‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’ by Anushka Ravishankar, Christiane Pieper

 

Sometimes you come across a perfect combination. Sometimes these combinations become metaphors, like fries and ketchup. Tara Books has a winning combination in Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper!

So let’s talk about their book ‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’. Here are some obvious points. It’s a book about Alphabets and Animals, so if you like either, you’ll probably like this book too.

Ravishankar’s witty use of alliteration conjures imaginative scenarios with every Letter. Pieper’s illustrations interpret these quirky lines hilariously and accurately. The pictures match the simplicity of the words in their primary colours against black and white.

‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’ is best read between the lines.
Reading ‘Eight Eels Eight Eleven Eggs’ I can’t help but animate the scenario in my head. As these elegant eels swoosh across the algae-coated water, they find three extra eggs! Do they argue about who gets to eat them or do they sweetly share?

As you get to the end of the question, you’ll be left with a singular question- what’s a Xeme, anyway?

Likla
Writer at Art1st

PS. Have you noticed how all books about alphabets mention ‘X-rays’? Maybe we need only 25 alphabets after all…

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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 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.

Atul Bhalla_Fictitious Landscape I_Courtesy_Vadehra Art Gallery & Atul Bhalla.jpg

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.

Beatrice Pediconi Alien D_Courtesy sepiaEYE, New York.jpg

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.

Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

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

 

 

The Curator #10

The Curator #10

Most of the curators whom we have discussed in this series, except Naman P. Ahuja, had in a way represented Indian art in India. It would be too simple to call them as Indian art because their approaches were thematically diverse, concerns were different, the choice of artworks, artists and spaces were also individually motivated. In the exhibition “Body in Indian Art” we saw the two possibilities of an exhibition representing Indian art abroad and Indian art in India. The act of representing India is a nationalistic act. It means that you put together artworks of artists from different linguistic, ethnic, geographical groups under the category of nation. How does it function in the age of globalization especially during the beginning of this decade when the idea of nation-state has not strongly returned as it has returned now?  How do we define citizenship in this new context where people move freely, artists collaborate internationally, show their works across the world? How does a curator represent the cultural diversity in this context, still being placed in a homogenizing platform like national pavilion?

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We know that Venice Biennale, one of the oldest in the world, is a platform which actively encourages national pavilions. Countries try to send their best artists and curators to represent their art world. Though Indian artists have been represented in Venice Biennale in the past it was the first time in 2011, the 54th edition, that India got an official pavilion. Renowned curator, poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote was selected by Lalit Kala Akademi to curate the pavilion. Today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Ranjit Hoskote’s exhibition ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’curated for the Indian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

The Curator #10

Curator: Ranjit Hoskote

Title: ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’

Venue: Venice Biennale, 2011.

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Ranjit Hoskote

 

According to Ranjit Hoskote, his objectives in curating this show was to, “mark a sharp rupture with these pre-existing notions of how India’s national art scene should be represented. Since I have long argued that contemporary Indian art is defined by multiple horizons of value, I wished to disclose artistic practices from locations other than those synonymous with the Indian art market: practices that transit among disparate economies of image production, traverse asymmetric cultural and political situations; that are nourished by diverse circulations of philosophical ideas; and that grow, often, from improvisational forms of research and collaboration.”

Hoskote’s focus was to draw attention to multiple locations from which value is created in the context of Indian art. Instead of giving importance to the aspect of nationality and fitting artists into the institution of nation-state, the curator emphasized on the idea of cultural citizenship. This was a significant shift from the idea of monolithic culture to a transcultural existence. It expanded the idea of what is India especially through the lens of migration and hybridity.

