour on paper with colour perspective and depth. Everyone used it with a minimal palette in an almost monochromic way. It was mainly a practice medium, not exactly classroom syllabus. The main academic medium to learn was oil on canvas. Being part of the same GCAC alumni, I have known Samir Da, who used to create beautiful watercolours and we juniors used to watch him paint during outdoor practice. He perceived watercolour as the main working medium, discovering its true essence and exuberance, asserting through his dynamic style that we see as his signature or identity. Many learning spaces and workshops around the world observe his style and contribution are discussed during scholarly lectures for next generation artists. More than any awards, this is the greatest achievement for any artist. “Do we artists really need to create an identity? I don’t know. I do not take pride in being famous. I don’t think I have reached the highest point,” he says, “Is there any rule to find an individual style for an artist to authenticate or he can go any direction to explore creativity as it comes naturally. In reality, there is no definite formula. An artist’s identity can come into reality in many ways that may be in terms of popularity, in terms of grace or presentation. If an artist works continuously, it shows a flow and a signature style finds its way,” he says, adding, “If an artist works taking a long break in between, the same thing may not be visible in the artwork. So it depends on the workflow of an artist and also it is not always a conscious development for an artist to create a specific identity. As it is a lifetime commitment towards a field of work, after the academic learning there are periods of search, research and a responsibility to do something meaningful.” He agrees that while we create art, it is a dialogue between the artist and the artwork. If that communication is established, creation happens. He also says there is no good art or bad art but he does not believe that ‘skill’ prevents us from being creative, which has been a popular opinion recently.

He started his solo artistic endeavour in 1980 with an insight about the resurgence of watercolour painting. Although some of the predecessors worked on the watercolour medium very seriously and watercolour exhibitions were organised to acknowledge its importance, the oil medium was always dominating. Studio painting using watercolour was less visible. In annual shows at art galleries like Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, the prominent halls were dedicated to the artists, who created large-size oil paintings which have a great impact on viewers. “As if watercolour belongs to a minority community,” he says. This scenario disturbed him, made him angry and he was determined to take watercolour paintings to that large prominent exhibition space. His aspiration was, “Bado ghare jete hobe” means “I have to reach to that large hall”. Mondal says his style today involves the influences of different cultures, themes, styles and techniques that he has been exposed to throughout his career. “I’m forever evolving, learning from the medium itself. I love the accidents and unpredictability of the medium, the happenings from the mixing and merging of the medium beyond our control. I am merely guiding these processes to a meaningful conclusion,” he says.”I believe the biggest deciding factor about the evolution of my style is the unpredictable nature of the medium. I start out expecting or anticipating a certain result, but the outcome is sometimes far from what I initially set to achieve. I do not consider this as my failure, but a positive new knowledge for me. I have incorporated this in my style as well, the unpredictability of watercolours.” He recalls how he once threw water hopelessly on his incomplete painting and left it on the floor. After a few days, when he looked at his work, the textures and effects amazed him. It was a new experience. This event gave him fresh energy, as if he found that missing link and his own style was born. It was accidental, but it was the beginning. He continued working and he also thought watercolour would be economically supportive compared to oil. He used to do large size watercolour paintings on full size papers, even joining papers together, using paper rolls. He intensely observed the attributes of oil painting masterpieces and noted the richness, depth and substance. He desired to achieve similar qualities in watercolour medium and experimented with textures and constructional features; not losing the original classic grace of watercolour medium and developed a contemporary method. As he pursued his work, he received opportunities to exhibit and appreciation and achievements followed. He created the ‘Shelter’ series paintings which were 4’ X 4’ that were not in practice at that time. In his peacock series, he even experimented with a combination of bright and subdued shades; in ‘Faded Manuscript’ series, he made brilliant use of black with red, ultramarine and rich yellow. He created a magical yet powerful statement. He introduced a kind of building up process in watercolour, bringing a weight just like oil paintings. Shyamal Dutta Roy’s concept driven water colour was his inspiration. He says, “Finally my work started being displayed in the large hall,” which he determined. Sandip Sarkar, one of the most reputed and learned art historians and art critics of Bengal talked about his work; later few of his works, some of them are portraits of personalities, were published as the cover pages of Desh Patrika and The Illustrated Weekly of India, which was a great honour. Desh Patrika cover page used to be for very senior artists of Bengal, which was considered a highly prestigious event of that period. Mondal’s work reached there at a very young age. He feels very lucky that there used to be a regular column on watercolour in the reputed Illustrated Weekly in the form of a full page painting by him. In Sunday Observer, his portraits of famous actors and actresses were regularly published during the 90s. Besides, many commission works in the form of calendars, greetings and illustrations for books, magazines, periodicals and newspapers published in India and abroad made watercolour to be mainstream and an established medium like oil on canvas. He created his own strategy about using pigments to bring in the weight and luminosity that was acknowledged as pioneering and original. He often works in a planned manner in layers, sometimes it takes several days to complete one painting, yet it looks ‘finished at one go’. Spontaneity is a natural quality of watercolour; he plays with this quality and manipulates it gradually in his own mastery. He breaks the traditionalism embracing bold colours and definite structure. He has gone through several changes. Besides orthodox British method of watercolour painting, which has a fresh transparency and dynamic three-dimensional look, he studied many techniques like Chinese watercolours with bold brush strokes, Egyptian simplified motifs, Ajanta Cave paintings etc., to experiment. This learning made him realise that watercolour medium is still very much unexplored. He also spent a good time learning performing arts like mime; the body movement of mime looked like moving sculpture to him. He also learnt classical dance like Kathakali from guru P. Govindan Kutty to understand body movement and anatomy. He even worked on animation for eight to ten years.

