The Curator #14

In the last issue we discussed the retrospective on Indian artist Ramkinkar Baij curated by K.S. Radhakrishnan to understand what is a retrospective and how it is a curated. We understood that retrospectives help to bring a large body of artworks of an artist to the public. It also helps us to understand the contributions of the artists in a historical perspective. Continuing that discussion today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will learn about the exhibition “Raja Deen Dayal: The Studio Archives from the IGNCA Collection” curated by Jyotindra Jain (along with Pramod Kumar K.G.) at Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts in 2010.

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The Curator #14

Curator: Dr. Jyotindra Jain

Exhibition: “Raja Deen Dayal: The Studio Archives from the IGNCA Collection”, 2010

Venue: IGNCA

 

Dr. Jyotindra Jain is an eminent art-cultual historian and curator. He was the Director of the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi, Member Secretary and Professor (Cultural Archives), at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, and also Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

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Dr. Jyotindra Jain

Also let us look at Raja Deen Dayal. Who was he and why was he so important? He was born in 1844 to a middle-class Jain family from Sardhana, near Meerut in today’s Uttar Pradesh. Later he studied at the Thompson Civil Engineering College in Roorkee. In 1854, photography was introduced as a subject in the college, where Deen Dayal perhaps first developed an interest in it.

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Raja Deen Dayal

After leaving the College he started working for the Public Works Department as a draftsman. It was around 1882-84 that he met Sir Lepel Griffin of the Bengal Civil Service, who was posted in Central India. He was commissioned by Sir Lepel to assist on his mission to document monuments of the architectural heritage of Central India. During this tour Deen Dayal documented the temples, forts and palaces at Gwalior, Orchha, Khajuraho, Sanchijhansi, Deegh, Indore, Omkareswar, etc. This was a remarkable trip for Deen Dayal, 86 of his photographs were published in the monograph of Lepel’s titled Famous Monuments of Central India in 1886. Deen Dayal’s talent was recognized and he was in demand to document monuments. He was commissioned by Archaeological Survey of India.

Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad

Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad

In the coming years he worked as an official photographer to several Viceroys, including Lord Dufferin and Earl Elgin. In 1887 he received the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Photographer to Her Majesty, the Queen (Victoria).

 

According to IGNCA, “The legacy of Raja Deen Dayal is an exhibition mounted from the collection of glass-plate negatives of India’s most accomplished photographer of the 19th century, and an introduction to the life and works of Raja Deen Dayal. The photographer beyond the portrayal of his subjects draws a picture of his time. He translates his perceptions through his medium and thus a collection of photographs is the milieu as experienced and described by him. Raja Deen Dayal’s photographs offer us not only vivid insights into India’s rich art and cultural heritage but also provide valuable testimonials for historians.”

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Facsimile albums laid out for viewing with the original album on display in the glass topped table seen at far left

This exhibition was divided into three sections.

The Place: The photographer’s record of the physical setting in which he lived and worked, and through which he travelled, the natural and man made physical substructure.

The People: The individuals who peopled the setting, the various and varied inhabitants.

The Event: The happenings and activities of the people which enlivened the setting, marked the passage of time and indicated the modes of life then, as perceived by the photographer.

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Rashtrapati Nilayam, Hyderabad

Dr. Jain says, “We decided to host this exhibition as he was undoubtedly the most prolific Indian photographer of his time, a man who made his mark on the work of European counterparts then. He is a towering figure in Indian photography,” For this exhibition, IGNCA had displayed the largest ever number of works of Deen Dayal.

Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

The exhibition drew immense response and praise. Seminal photographers also showered praises on it and also on Deen Dayal’s legacy.

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Gallery View, Courtesy: Eka Resources

Noted photographer Ram Rahman remarked, “My favourite part of this exhibition was seeing a few of Deen Dayal’s architectural images, which I had not seen before. But there should have been at least one original picture by Deen Dayal on display. The original albumen prints are the size of the negatives. Here, those images have been simulated. A glass print would have given an average viewer an idea of how prints used to be in those days,” he says.

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The interior of Bashir Bagh Palace

 

Take a look at Raja Deen Dayals’ photographs at IGNCA when you visit. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
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‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ by Crockett Johnson

Okay. We’ll admit it. We love books about crayons.
(mostly because they’re so colourful and fun)

Well, this is a story about a little bundle boy called Harold.
Our hero Harold has a purple crayon. And with that crayon, he draws the world!