The four artists/ artist groups chosen to represent India in this pavilion were:

  1. Zarina Hashmi (print-maker and mixed-media artist; born in Aligarh, 1937; now lives and works in New York).
  1. Praneet Soi (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kolkata, 1971; now lives and works in Amsterdam and Kolkata).
  1. Gigi Scaria (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kothanalloor, Kerala, 1973; now lives in New Delhi).
  1. The Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain, born in Shillong in 1975, and Mriganka Madhukaillya, born in Guwahati in 1978; DMC is a media collective based in Guwahati, Assam, and works across film, installation and public space projects).
Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi's mural (L), Gigi Scaria's interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine.gif

Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi’s mural (L), Gigi Scaria’s interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine. Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote

The exhibition was a ‘laboratory, stage and school’ for the curator to understand these developments. It became a site to map these important shifts post 90s in India. According to Hoskote, “Zarina Hashmi, Praneet Soi, Gigi Scaria, and the Desire Machine Collective act as compass points for an alternative atlas of references. An idiosyncratic line of latitude connects them across the globe, running west-east to link their theatres of life and work across New York, Amsterdam/Kolkata, New Delhi/Kerala, and Guwahati. To my mind, it was vital to honour the historic occasion of India’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale by proposing such positions, which demonstrated the linkages between contemporary Indian art and global art at large, while retaining the distinctiveness of sensibilities engaged with the South Asian predicament.”

Gigi Scaria, 'Elevator from the Subcontinent (exterior view),' 2011. (Photograph curtsey of Domus Magazine website.) .jpg

Gigi Scaria’s Elevator from the Subcontinent, Courtesy: Domus

Through their works, Hoskote used the exhibition space as a laboratory to test the ‘idea of India’, a conceptual phrase developed by Sunil Khilnani. The artists developed their works to re-imagine what it means to belong to India. The title of the exhibition was taken from a a book by an anonymous group of theorists called The Invisible Committee which was shared by Mriganka Madhukaillya of the Desire Machine Collective. The opening of the book read: ‘Everyone agrees. It’s about to explode. It is acknowledged, with a serious and self-important look, in the corridors of the Assembly, just as yesterday it was repeated in the cafés… The newspapers conscientiously draw up the list of causes for the sudden disquiet. There is the financial crisis… the failure of the educational system… the existence of a youth to which no political representation corresponds… what power is confronting is neither just another crisis, nor just a succession of chronic problems, of more or less anticipated disturbances, but a singular peril: that a form of conflict has emerged, and positions have been taken up, that are no longer manageable.”

The pavilion was conceived not only to ask questions on what is nationality and on nation-state but also to enquire what is global art.

You can listen to Ranjit Hoskote talk about the exhibition in this link https://www.aaa.org.hk/en/resources/videos/everyone-agrees-its-about-to-explode-curatorial-reflections-on-the-india-pavilion-54th-venice-biennale-by-ranjit-hoskote

A video of Gigi Scaria’s installation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vasYjXFzlg

Please read, share and comment. Happy weekend!

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

The Curator #9

Over the last many issues of this series we have discussed the curation of collections from museums, galleries which mainly included paintings, sculptures, contemporary art forms, etc. We have not focused exclusively on the art of photography. But how many of us see photography as art? If we look at the conventional histories of art, including nationalist or mainstream histories of art which is manifested mainly in museum displays, don’t give photography its due space in terms of its importance and aesthetic relevance. Raghu Rai, Dayanita Singh, Pablo Bartholomew or Prabuddha Dasgupta are not our household names. There is an injustice in this ignoring and it is time to dispel such erasures.

Photography is one of the most popular and accessible media of our times. Outside museums, galleries and in its print forms, it is now manly accessed through screens. The arrival of mobile cameras has democratized this form like never before. But what are the reasons why photography always had a marginal presence in the domain of high art. One important reason could be this mass production of images and its consumption. An image can be reproduced as many times we want to. There is no concept of original in photography. All products are a copy. Hence it lacks an exclusivity. Why would someone acquire an artwork which is easily reproducible and accessed by a larger community? Connoisseurship feeds on rarity, not on profuseness. Other reasons for its marginalization as an art form is also due to the fundamental nature of photography. It is seen as an objective medium which can document reality as it is. Hence it lacks the “fictional” elements of art. But this was challenged by the later developments. Surrealists, Dadaists and other modern artists have used photography to create fictional works. We also forget that the photographs which we see are also composed and authored. It is the outcome of the choices made by the photographer which include how the image is composed, how it may be cropped, edited, or otherwise altered after it is taken, the point-of-view deployed and inevitably impact how we receive and understand images. The subjects in photographs, many times are also posed, rather being candid. These aspects related to the creation of a photograph gives it an artistic touch.