All these activities influenced him as an artist. But his humble conclusion is, “I have not yet reached a stage where I can say I am a great artist. I am happy that I am doing it, art is uncertain but I am still holding it. My medium is my friend, I can play with it without getting bored. It is an ongoing process.” His recent works came out to be completely different due to the lockdown period, when he was in Western Australia visiting his son. He did not have access to his own watercolours. He created small black and white sketchbook works using charcoal and some digital works inspired by Aboriginal Art of Australia. This new approach is also expected to be continued because that is the basic nature of evolving artists.

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Truly The Bose


Bose Krishnamachari continues to revolutionise world

perception of contemporary art by reinventing its benchmarks

and language, pushing relentlessly at the boundaries of

imagination, says Divya Menon

Samuel Beckett’s plays that explore the absurdities and polarities in society create a conducive climate for the intelligent man to manifest a parallel world of expression using aesthetics imbibed from these quirks and form born in their imagination.

For Bose Krishnamachari, who, in one of his earliest trysts with theatre, played the role of Beckett’s Estragon, understanding of these extremes of life dawned early. A lot that he has said in 30 years, through his art could be traced to these inspirations. For instance, his ambitious project in 1992 after suffering a blow being rusticated from Mumbai’s Sir J.J. School of Art, was ironically titled AmUseuM and shown at the Jahangir Gallery in Mumbai. It was born in the concept of impermanence and materiality driven by human imagination and the coexisting idiosyncrasies of Mumbai’s book selling footpaths. He recalls that in the early 90s, the library at the Sir J.J. School of Art despite being well stacked had a dearth of reading material on modern and contemporary art. His search for such knowledge exposed him to street book sellers, some squatting on the ground amidst stacks of books, others perched atop pillars of books!