This Papa’s palm-sized purple paperback is rich in imagination and its applications. Johnson’s illustrations explore the flexibility of a simple line as Harold makes his purple journey. Purposefully minimal, the pages of Crockett Johnson’s ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ allow the imaginative reader to fill in the colours.

The next time you’re in bed, but can’t quite sleep, grab hold of a purple crayon and see where it will take you.

Likla
Writer at Art1st

The Curator #13

The Curator #13

We have seen different ways of curating artworks. Today we will discuss what are retrospective exhibitions. Have you heard about retrospective exhibitions? The word retrospective means looking back at the past events or survey the past or take a stock of an artist’s works in the past. Similarly, a retrospective exhibition presents works from an extended period of an artist’s activity. Most of the time, this task is done by a museum or gallery, after the artist’s death or at a time when artist’s career reaches a milestone.

The task of the curator in a retrospective is to present the works of an artist in such a way so that the general public can understand his contributions to not only to the art world but also to the history and heritage of that region. So the curator has to show the works in a chronological way to display how the works of an artist evolve and mature over a period of time. How this progression can be seen along with many other progressions in the art world and history. The curator’s task therefore is to understand the artist’s work from the early period itself. Here the curator becomes like a detective trying to piece together each and every work of the artist, sometimes works which were supposed to be lost, assembling a series of memories, exchanges, ideas, etc. of the artist for the viewer. As I said earlier this is not easy task. Imagine if the artist has not signed a series of works from a particular period and no one has a clue about it. Now, how will the curator identify it and put it in a particular sequence of the timeline. It requires a careful study and also tremendous amount of expertise from the curator’s side.

In today’s Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss about such a retrospective exhibition which took almost five years to mount. The five years went in detailed research on the artist Ramkinkar Baij’s life and works done by the artist K.S. Radhakrishnan who curated the Ramkinkar Retrospective at NGMA Delhi. This was the first exhibition which brought together more than 350 works of Ramkinkar Baij in one place giving it an art historical context with commendable scholarly input.

The Curator #13

K.S. Radhakrishnan

Ramkinkar Baij: A Retrospective, NGMA, 2012 

At the outset, let me tell you that Ramkinkar Baij was India’s most prolific and acclaimed modern artists. He was a painter, print maker, sculptor, designed sets for theatre, and mostly was a passionate human being. He is also considered as the first modernist sculptor. At a time when the nationalist clarion call echoed a backward march to tradition and indigenous mediums and visual idioms, Ramkinkar carved a niche for himself from the rest of the Bengal School by constantly acquainting himself with the unfamiliar terrain than the familiar and the experimental to the banality of life. The most notable fact about Ramkinkar Baij is that he was prolific. He sketched, and did water colour paintings all the time. When he was not making giant public sculptures, he would prepare its studies in drawings or experimenting on it in maquettes. Many times he was not able to afford painting materials, so he would paint on both surfaces of a canvas. He will forget to sign his works. Baij also used to gift his works to whoever he felt like giving. He lived in financially poor conditions and some times during heavy rains he would use his canvas paintings to cover the roof form where the water was trickling down. Besides these personal aspects of Baij, let me also tell you that his experiments with different styles is very eccentric. Usually art historians are able to bracket an artist’s works according to a particular style he or she adopts during a period. A change occurs after a particular time. In case of Baij, if one day he would create a painting in Expressionist style, the next work would be Cubist, in appearance. He was rigorously experimenting with style and visuals. Therefore it is a curator’s nightmare to assemble the works of Ramkinkar and put it in a legible form as an exhibition.

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K.S. Radhkarishnan is a prominent contemporary sculptor who has been part of important national and international exhibitions. He is known for his bronze sculptors. Radhakrishnan was trained under two important modern artists in Shantiketan – Ramkinkar Baij and Sarbari Ray Chowdhury. After Baij’s death he played an active role along with others in documenting his works which were scattered and archive them. In 2007, Radhakrishnan was selected by NGMA to curate the retrospective on Ramkinkar Baij. He says, “I started in 2007. I was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture. They asked if I would do it. I accepted happily because it’s like working on your teacher’s work. Also, Ramkinkar was a bachelor, so he had no children to look after his archive. In his case, it’s really his students who had to do that. I thought this would be a learning process for me. I knew I would be searching for things in a vast ocean, but I thought there was a big challenge in it. It’s always a great pleasure to work on someone who is so versatile and colorful. There’s much to be explored in terms of his life and work.”