Today in Art1sts’s “The Curator” series let us look at an important exhibition curated by Devika Daulet-Singh titled “Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

The Curator #9

Curator : Devika Daulet-Singh

Exhibition: Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, 2011. 

Devika Daulet-Singh established PHOTOINK in 2001 as a photo agency and publication design studio, based in New Delhi. In 2008 PHOTOINK expanded into a gallery to exhibit contemporary Indian photography and international photographers. Her engagement with the world of photography has been as an editor, curator and publisher of photo books.

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Devika Daulet-Singh with Raghu Rai. Courtesy: Lpvshow

Devika was the associate curator for the Indian presentations at the 2007 Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival and the 2007 Photoquai Biennale in France. She was the Project Director for The Photograph: Painted, Posed and of the Moment, which included 8 exhibitions, held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2008). She co-curated The Self and The Other ­– Portraiture in Contemporary Indian Photography for the Palau de la Virreina, Escort woman in Turkey Barcelona and Museo Artium, Vitoria in Spain (2009). In 2011, she curated a group exhibition, Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

Daulet-Singh’s exhibition “Photographing the Street” was an attempt in foregrounding the shared history of these countries despite its separation as distinct countries in the modern era. Even though the relationships might have strained, culturally there is something which unites them all. Singh identified streets and street life as an important trope to connect these countries and establish the shared nature of it. “Despite the many differences in the eight countries,” writes Devika Daulet-Singh in her curatorial note, “there are narratives that overlap, intermingle and are reminiscent of our shared histories.”

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Horsemen in Hisarak village, Balkh province, Afghanistan, 2004. Courtesy: Livemint

All the 117 photos were taken from the existing archives of the photographers. “Street photography could explore the shared histories and bridge some of the differences between these countries. It had the potential to transcend the conflicts of the times and present conditions of civil society as it progressed and evolved across these countries,” says Daulet-Singh.

The exhibition was able to use photography to bring together this shared nature of these countries brilliantly. These curatorial exercises are usually done by using premodern art, or modern or contemporary mediums with a heavy reliance on paintings and sculpture. Singh was able to break that monotony and give it a new twist. These are not pictures that will make it to National Geographic, they are not picturesque. Many of them do have an atmospheric quality, because they are so evocative,” says Daulet-Singh.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

 

 

The Visionaries – 4

It would be unnecessary to introduce Rabindranath Tagore to all of you. It would be also futile to list his literary and artistic feats. I would like to use this space to introduce Tagore the pedagogue. The visionary who envisaged an institute way ahead of its time and laid the foundations for an education system which was designed to nurture the creative spirits of children and young minds of India. At a time when the colonial education was churning out students who were only good to serve the administrative tasks, Tagore envisaged an institute which would strive to produce critically thinking youngsters who would make significant contributions in the overall contribution of the nation. He saw his campus, Visva-Bharati, as an abode for the global family. He strongly believed in the global exchange of ideas. To achieve that he would invite renowned scholars form different fields to visit Visva-Bharati and engage with the students. He saw Viswa-Bharati as a collaborative space. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we will look at the vision of Rabindranath Tagore as a pedagogue and his views on education, especially art education.

