The Curator #20

In the last few issues, especially through the work of Dr. Jyotindra Jain and Dr. Annapurna Garimella, we realized how folk and traditional art practices are configured as crafts. While an artist maybe using newer mediums and themes in his work, just because of his association with that particular traditional form it is bracketed as folk or craft. We have to seriously engage with this issue and understand why are certain artists called folk artists and others as fine artists. If you have seen Gond paintings, you must be knowing about the Gond Ramayani paintings. The narrative is very different from the classical Ramayana. It actually begins when the conventional Ramayana ends. The story starts after Sita is rescued from the captivity of Ravan. The central protagonist in this story is Lakshman, not Ram and the narrative is about finding a bride for him. Unlike the classical story here you will also see characters from Mahabharata such as Bhim making their entry. They are part of this story. This story was part of an oral tradition and it is very humorous. There are many artists who have painted this. Each of their style is different. They also use different versions of this narrative and sometimes also depart from the Gond paintings. They use newer synthetic materials to make these works. So, there is an artistic autonomy in terms of the execution of the narrative, they also use modern materials to create this work. Then why do we not see them as contemporary artists. Again, I am opening up this question to you all for discussion. There are many interesting curators who have showcased works which depict these newer developments in what we understand as the domain of “folk”, “traditional”, or “crafts”.

In today’s “The Curator” series we will discuss the exhibition “Pichvai Tradition & Beyond” curated by Pramod Kumar KG. As many of you know Pichvais were historically detailed hand painted textile, which were hung behind the idol of Shrinathji, an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Pichvai paintings, has originated in Rajasthan’s Nathdwara region, have traditionally been magnificent and detailed hand-painted textile works of art that narrate tales from the life of Krishna where he is portrayed in different moods, body postures and attires. In recent times, it has become something more than a religious object. It has been used as wall art and many collectors and interior designers are using it to decorate homes. In this journey of transition from religious to secular, Pichvai also has undergone many changes. The size, the iconography, colours, etc. have changed a lot in time to suit the new demands of the clientele.

 

The Curator #20

Curator:     Pramod Kumar KG

Exhibition: Pichvai Tradition & Beyond

Venue:       Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 (Collateral)

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Pramod Kumar KG, Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

Pramod Kumar KG is the Managing Director of Eka was the founder director of the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing at Amber, Jaipur, directed the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and instituted the Jaipur Literature Festival. He is currently co-director of Mountain Echoes, the Bhutan Literature Festival. He has lectured extensively across the world and is a published author with contributions in several books, journals and magazines. Until recently he was the editor from India of the Textiles Asia journal.

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Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

According to the organisers “Over the last century, intricately painted Pichvai paintings that left the shrine have taken on a new role as wall art and are much sought after by the cognoscenti for their effervescent aesthetics, inciting a fresh demand among collectors. Recognising the need to create a platform to support and sustain the few remaining supremely skilled painters who learnt the rapidly declining tradition from a long line of past masters.”

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Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

Pichvai art is undergoing a drastic change and the curator’s attempt was to highlight these changes in this show. To also showcase to the public that Pichvai doesn’t remain as the same traditional form. According to Pramod Kumar G, “For traditional arts to have a resonance and relevance to contemporary audiences, they constantly need to be re-interpreted and contextualised for the here and now. Pooja Singhal’s ‘Pichvai Tradition & Beyond’ has for the first time brought to the public eye, artworks that have been reworked with layered historical inferences in newer scales, formats and themes. These artworks thus have moved away from their purely religious connotations to representations of aesthetic modes, seasons, forms, colours and secular iconographies that every layperson can see and appreciate. While these artworks have found newer patrons, the true success of the project has been the inculcation of a fresh group of artists in this time-honored genre who have given new life into an old art form by merging older traditional techniques with contemporary application and ingenuity.”

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Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

The works displayed in this show were created at Pooja Singhal’s Pichvai Tradition & Beyond atelier.

Do you see any changes in the traditional art forms in your region? What are the new technologies and materials which artists are using now? What are the themes which they are dealing with? Discuss and share your views in the comment section.

 

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

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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

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  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

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