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K.S. Radhakrishnan

Radhakrishnan notes that he started with the NGMA collection, which had documented a handwritten list containing merely titles, without any images. He started creating a database scanning every work and every page of Ramkinkar’s sketch books, most of which have never been exhibited. The idea was to photograph for documentation and also for publication purposes.

Since many of the remembered works at Santiniketan were missing, he started asking the people Kinkar da had associated with for leads. K.G. Subramanyan put me in touch with Nirmala Patwardhan in Pune, who directed me to her film-maker son Anand Patwardhan, who gave more names. It was virtually a house-to-house search. Like a detective he went around and found lost pieces of the greatest artist of modern India. In the absence of a chronology of works he went for subject and medium and used them as sub-categories. So you’ll find one room dedicated to drawings that led to the “Santhal Family” sculpture, then you’ll see oil paintings in another room. The corridors are like rivers flowing with watercolors, then there’s the two wings in between with the literature about him that then leads to the oil paintings section, then his life studies.

 

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“FRUIT GATHERERS”. A sculpture.

 

This excavation also resulted in the publication of a mammoth catalogue, with images of most of the documented works of Baij with years and titles. The text for the catalogue was written by noted art historian and curator R. Siva Kumar. Along with the main catalogue the exhibition also resulted in the publication of numerous other books on various aspects of Ramkinkar’s art. These were written by A. Ramachandran, Radhakrishnan, Johny M.L., et al. A documentary on Baij was also produced and screened along with an audio recording of Baij singing.

Radhakrishnan’s attempt was to rediscover Baij and present his entire oeuvre to the art world. He notes, “For a long time people knew of him as a sculptor, but they did not see his radical idiom in a larger context. That is getting established now. As a 32-year-old Ramkinkar made an integral structural composition of man, woman, child and dog (“Santhal Family”, 1938) at a time when the trend veered to viceroys’ busts and static statues in the Western realistic tradition. I would place him alongside Western masters such as Rodin. Today, many people know Kinkar da for his visible Yaksha and Yakshi figures outside the Reserve Bank of India on Delhi’s Parliament Street. Yet Ramkinkar was not happy with them since they ended up too rigid. By placing in the show a series of the sketches and models Kinkar da prepared before executing the final sculpture, I have tried to highlight the creative journey, which was always more important to him.”

Here is a link to a film made on Ramkinkar Baij by acclaimed director Ritwik Ghatak

Please share your thoughts about this article. Have a happy weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

‘Red- A Crayon’s Story’ by Michael Hall

 

Fresh off the Art1st Library Shelves, self-acceptance has never looked more colourful!

In Michael Hall’s ‘Red’, our beloved narrator takes the form of a classic Yellow Pencil as he takes us on ‘Red’ the crayon’s journey of self-discovery.

The story throws out the age-old art teacher’s motto of ‘practice make perfect’ and replaces it with the more current educational focus of exploration.

The narrative spills out of the words into the simple but clever visuals and is enhanced through the little details, like how the older and more experienced crayons are smaller than the newer ones like Red and Berry.

What do you do, if you’re trying to be Red, but you’re always Blue?
Why, you draw Blue Strawberries of course!

‘He was red. But he wasn’t very good at it.’

Likla
Writer at Art1st

The Visionaries – 5

In the previous posts of Art1st’s ‘The Visionaries’ series we have seen the emergence of nationalist discourse on arts and aesthetics in the wake of colonisalism. What these nationalist forms of pedagogical constructions and rewriting of history did was it standardized the history and art practices of this country. To create a nationalist narrative of continuity and homogeneity certain schools, styles and artefacts of certain dynasties were included while others were excluded. One of the significant issues with the nationalist art history is that it overshadows or dominates the regional histories. Region acts as a marginal domain from which nation draws its inspiration. This existence of the region is never acknowledged properly and is always sidelined. Even in the art historical discources of nationalist period we see these exclusions in terms of history writing, the mapping of chronologies, and adaptation of a styles and schools from the past as authentic. The Bengal School and the nationalist aesthetic thought led by Ananda Coomaraswamy et al. did the same. Meanwhile a radical art movement which departed from the homogenization of art turned towards the west especially towards Europe. Progressive Artists Group which emerged in the late 1940s was a strong counter-movement against this trend. Its inspiration was European Modernism. While these movements originated in the anglicized cosmopolitan metros of Calcutta and Bombay, artists form the south were excluded from these movements. The history of the south, its past, and its artists from the modern period were not considered worthy to be placed either in the history of the nation or in its national-modern. In today’s issue of Art1st’s ‘The Visionaries’ series we will discuss the role of KCS Panicker in establishing a counter-movement against the nationalist hegemony and internationalism by foregrounding the region.