 

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Rabindranath Tagore, Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

Tagore was one of the most profound thinkers of modern India and his vision for education was simply radical in nature. Tagore was heavily invested in the idea of using education to develop self-reliance in an individual. He understood that child should not be seen as an unfinished adult but rather as a complicated mind with his/her own curiosities and wonders. Their imaginations and dreams are different from the adults. This difference meant that both the child and adult required distinct set of educational tools. Tagore has made this very clear in his statement, “Our purpose wants to occupy all the mind’s attention for itself, obstructing the full view of most of the things around us (…) The child, because it has no conscious object of life beyond living, can see all things around it, can hear every sound with a perfect freedom of attention, not having to exercise choice in the collection of information.”

 

Children’s education was the significant concern for Tagore. He was highly critical of how adults structure children’s times and activities. It impinged on their freedom and restricted from their self-expression. He imagined an organic growth for children. He could find the resonance of this organic spirit only in nature. He called it as “method of nature”. According to him the discipline and strictness of modern education was, “…like forcing upon the flower the mission of the fruit. The flower has to wait for its chances. It has to keep its heart open to the sunlight and to the breeze, to wait its opportunity for some insect to come seeking honey. The flower lives in a world of surprises, but the fruit must close its heart in order to ripen its seed. It must take a different course altogether. For the flower the chance coming of an insect is a great event, but for the fruit its intrusion means an injury.”

For this natural growth to happen children had to be given the freedom they require. Discipline and rigidity which were part of the modern education system could only do more harm than benefits.

It is also important to note that such an important pedagogue like Tagore did not write a seminal compendium on education. Most of his writings one education, children and art education has to be understood through his various essays, speeches, and educational experiments at Visva Bharati in Santiniketan. It was the imagination of an education which was deeply rooted in its surroundings through pleasurable learning. The curriculum was not a strict doctrine to bend the minds but rather for him it was something which should evolve organically.

For Tagore the aesthetic development of the child was not separate from the intellectual development. Like most of our contemporary education system has rendered the learning of arts as useless, Tagore gave prominence to music, literature, art, dance and drama in the overall growth of the child. It was not forced upon the child but it was instinctive. He never instructed the students what to do or wrote to them. His method was to involve them in whatever creative activities he was doing. They had complete freedom to engage with him as equals. Young students were allowed access to the room where he read his new writings to teachers and critics. They were encouraged to read out their own writings in special literary evenings. Tagore had given an equal role to art and food in his scheme of things. He understood both as vital for a human being’s growth. In Santiniketan, he created an atmosphere of cultural activities that encouraged his students and kindled their interests in music and other arts forms unconsciously. He introduced formal lessons only to those who felt inclined to take them. Art classes were conducted not to make copies but to create original works. Santiniketan’s classrooms were also a collaborative space where children were also encouraged to work together as groups.

Kala_Bhavan,_Santiniketan

Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati

On the first anniversary of Sriniketan, he remarked, “[O]ur conscious relationship with the Infinite (…) can on[l]y be made possible by making provision for students to live in infinite touch with nature, daily to grow in an atmosphere of service offered to all creatures, tending trees, feedings birds and animals, learning to feel the immense mystery of the soil and water and air. Along with this, there should be some common sharing of life with the tillers of the soil and the humble workers in the neighbouring villages; studying their crafts, inviting them to the feasts, joining them in works of co-operation for communal welfare; and in our intercourse we should be guided, not by moral maxims or the condescension of social superiority, but by natural sympathy of life for life, and by the sheer necessity of love’s sacrifice for its own sake. In such an atmosphere students would learn to understand that humanity is a divine harp of many strings, waiting for its one grand music.”

Tagore’s pioneering efforts in understanding the complexities of children’s mind and granting it an autonomy was a radical act. His vision for children’s education was rooted in freedom, self-reliance, love for humanity, intellectual and social development. He believed that “they must be trained, not to be soldiers, not to be clerks in a bank, not to be merchants, but to be the makers of their own world and their own destiny. And for that they must have all their faculties fully developed in the atmosphere of freedom.”