The absurdity of the scene, the dichotomy of absence and excess, his thirst for information and its inaccessibility grew into AmUseuM that showcased within glass cases, painted spiral bound books bearing inscriptions of poetry and mummified with colours on glued pages, mimicking conventional museums. His Ghost/Transmemoir in 2006, explored ambivalence even more critically with an extraordinary presentation of 108 tiffin boxes with their bellies torn and embedded with LCD monitors that relayed commentaries by celebrities and commoners alike. The show recreated the sounds of both dissonance and harmony typical of Mumbai – the city that throbs with an energy that instantly absorbs one into its many polarised layers. The show was first previewed at Kitab Mahal in Mumbai, then New York’s AiCon Gallery, Milan, Dubai, Lille, London’s Serpentine Gallery, Lyon Museum, Singapore, Astrup Fearnley Museum Oslo and Herning Museum in Denmark.

The soft-spoken gentleman with deep political consciousness and social awareness is, however, an outspoken critic of the fallacies and mishaps that afflict contemporary times. In 2020 at Kolkata’s Emami Art, his first solo in nine years titled The Mirror Sees Best in the Dark addressed his worries and aversions without brevity in the language of maximalism and minimalism, exploring diverse materiality. Some projects in this series used maximum ornamentation like gilt, golden frames and Kerala’s Aranmula Kannadi (polished metal mirror), while others sank into minimalist mode with paper and Braille like perforations.

When a mirror becomes the protagonist of an artist’s creation, it explodes into our psyche, absorbing and reflecting us and the world around us. It lays bare our obsessions that lie hidden, carefully camouflaged under layers of fallacy. Obsession is a dangerous state of mind that can ruin the very fabric of human existence. Bose says, “I find obsession running deeply in contemporary society, obsession with religion, God, capitalism, racism and so on. It worries me”.

It is 2021 but the pandemic still looms large over us manifesting mixed scenarios in our world. It has locked us down behind unseen walls and rechartered our plans and physical boundaries. In many parts of the world, it has silenced galleries, biennales and shows indefinitely causing deepest anguish to artists, but has also catalysed with greater urgency than ever, the migration of art into virtual space where borders are merely subjective. For our thinkers who have been hankering for a free space for expression without borders, it has spawned an entirely new world. And yet again, in a cold reminder about the mpermanence of existence, it has theatrically shrunk the chasm between life and death! These are strange times indeed! But this is also the time, that Bose imagined would be just right for Lokame Tharavadu (The World is One Family) – an expression of solidarity, an art show of excesses, be it in the number of artists or, of an abstraction called imagination. Like a crusader, Bose Krishnamachari, the man at its helm spent much of 2020 networking with Malayali artists across the world, travelling the length and breadth of Kerala and other places, studying their works, holding discussions, understanding their backgrounds and so on for the The exhibition dubbed India’s biggest contemporary art event since the pandemic, has showcased works of 267 Malayali artists, across 6 venues in Alappuzha and Ernakulam. Interestingly, it is a new platform for many obscure artists who were handpicked by Bose to hop onto his Noah’s Ark of sorts.

Putting debates on the timing of the show to rest, Bose says that art is simply therapeutic and that after long periods of confinement, a coming together to boost sinking morale was a necessity. The pandemic being a leveler of sorts had just delivered a powerful message to the world that beneath the cacophony of social disparities is a commonality – that we are all equally vulnerable. Bose’s blueprint for the show was thus born in the urgency of the times. Those who are familiar with the phenomenal mind of the man called Bose Krishnamachari would concur that this is not the first time that he has done something seminal.

As the long-distance video conversation progresses into interesting vistas, the man whose brush wields power offers a generous peek into his art and mind, “Technology has made life so easy, but I fear that it could be robbing our young artists of their ability to imagine”, laments Bose. The ability to visualise and dream are both sacrosanct to creativity but the gadget strapped youth of today, lured by the infinite possibilities that rest at the touch of a button, is edging towards a major cultural catastrophe with imagination slowly becoming a dying art!

He says, “At 22 when I caught the Jayanti Janatha train from Kerala to Mumbai to study art, I had just recovered from a long illness, had no inkling what Mumbai looked like, had never before ventured out of Kerala and there was no Google in those days! But I was fortunate to have had the gift of imagination that allowed me to visualise and create a space to hoist my dreams.”

