The Visionaries – 7

In the last few posts we have discussed the contributions of some important pedagogues towards Indian art education. As we know many of them did not limit their engagement only to the sphere of arts and culture, they were significant political figures of modern India. For example Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, etc., have written a great deal on Indian education. They have also laid the foundations of many initiatives which has been the backbone of modern Indian society. Most of these endeavours centred around on reviving the Indian education system and its modernisation. These approaches to reform Indian education system were not uniform. These stalwarts offered unique models and solutions for these. For example Tagore’s cosmopolitanism was different from Gandhi’s emphasis on rootedness in tradition and Indian ethos. Nehru was a modern secular leader and his outlook towards India education and culture reflected that attitude too. There were many followers of these systems of thoughts. They were influenced by these ideas and used them in their practice and established institutions across India to spread these innovative visions to teach and influence young minds. Devi Prasad was one such figure who was influenced by Gandhian ideals and devoted his life to spread Mahatma’s thoughts in Indian education through pedagogic interventions. Despite being trained in Santiniketan, he wanted to identify himself as a potter and not as an artist to blur the binaries of arts and craft. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we look at the life and contributions of Devi Prasad who is known to many as Devibhai.

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Devi Prasad

Devi Prasad was born in 1921 at Dehra Dun, and joined Kala Bhavana as a student in 1938. Santiniketan at that was the perfect place to be in as it had the best art teachers of the country. Teachers like Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, etc., had already influenced the students there through their own ways of teaching and individual art practice. This institution was at the forefront of the cultural resistance against the western hegemony and also collaborated closely with the Swadesi movement. Art historian and Curator, Naman P. Ahuja who had written a biographical sketch on the life and art of Devi Prasad titled The Making of a Modern Indian Artist-Craftsman: Devi Prasad writes, “Almost at once he [Devi Prasad] encountered the compassion and wisdom of the great artist and teacher and this instant demolition of conventional hierarchical assumptions is one of a number of formative encounters that Devi had with some towering figures of twentieth century Indian art and politics whose influence he consistently acknowledges. Tagore and Gandhi above all, but also Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij”.

During his student years Devi Prasad was involved in the nationalist movement and joined the Quit India movement in 1942. He went to Sevagram and gained first hand experience in the vision for a self-sufficient, experimental educational community. He joined Sevagram as an art teacher in 1944. But he also exapnded the horizon of his activities by developing new models for child education and art education. He also became the editor of Nai Talim, a journal discussing Gandhi’s ideas of basic education.

Gandhi believed that “The principal idea is to impart the whole education of the body, mind and soul through the handicraft that is taught to the children.” Nai Talim which means a new way of education which distanced itself from the European model of teaching. He found it as alienating the child from his or her ground realities. He also identified many negative outcomes of this system: that the young students will despise manual labour, and become elitist in their outlook. The three pillars of Gandhi’s pedagogy were its focus on the lifelong character of education, its social character and its form as a holistic process. At the centre of Gandhi’s education system was the practice of handicrafts. As you know handicrafts is different from arts as the former produces works which has a functional nature. His aim was to bring about a “radical restructuring of the sociology of school knowledge in India” in which the ‘literacies’ of the lower castes–“such as spinning, weaving, leatherwork, pottery, metal-work, basket-making and book-binding”—would be foregrounded. In the journal published by him titled Harijan, Gandhi laid out the objectives of this new pedagogy, “By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man-body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means by which man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education. I would therefore begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins its training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting.”

By 1962 he decided to move out of Sevagram and started touring across India giving lectures on Indian art and architecture. Later he went to London to become the Secretary General of War Resisters’ International. In the early 1980s he returned to India and started writing extensively on art education and on studio pottery. Through these writings he challenged the hierarchy created between arts and crafts. In an essay titled Gandhi on Education for Truthful Living he writes in detail about Gandhi’s vision for a new education. He notes that, “The point that Gandhi makes is that real education should draw out the best from the child. It cannot be done “by packing ill-assorted and unwanted information into the heads of the pupils. It becomes a dead weight crushing all originality in them and turning them into mere automata.” And significantly, Gandhi states that if Indians had not been the victims of the British Indian education system, “we would long ago have realized the mischief wrought by the modern method of giving mass education, especially in the case like India’s.”

This is an important article which gives a chronological overview of the ways in which Gandhi approached Nai Talim. It can be accessed here http://www.satyagrahafoundation.org/gandhi-on-education-for-truthful-living/

He was strongly against the intellectualisation of art making which would disrupt the joy achieved by an artist while engaging in the creative pursuits. His experience was shaped by Santiniketan and Sevagram and through his life he remained a pacifist and humanitarian. He was also a prolific potter and a photographer who has documented the Congress sessions, monuments such as Ellora, and artworks of artists such as Ramkinkar Baij. Naman P. Ahuja had curated an exhibition based on his documentation of Baij’s works titled Ramkinkar Through the Eyes of Devi Prasad in School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU in 2007. The catalog of the exhibition can be read and downloaded from here https://www.academia.edu/7369380/Ram_Kinkar_Exhibition_Catalogue

Professor Ahuja had also curated an exhibition on Devi Prasad’s collection of pots and ceramic works at Lalit Kala Akademi. His essay on the exhibition can be accessed here https://www.academia.edu/11919556/On_Curating_the_Devi_Prasad_Exhibition

Your comments and views are our support. Please comment and share. Have a good day.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

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‘Colour Zoo’ by Lois Ehlert

Did you know that all it takes is a circle, a square and a triangle to make a tiger?