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KCS Panicker. Courtesy: Wikipedia 

 

KCS Panicker who was a renowned artist and pedagogue, and who later taught in the erstwhile Madras for decades, was a staunch opponent of both these hegemonic movements. He aimed for modernizing art but one which was rooted in the local, emphasizing on an alternative to the national-modern which many call as the regional modernism. The immediate tasks at his hand was to break away from the academic realism practiced in art institutions and also challenge what he saw as a sterile imitation of European modernism.

 

He joined the Madras School of Arts in 1936 for a three-year course under the eminent sculptor Roy Chowdhury, who was also the then Principal. Soon after Panicker emerged as a painter and later he joined the Madras School of Arts as a teacher. These two artists and teachers represented different strands of Indian art. Chowdhury believed in the mimetic qualities of art and emphasized on a realistic way of representing body. These sculptures evoked a masculine energy, while Panicker’s reflected a vulnerability. This difference between them can be articulated through an anecdote. Paniker used to write under the pen name Sunanda, combining the names of his daughter Sumitra and son Nandagopal. While Roy Choudhury was into wrestling and hunting. “Come on Paniker, try,” he once said, giving him a rifle to shoot at a bird. Paniker shot and it fell to the ground. Paniker determined, “I will never shoot again.” He never hid his emotions.

 

Panicker emphasized on the autonomy of the artist to choose his own visual idiom.

Panicker’s own visual style was slowly changing from realistic to abstraction. Though its conceptual roots lie in western art, Panicker drew his inspiration from the traditional visual forms of South. Panicker was critical about western art since 1950s. KG Subrahmanyan notes “His western excursion affected him like it affected most Indian artists of any artist of individuality; it threw him back on himself. It was as if across the seas a strange longing for his land caught him in the pit of his stomach. On his return he became committed indigenes, though not in a traditionalist sense.”

 

Panicker established Cholamandal Artists Village, near Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu with the objective of constructing a substitute to the artistic stimulation from the so called Western way. According to him;   “Life in India today seems to provoke her artists to begin to think more pertinently of their aesthetic requirements, and to evolve in their own minds a clearer picture of what they are looking for in the art of their time. They fairly accept that what passes for modern Indian art in many quarters here is, at best, an almost sterile Indian inspiration, which alone can ultimately fuse the apparent contradictions into an acceptable pattern…”

The name Cholamandalam was inspired from the historical Chola dynasty which was known for its political might and aesthetic achievements. It was the first residential colony of Indian artists. He conceptualised it as a place where artists live and work together.

 

Cholamandam was the first aesthetic approach in India to bridge the gap between high art and crafts. Here artists were asked to make craft objects and also sell them at a nominal rate. Several artists who were trained in Madras School of Art later explored the possibilities of Cholamandal. Some of them are P.S. Nandan, Haridasan, S. Nanda Gopal, Vasudev, K. Jayapala Panicker, Gopinath, Senathipathy, M.V. Devan and Richard Jesudas.

”You can describe their artistic ideas as metaphysical and poetic,” said Josef James, an Indian art critic who has followed the Cholamandal experiment from its beginning. ”They were consumed with the challenge of finding an Indian response to the sort of art that was coming out of the West. They were influenced first by Mark Rothko, then De Kooning and later Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella.”

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

The Curator #12

Through the various previous blog posts we got an idea about how does curating India abroad, how curating abroad in India functions. But what about exhibitions which feature artists from different nationalities to address certain universal political and social crisis. How would the curator address this diversity of the artist and strategically situate the artworks in the purview of his curatorial objectives. Would a foreign artist be able to understand the concerns of a different country? This is one of the most contested questions in contemporary art. Also, how do artists from different nationalities collaborate on a common concern is a perplexing question. All we can do is to attempt and see. The route map of this journey, the interactions between the curators and the artists are the important milestones which remain even after the exhibition is over.