The man whose brush wields power offers a generous

peek into his art and mind, “Technology has made life so

easy, but I fear that it could be robbing our young

artists of their ability to imagine,” he says.

But initial days in Mumbai were trying. He says, “Survival as an art student was hard because funds were low. In Western countries, students receive financial support of various kinds but that is not the case here. I stayed in a chawl in Saki Naka sharing a room with several others.” His stint at Worli’s Mela Restaurant as a sketching artist that exposed him to all classes of people is where he honed his language skills and sharpened his observations. He adds, “I made portraits for Rs 10 and was often given tips by my clients and that helped me to live life big time, party, travel and buy books.”

Much has been written about his student life at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai that introduced him to different disciplines of art study, where he topped with record scores, made associations with brilliant minds like Kapil Gupta, Geetanjali Rao, Samira Rathod, Sudarshan Shetty and others, did a teaching fellowship at the Institute before being chucked out for an open critique about the school! In hindsight, all that transpired at Mumbai were precursors to the monumental journey he would undertake in the years that followed.

BFA and several shows later, he won the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship (1999-2000) that took him to Goldsmiths, University of London, from where he acquired his MFA in Visual Art Theory and Practice.

Bose Krishnamachari has always been a champion of artistic development in the country and a keen spectator of India’s changing social fabric. He says, “Culture is the backbone of society and should ideally be part of the Education Ministry as it used to be. Our students do not get enough exposure to world practices in contemporary art for lack of resources, collective spaces and collaborative efforts.

Talent is plenty but often it is not skill that matters but how you present it. Aesthetics is a core aspect of design and technology and must become part of mainstream education. We need museums that can be continually reprogrammed to grow into centres of education. We must ask pertinent questions like why we make art and what we are trying to educate with our art projects. The educational system in India could do with some reformation so that perception of art can change and greater value can be attached to art education.”

He believes that the future of the world would be one that is coengineered by artists, designers and scientists and that the collaboration of these people will create an impactful space.

On the lines of art democratisation, he says that art needs to enter the life of the common man more intimately to stimulate cultural dialogues at all levels. In 2005 with his ingenious project titled Laboratory of Visual Art (LaVA), he gave a glimpse into what an inventive space could do by travelling away from practiced norms. Through LaVa he expanded the landscape of the conventional museum space by demolishing its implicit boundaries. LaVa was designed as a travelling, temporary space in order to elicit greater involvement and enthusiasm from the public as it moved from one city to another, absorbing viewers into its whirlpool of interaction.

With 12 monitors and specially made modular furniture, the space featured more than 3000 books, 1800 DVDs and other objects of interest spanning visual art, architecture, design, culture, fashion, philosophyand more. These were hand-picked by him on his numerous visits to galleries, museums and shows worldwide and thrown open to artists and students.

With LaVA, he reformatted the gallery experience giving his viewers a taste of the myriad possibilities of an interactive space. From the Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai where it was first exhibited, it travelled to the Travancore House in Delhi and then to Kolkata’s Gallery 88, Red Earth Gallery in Baroda and Bangalore’s Sumukha Gallery, for couple of months each before moving to Kochi’s Kashi Art Gallery and then returned to Gallery BMB in Mumbai created in 2009 by Yash Birla, Devaunshi Mehta and Bose. From 2011 it has been at the Pepper House in Kochi as part of the Kochi Biennale Foundation.