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

 

 

 

The Visionaries -3

In the last issue on pedagogues we discussed the contributions of E. B. Havell. If Havell provided the theoretical impetus for the revivalism of Indian art in the wake of a European cultural hegemony, Abanindranath Tagore provided its artistic foundations. We also understood the context in which Havell and Abanindranath were devising such responses. It also led to the emergence of what we now know as “Bengal School” and the “Revivalism”. The revivalism was not simply a revival of traditional Indian art practices. As many have noted Abanindranath brilliantly re-interpreted and mutated these practices and developed a new visual language as an antinomy to European Academic Realism. More than a visual style it was an ideologically charged movement inspired by Swadesi which also clearly identified its artistic medium. It referred to past traditions as an influence. Its impact was so huge that artists across Bengal and other provinces started following the style.

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Abanindranath Tagore, Courtesy: Wikipedia

In her monograph ‘Abanindranath Tagore and the Art of His Times’ (1968), Jaya Appaswamy notes that: “The Bengal School, while it originated in Bengal with the work of Abanindranath Tagore, nevertheless soon became national… in the second generation the activity of his followers spread over the country and their students (the third generation) were from many parts of India. Local artists who had no connection with the master or his disciples also adopted the style, which finally lost itself in remote, attenuated and weak variations.’ Abanindranath’s intervention enabled Indians in developing better understanding of their history and traditional art forms. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we will take a look at the contributions of Abanindranath Tagore.

 

Abanindranath was born on 7th August, 1871 in the Tagore family residence at Jorsanko. He was educated at Sanskrit College, Calcutta and took his painting lessons from British and Italian instructors on a private basis. At a young age, he came under the influence of Signor O. Gilhardi, Principal of the Calcutta school of Art and another acclaimed artist, Charles Palmer. His visit to Monghyr is believed to have had a significant impact in his career. He returned as a changed man who abandoned oil painting and decided to work on watercolours. Very soon he chanced upon an old illuminated Indo-Persian manuscript which impacted him so much that he decided to adapt the visual style for a new set of paintings based on the life of Krishna. This was titled as “Krishna Lila”. This was his first artistic step towards embracing the visual tradition of India by rejecting the European conventions. This was accentuated by his collaboration with Havell ten years later. He worked closely with Havell at the Calcutta School of art. Their attempts to revive Indian art and use this revival to infuse in a new art practice and teaching was also supported by Gaganendranath Tagore. This culminated in the establishment of Indian Society of Oriental Art. This was a path breaking step towards not only establishing an institution but also a new way of teaching and learning art.

 

Abanindranath moved away from the Western materiality and sought a spiritual abode in Indian art and philosophy. Rabindranath Tagore also played an important role in introducing him to important Asian cultural figures such as the Japanese art historian Okakura Kakuzō and the Japanese painter Yokoyama Taikan. This inspired him to adapt elements of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and style in his art. He was leading an Indian renaissance. His friendships with European thinkers and scholars such as Sir William Rothenstein, H. Ponten-Moller, Norman Blunt, Sir John G. Woodroffe gave a currency to his ideas in the European art circles.

 

The University of Calcutta honored his efforts by appointing him a few years ago as the Bageswari Professor of Oriental Art. The series of lectures he then delivered are considered as authoritative and inspiring utterances on art. It is great to know that these lectures have recently been published in a book form to the delight of all lovers of art. His ideas and style were circulated through his equally talented students such as Nandalal Bose, Samarendranath Gupta, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Surendranath Ganguly, Asit Kumar Haldar, Sarada Ukil, Kalipada Ghoshal, Manishi Dey, Mukul Dey, K. Venkatappa and Ranada Ukil.

 

Abanindranath knew the impact of art education in young minds and he constantly engaged with young minds. Unlike many modern artists he illustrated for and wrote children’s’ books. He also wrote poems and articles. He was popularly known as ‘Aban Thakur’. His important books are Rajkahini, Budo Angla, Nalak, and Khirer Putul are landmarks in Bengali language children’s literature.