Another important issue I would like to address today is how do we see our times. How can a curatorial exercise reflect our times. I do not disagree that we all see the world through our own vantage points. But there are certain truths which one cannot surpass are merely subjective. The political and economic crisis of our times is a reality. Not a fiction scripted to distract us form our valuable existence. Art or artists are not away form these issues and questions. Therefore one has to address them. Since art, curation, writing, etc., are the medium in which we work, we will address the crisis through this medium. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” we will look at “A Preview to Desolation” curated by me at the Italian Cultural Center. The exhibition, a group show featuring eight Indian and Italian artists, imagined the contemporary as a desolate landscape, a terrain stripped of hope and peace. Quests for justice, equality and asylum have become more important than ever, but these struggles are always met with dismissal and brutal crackdown. Eight artists have responded to this topic, which is of utmost importance, through their works.

Exhibition: A Preview to Desolation

Curator : Premjish Achari

Venue: Italian Embassy Cultural Center

Artists: Atul Bhalla | Beatrice Pediconi | Gigi Scaria | Giuseppe Stampone Maura Biava | Sharmila Samant | Tushar Joag | Varunika Saraf

One of the major concerns of this exhibition was to address the apathy and indifference which has engulfed people in our times. We see incidents of violence, inequality, injustice but fail to respond to them. When there should be a collective demand for justice, equality, asylum, and human rights, instead all we see around us is a brutal crackdown on the marginalized and the oppressed. Because of this, the lives of the dispossessed has become even more precarious. The refugee crisis, the rise of  right wing ideologies is destroying co-existence and plurality in our society. The state aided violence by the fringe elements in many countries has become a serious concern. The main objective of this exhibition is to address this crisis through art. Therefore I had included artworks which confront and respond to this situation. The aesthetic concerns of these artworks address the fundamental instability caused by the ‘bad new days’, a phrase used by Brecht to denote these times of crisis.

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Atul Bhalla_Fictitious Landscape I_Courtesy_Vadehra Art Gallery & Atul Bhalla

This exhibition is premised on a concern about the violence, apathy, and brutality of the “bad new days”. These oppressions are real but on the other hand we ignore them and celebrate a different vision of life which exclusionary in nature. So I imagined our times or the contemporary as a landscape, a terrain of desolation stripped of any hope and beauty which could keep us going. The urge to control people, especially minorities, by branding them as “aliens” is increasing day by day. Furthermore, the larger global economic crisis and the economy of war and invasion have left thousands dead and much more homeless.  Through the artworks and the exhibition, in general, I attempted to draw the attention of the viewer to this crisis.

It was definitely a challenge to get artists who also think similarly and are sensitive to these issues. It needs political sensitivity to ally with these concerns. Artists included in this show were constantly working to make the artwork more active and participatory, in terms of their involvement in the material processes behind the creation of an artwork and an exhibition. I was fortunate to have found such a wonderful group of artists from Italy and India who responded to this exhibition through their brilliant works.

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Beatrice Pediconi Alien D_Courtesy sepiaEYE, New York

This exhibition uses ‘precarious’ as a conceptual category to understand the cataclysmic contemporary climate; through this it attempts to survey the vastness of this desolation and disarray. It enables us to plot the coordinates of crisis and the political conditions generated by conflicts for power.

Through this exhibition I attempt to show works which confront and respond to this situation. Its aesthetic concerns remain to address the fundamental instability caused by these ‘bad new days’. How a precarious regime of aesthetics is developing, based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility. It reasserts the necessity to locate the ideological foundations of Fascism and its aesthetic sensibilities, which are rooted in passive consumption. It allows this by activating and politicising art to protect the present and future from becoming a part of its political project.

 

Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

 

“Bad new days” is an apt way to describe the times we inhabit. In the last few decades, unprecedented economic, political and social turbulence have resulted in a climate rife with insecurity and precarity. An undeclared state of emergency has displaced millions of citizens across the world, creating unjust socio-economic disparities. This has given rise to an atmosphere of intolerance, which thwarts any form of debate, engagement and dissent, virtues associated with a democratic society. Historic amnesia is favoured over historic memory. The human condition has become fragile; it is more insecure, fragmented, and susceptible to injustice and oppression. Our very existence has become precarious.

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Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

A video feature of this exhibition was done by NDTV-Mojarto which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wrv4VTILJog

Here are some of this exhibition views.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
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Varunika Saraf, Citizen Z