Cultural tourism is another interest he nurtures deeply. Citing the Kochi-Muziris Biennale formula, he says, “Greater investment must be made to transform more Indian cities into cultural centres with festivals to attract visitors and bring in the economy because we already have a rich heritage”. The event has put Kerala on the world cultural map and is a collective space for artists from different practices from all over the world with several verticals under its banner like the ABC (Art By Children) Art Room for schools and the Students’ Biennale which is the first of its kind internationally.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is India’s first one and has assumed colossal proportions today as a successful socio-cultural model for cultural exchange. It was conceived at a private meeting at Bose’s Mumbai residence in 2010 with the then Education and Cultural Minister of Kerala M.A. Baby and later at Borivali with artist friends like Riyas Komu and Jyothi Basu. With its rich heritage, social fabric and cultural openness to worldwide voices, Kochi was the perfect springboard for the Biennale, touted as the largest art festival in Asia and Bose is the Director and the Founding President of the Kochi Biennale Foundation.

He says, “Across the world, biennales have catalyzed cultural and social movements that altered the lives of people in those cities. Take the ‘Bilbao effect’ for instance. The coming together of revolutionary ideas, new ways of thinking have always sparked positive changes which is why we need more such collectives and biennales in India.”

The challenge of the unpredictable in art is something that he enjoys and believes that if it was predictable, it wouldn’t be art. Tweaking Joseph Beuys’s quote he says that everyone could, be an artist but curatorship is more complex than common perception. He has curated shows in India and internationally. In 2012 Bose co-curated the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale and in 2016 curated For an Image, Faster than Light, first edition of the Yinchuan Biennale, in Yinchuan, MOCA, China. He says, “A curator is not merely someone who packs pieces of art into a show but someone who researches into the premise of the concept, studies the backgrounds of the artists, the space, the need to exhibit, its relevance to contemporary times and has awareness of architectural and scenographical processes and historical sensibilities in relation to the concept”. We arrive at several high notes in the conversation, especially when he talks about how Kerala and Mumbai are both dear to him differently. Kerala gifted him his first platform to express his art, through theatre, music and dance. The Kerala cuisine that can be anything from a humble gruel to a majestic 16 dish feast taught him early in life about the beauty in extremes.

His socio-cultural sentimentalities were born here. His skill and generosity are genetic legacies of his parents. Whereas Mumbai, the city of survival or Bose’s ‘city of maximum’ is the place that transformed the village boy from Kerala into a phenomenal presence in the art world.

It gets even more interesting when he says that his art and life resonate deeply. Some of his works are jarringly loud visually, and then there are others that are shockingly minimalist, pretty much like his sense of fashion that can be anything from quirky to elegant. He says, “Well, life is full of extremes. If there is chaos, there is order as well. An artist knows how to create order from chaos”.

Art is an omnipresent reality that lies concurrent to man’s life, constantly shaping his world. The artist of today is not someone who lives and creates in isolation. Freedom to explore and express are important to him. It is essentially this liberal space that Bose Krishnamachari has been trying to create through his art that speaks to current times.

He continues to revolutionise world perception of contemporary art by reinventing its benchmarks and language, pushing relentlessly at the boundaries of imagination. He is a gallerist and an art collector with collections dating back to his student days that include stellar works by young artists and big names alike from around the world.

The conceptualist is unstoppable and moves between many more roles from a thinker to a facilitator, a narrator and critic of contemporary times, a friend, a patron of young artists and a teacher who is kind and willing to share for he believes art is for all. He says, “I have no success mantra but my life has been carved around, destiny, passion, enthusiasm and commitment. I do not encourage my students to follow me, I myself follow none though many have inspired me on my journey which has been truly rewarding this far; at the same time, my deepest regret is the loss of precious time with my family”.

For Bose, with more to be said and done, there is no time to pause.

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The Mystery of the Infinite

The Mystery of the Infinite - Geeta Chandran
Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran’s new dance autobiography speaks of how she tackled the pandemic as an artist and inspires all to emerge out of darkness
Clad in a gorgeous green saree, noted Bharatanatyam danseuse and Padma Shri awardee Geeta Chandran set the Stein Auditorium stage on fire with the rhythmic sounds of her ghunghroos as she presented her new works entitled “In Search of Infinity” strung together by five poignant dance sequences on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at the India Habitat Centre, Lodi Estate, New Delhi.