 

His interventions in restoring the pride of Indian art and architecture was not limited in creating a new movement. He also made radical decisions during his tenure in Government College of Art, Calcutta between 1505 and 1515. He replaced the European paintings on the school walls with Mogul and Rajput paintings. He made arts like stencil cutting and origami compulsory for all students. The school also invited miniature painters to teach the students through a modern outlook.

Here is the link to Abanindranath’s autobiographical book “Apon Katha” https://archive.org/details/Apon-Katha-Abanindranath-Tagore

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

The Curator #7

We all know that national galleries across the world represents the nationalist spirit of the country. It assembles works created from different regions and puts it together to imagine a shared past between these regions and art practices. This purpose of national galleries and museums becomes more instrumental in the context of newly liberated colonial countries. These institutions help newly formed nations to position themselves along with the already existing nation-states. While the history of the nation acts as a legitimate claim towards the past, these modern institutions herald the arrival of a new age, as a continuous process in the progress of the nation.

NGMA is the best repository of modern Indian art in this country. It has acquired works of Indian artists from the 19th century onwards, a bureaucratic exercise which continues towards the 20th century, representing important Indian artists from different states. The size of this collection representing different artists, movements, styles, and mediums is vast. It is a curator’s Disneyland and hell at the same time. The task of presenting this giant collection in a legible way to the public is not an easy task. But there are certain brilliant curators who have not stepped away from this arduous mission. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator,” we introduce you to a seminal exhibition in Indian art history curated by renowned art historian and curator Geeta Kapur.

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Title: Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection

Curator: Geeta Kapur

NGMA, Delhi. 1994.

It is definitely an unnecessary task to introduce Geeta Kapur to my readers. You must have come across her important book “When Was Modernism?” at some point of your life. Geeta’s pathbreaking works on Indian art has received national and international acclaim and attention. She still remains the critical voice on Indian art on various international platforms.

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Geeta Kapur, Courtesy: Utharakalam

 

In the year 19994 she was invited to curate a show marking the hundred year journey of Indian art. In her own words, “The third project at the National Gallery of Modern Art came about in 1994 when I was invited as an honorary member of the NGMA advisory committee of to mount an exhibition from their holdings. I sifted through the Collection by physically looking at hundreds of works. My selection criteria was based on the idea of laying out an itinerary across 100 years — a walking/looking itinerary through modern Indian art. No works were borrowed from other collections, which means there was a constraint on choice; an expressly NGMA exhibition, it was what is called in standard museum language, a re-hang of the Collection.

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

The passage was mapped, predictably perhaps, from Ravi Varma until the most contemporary work available at the time. But the itinerary had its twists and turns; it was not laid out chronologically nor strictly by schools and styles. The spectator walked through a broadly delineated period and encountered unconventional and hitherto untested juxtapositions. To give one example, I placed Ravi Varma and Amrita Sher-Gil face to face in one room to suggest the ‘studio’ academicism in each, and then in another room, I installed Sher-Gil paintings beside Jamini Roy’s for an opposite ‘thesis’ — because they were contemporaries experimenting with a diverse range of Indian art-historical antecedents and arriving at certain abbreviations that placed them in a keen, tangential relationship to modernist language. I was, in other words, testing and revising our familiar art history — on the walls, in the act of traversal, through the act of looking. There is the art history of the text book, based on carefully sourced influences and the evidence of styles; there is another that reads signs and meanings in conjunctural ways. The latter is experienced phenomenologically, on museum walls and related spaces.”

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

In the curator’s working notes for the exhibition written in July 1994, Geeta Kapur writes:
‘Nothing serves the cause of investigation better than a point of view for seeing, refocusing, finding alternate perspectives. That is why even if it were possible, it would not be useful to present a conclusive exhibition. A great part of the history of modern art in India not having been written — yet— what we can do best of all is to re-place and sometimes also dis-place the images and their attendant signs and meanings. Thus one begins to make out from the unmade meanings a historical argument. Which is the form of history I, at any rate, would privilege.’