Lois Ehlert, is (without surprise) one of our favourite authors, here at Art1st. She has a unique ability to take a simple concept, sprinkle it with creativity and convert it into a magical book. In the ‘Colour Zoo’, Ehlert effortlessly combines three basic shapes together, as page by page the animals transform.

This board book is bright and colourful. Each page has a shape cut out, and as you peer through it, you’ll find an unexpected animal. This is a great book to learn about shapes and what you can do with them. But if you’re an older reader (spoiler alert) you’re going to be pretty impressed by the simplistic ingenuity of each segment.

Entertain this whimsy if you will. The combinations when reduced to mathematical formulas can be quite fun. Tiger – Circle = Mouse or Deer + Oval + Rectangle = Ox. Now try and make up some of your own.

Likla
Writer at Art1st

The Visionaries – 6

This series began as a tribute to the seminal figures who have done exceptional works in the development of the discipline of art history and aesthetics. Previously, we have seen how Indian art went through a nationalist revival as a response to British colonialism. This was not merely an aesthetic response. Art works from the past were mobilised too to prove the continuity of Indian art and its rich heritage. Newer discoveries of monuments, manuscripts, art treatises, etc. were gathered to build a repository of national visual culture. Ananda Coomaraswamy was its foremost theoretician, historian and connoiseur. One of the important contibutions he has made is to discover the stylistic difference between Rajput and Mughal paintings. He single-handedly collected many of the Rajput and Mughal paintings which were going to be in oblivion and gave them an academic foundation. Because of his pathbreaking research on Indian art the history of the Indian art can be divided into a period before and after Coomaraswamy.  His intellectual proximity to the Tagores made him an important cultural figure of Indian national movement. In today’s “The Visionaries” series by Art1st we will look at the pioneering work done by the seminal figure, Ananda Coomaraswamy.

 

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Ananda Coomaraswamy, Courtesy: Wikipedia

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was born in Colombo in the erstwhile Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. His father was a Ceylonese Tamil legislator and his mother was an English. After his father’s death he moved to London where he did his higher studies. He completed his graduation from University College of London. In 1902 he married the English photographer Ethel Mary Partridge and their marital and professional collaboration was quite resourceful for Indian and Ceylonese art world. Coomaraswamy completed his doctorate in Geology and established the Geological Survey of Ceylon. He was his first director. In Ceylon Coomaraswamy and Ethel collaborated on Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, to which he wrote the text and she provided the photographs.

He is considered as “the groundbreaking theorist who was largely responsible for introducing ancient Indian art to the West” because of his significant studies on South Asian art which are based on the philosophical foundations of the region. Renowned art historian and symbologist Heinrich Zimmer has called him as “That noble scholar upon whose shoulders we are still standing.” He took it as a mission to educate the West about Indian art and remove the misconceptions from their aesthetic views. He said, “The main difficulty so far seems to have been that Indian art has been studied so far only by archaeologists. It is not archaeologists, but artists … who are the best qualified to judge of the significance of works of art considered as art.” He knew this could be only done through both empirical and philosophical approach. He blended both at ease. He learnt Pali and Sanskrit languages which enabled him to read the ancient texts and made it possible to provide a textual reading of Indian art. The material remains were corroborated by the sacred texts. His studies and writins were sharp rebuttals to the condescending response of the West.

He was the Curator at the Boston Museum from 1917 onwards. Coomaraswamy performed an ardent task in classifying, cataloguing, and explaining thousands of items of oriental art. Through his extensive work, his writings, lectures, and personal relations Coomaraswamy left an indelible imprint on the work of many American galleries and museums. He also influenced a wide range of curators, art historians, orientalists, and critics—Stella Kramrisch, Walter Andrae, and Heinrich Zimmer to name a few of the more well-known.

His important books such as Medieval Sinhalese Art (1908), The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (1913), and his earliest collection of essays, The Dance of Shiva (1918), confronted the misconceptions of the Orientalists. He revolutionized several specific fields of art history, and radically altered others. His research on Sinhalese arts and crafts, on Rajput painting, on Indian crafts, Hindu and Buddhist art, the origin of the Buddha image, etc, were remarkable entries into these worlds.

Ananda Coomaraswamy’s influence on South Asian art is still very dominant. Though later scholars have disagreeed with many of his findings, they all are of the same opinion about his seminal contribution in collecting, cataloguing and writing about a larger body of work.

Most of his writings can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/yb4ldyvm

Please share your thoughts about Coomarasway. Criticisms and suggestions are welcome.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

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

‘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