The auditorium reverberated with live musicians playing for her as she performed a 90-minute piece reflecting her internal dance journey through the Covid pandemic. “I believe the other side of infinity is insanity. It is a tough choice during the pandemic that we had to make about whether we were going down the slope towards insanity or whether we were able to rescue ourselves towards infinity,” she said. The pandemic that the world has witnessed in the past two years has greatly impacted every person on the planet. To portray that era of darkness that everyone needs to put aside while treading the path forward with caution, Chandran deployed ‘Beeti Vibhavari Jaag Ri’ by Hindi poet Jai Shankar Prasad Ji as a potent metaphor that also promises a better tomorrow. Using images of rejuvenation and of finding renewed strength within, the opening piece set the pace and tone for the evening. The pandemic had seen each of us experience different emotions ranging from anger, compassion, fear and restlessness. Mirroring this, the episode of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain to protect humanity offered an opportunity for Chandran to explore various nava-rasas in her dance spiralling into the deepest recesses of her core to understand feelings of sorrow, wonder, disgust, and love. Verses in Sanskrit from the Sri Krishna Karna-amrita shlokam of Bilvamangala Swami become the libretto for this exploration in music and abhinaya. The performance then approached transcendence in the danseuse serenading the Goddess in Amba Nilambari, who drapes the sky as her garment.

Chandran said that she specially chose this Goddess who rules the skies as her object of devotion since Covid too came to us air-borne. This grand Carnatic music composition of vaggyekara Shri Muthuswami Dikshithar was presented in a mature vilambit fashion. Chandran’s abhinaya of the Goddess, Neelambari who blesses devotees with eyes full of compassion, became a dance of hope and post pandemic sustenance. In Search of Infinity also brought out Chandran’s maternal feelings which were invoked watching her grandson toddle around during the pandemic year. This experience informed a beautiful lullaby wherein Ma Yashoda narrates the story of Rama while putting little Krishna to sleep. In an epiphanic moment in the story, when Sita isabducted by Ravana, the baby Krishna, transcending time and space, calls out to Lakshmana (his brother in his previous incarnation as Ram) to get his bow readied, since he wants to call out Ravana. This wonderful literary piece by Poet Surdas, presented the concept of a grand Sanatan philosophy were avatars are linked in cyclical memory. Finally, Chandran concluded her performance with a call for social tolerance of differences. In a piece written by Swami Annamacharya of the Tirupati Balaji temple, the poet called for samdrishti to human beings who may follow different sets of beliefs. All of humanity is one, says the poet, even as all the Gods are one! Images of devotees worshipping Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Tantra practices and Vedanta all showed the multiple ways of reaching the single Parabhramam. Chandran said: “The pandemic affected all performing artists deeply. I was no exception. My dance studio, which was, until then, daily humming with hyper creative activity and the bustle of students, went eerily silent. After a brief hiatus of about two weeks, I shook off my ennui and started reassessing my blessings.

I recognised that my art was replete and capable of feeding my soul and saving me from the downward spirals that so many around me were sliding down into! And I also realised that my internal landscape was robust enough to keep me busy, creatively occupied, feeling fulfilled and happy. I reached the blissful Point Zero within myself, and I thank the pandemic for that. I truly tasted eternity.”

She further added, “In Search of Infinity showcases compositions I worked on during those 30 null months. With the support of stellar musicians K. Venkateswaran and Manohar Balatchandirane who were my pandemic co-travelers, I survived the pandemic and two Covid infection cycles with hope, and positivity.” Calm, quiet and Nirvana can be achieved if one wills it and this is what Chandran tried to bring out through her performances as she took a housefull audience through this fascinating autobiographical journey of how she emerged from the pandemic quick sands that engulfed so many. There is a reason why performing arts have been esteemed so high as they and other creative fields are the most potential ways at hand for anyone to find balm for battered souls. Through In Search of Infinity, Chandran inspired everyone to find their happiness and calm within themselves and quench their creative thirst. The outburst of an impromptu standing ovation was proof that the audience heartily endorsed Chandran’s path. Chandran started dancing at the age of five. She has spent the last 55 years teaching and performing the classical dance, which has proved her as ‘dynamic’ and ‘magnificent’. Even after giving many best performances, she is always eager to learn something.