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

Participating artists included Raja Ravi Varma, Pestonji Bowmanji, Pithawala, Hemen Mazumdar, Xavier Trinidad, Sarada Ukil, Amrita Sher-Gil, Abanindranath Tagore, Masoji Vinayak, K.N. Mazumdar, Sunyani Devi, Karitick Pyne, Dhanraj Bhagat, Ramkinkar Baij, Bhabhesh Sanyal, Sailoz Mukherjee, K.H. Ara, Nandalal Bose, K.K. Hebbar, S.B. Palsikar, Mohan Samant, Laxman Pai, Gaganendranath Tagore, Leela Mukherjee, Jamini Roy, Binode Behari Mukherjee, Akbar Padamsee, F.N. Souza, Harkrishan Lall, Paramjit Singh, Prem Singh, Vajubhai Bhagat, P.T. Reddy, Bhupen Khakhar, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Laxma Goud, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Ravinder REddy, Prithipal Singh Ladi, Jayashree Chakravarty, Jagdish Chandra, K.C.S. Paniker, A. Ramachandran, Vivan Sundaram, N.N. Rimzon, Dilip Sur, S. Savarkar, Jaya Ganguly, V. Ramesh, Rabindranath Tagore, Zainul Abedin, Satish Gujram, K.G. Subramanyan, Meera Mukherjee, P.V. Janakiraman, Sarbari Roy Chowdhary, Himmat Shah, Latika Katt, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Raghav Kaneria, Himmat Shah, M.F. Husain, K.S. Kulkarni, Paritosh Sen, Pradosh Das Gupta, Bijon Choudhury, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Anupam Sud, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, Shamshad Husain, Vajubhai Bhagat, N.S. Bendre, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury, Manjit Bawa, Amitava Das, Nagji Patel, Arpana Cour, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ravinder Reddy, Vid Nayar, Zai Zharotia, Kanchan Chandra, Sanjiv Sinha, Madhvi Parekh, Prabhakar Barwe, K. Muralidharan, Manu Parekh, Satish Gujral, Jatin Das, Nareen Nath, P. Gopinath, S.R. Bhushan, Jehangir Sabavala, Vijay Mohan, Arpita Singh, Krishna Reddy, J. Swaminathan, S.G. Vasudev, K. Achuthan, P.T. Reddy, Haridasan, Om Prakash Sharma, G.R. Santosh, Jeram Patel, Rameshwar Broota, Biren De, S.H. Raza, Shobha Broota, Ambadas, K.C.S. Paniker, Vishvanadhan, Nasreen Mohamedi, Rm. Palaniappan, Bal Chhabda, Krishen Khanna, Rekha Rodwittiya, C.S. Douglas, Robin Mandal, Alex Mathew, N. Pushpamala, Tyeb Mehta, Jeram Patel, R.K. Dhawan, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Sankho Chowdhary, Prabhakar Kolte, Ramesh Pateria, and Akhilesh.

Nevertheless, Geeta’s redefining of the collection was not easily digested. Her ideas were way ahead for the time. Her curatorial strategies. non-chronological way of assembling works, especially juxtaposing them to create other interesting parallels was heavily criticised.

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A newspaper cutting of an article criticising Geeta Kapur’s exhibition. Courtesy: Asia Art Archive.

Despite these the exhibition remains as one of the important early attempts to re-define an existing institutional collection.

More images of the exhibition view are accessible at the Asia Art Archives website. http://www.aaa.org.hk/en/collection/search/archive/another-life-the-digitised-personal-archive-of-geeta-kapur-and-vivan-sundaram-hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection/object/hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection-exhibition-view-18823

Please take a look at them and see if you are able to identify the artists. Have a good weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st