“The 30 months of
the pandemic underlined
limits of everything; we were
all boxed in both physically
and metaphorically. In that
state of despair, my dance
led me to deeper spaces
within myself.”

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Lalit Kala Akademi Awards for 20 artists

The 62nd National Exhibition of Art covering artworks from a broad range of mediums exhibits artistic brilliance, innovative use of materials and aesthetic appeal of the selected artists

After the difficult phase of the Corona period, there is some good news for the artists. Lalit Kala Akademi organised its 62nd National Exhibition of Art in the Capital from April 9 and also honoured 20 artists on the same day. Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu presented these honours to the outstanding artists working in other mediums, including painting, sculpture, graphic, and photography in a grand ceremony at Vigyan Bhawan. Speaking at the award function, the Vice President called upon schools and parents to encourage children to learn any art form of their choice as part of the efforts to preserve and promote India’s rich cultural heritage. Stressing the need to go back to our roots, he called for a cultural renaissance in Indian society. He also said that our rich traditional folk-art forms such as puppetry are disappearing due to the craze for western culture. They have to be revived with active involvement of not just the governments but society at large. Observing that exposure to creativity and art at an early age will help children become more aware of their surroundings and help them lead a more meaningful life, Shri Naidu wanted educational institutions to give equal importance to art subjects in their curriculum. Lauding the contributions of artists in “strengthening the thread of continuity connecting our rich past to the present and future”, Shri Naidu observed that art unites people across cultures, influences and inspires them, thus “becoming a powerful agent of change in the process”. “It is the duty of each one of us to preserve and promote our grand cultural traditions and various art forms”, he said. The awardees were presented with a copper plate and a shawl, along with Rs.2 lakh in cash.

The artists, who were honoured for the Lalit Kala Akademi award this time are Anand Narayan Dabli, Bhola Kumar, Devesh Upadhyay, Digvijay Khatua, Ghanshyam Kahar, Jagan Mohan Penuganti, Jintu Mohan Kalita, Kusum Pandey, Lakshmipriya Panigrahi, Manjunath. Honnapura, Mohan Bhoya, Nema Ram Jangid, Nisha Chadda, Prabhu Harsoor, Prem Kumar Singh, Pritam Maiti, Rishi Raj Tomar, S.A. Vimalanathan, Shivanand Shagoti and Sunil Kumar Singh Kushwaha. These artists have been selected for these awards by a jury of art connoisseurs who have studied the work of the artists closely. This jury was also constituted by the Lalit Kala Akademi and its members were Dattatreya Apte, Vipul Prajapati, Vasudev Kamat, Yogendra Tripathi, Mithun Kumar Dutta, Deepak Ponnikar and Shivkumar Kesarmadu. Artefacts and artistic expression of these artists have been displayed at the National Art Exhibition, which was inaugurated on April 9, by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Development of North- East Region, G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture Arjun Ram Meghwal and Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakshi Lekhi. The selection of the artworks were done on the basis of the quality of execution, freshness of images, innovative use of materials, novel application of colour and originality of stylistic markers in the works. Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi Uma Nanduri said that “After a long period of Covid-19 pandemic, this exhibition on national level will encourage the artist. This year the number of awards has been increased from 15 to 20. I congratulate all the award winners.” Akademi received 5450 entries from 2351 artists, out of which the 1st tier Jury (Selection Jury) selected more than 300 exhibits for display in the exhibition. IInd Tier Jury (Award Jury) selected 20 artworks for award for 62 nd National Akademi Awards.