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The Mahatma in Raza

Syed Haider Raza(1922-2016), during the time he spent in France, heralded a parent connection (Indian) in the French community through his modernist paintings. His return from France to India was an indicator of a new beginning in terms of his response to the cultural history of modernism in India. In the year 2013, he began painting a set of paintings in what is studied as “abstract gestures”.

Akar Prakar, in the early February, arranged to exhibit a set of five paintings by Raza, along with the exceptionally humorous sculpture of Gandhi by the contemporary artist, Debanjan Roy, at India Art Fair, New Delhi—one of the most engaging platforms in the country for modern and contemporary art— providing the ones present, with a tranquilizing experience, in a sole room dedicated to the teachings of Gandhi.

Ashok Vajpeyi in his essay titled ‘Life, Art and Gandhian Light’, recorded Raza’s concern about the renouncing of Gandhiji by contemporary India,

“Raza was agonizingly aware of the declining impact of Gandhiji on contemporary Indian life, religion, politics, and thought it was a great and tragic betrayal of the Mahatma. He firmly believed that the Mahatma was the tallest and greatest Indian born in the millennia.”

SH Raza_Hey Ram_23.5 x 23.5 inches_Acrylic on canvas_ 2013

‘Gandhi in Raza’ speaks about the possibilities of an imagined community celebrating spiritualism and secularity. A community free of casteist practices, a world free of collective violence, exempt from the need to terrorize minority communities or preach communal hatred.

Gandhi once claimed “I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Koran and Zend Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas.”

SH Raza_Shanti_59 x 47.25 inches_Acrylic on canvas_ 2013

‘Gandhi in Raza’ leans on a historical figure hoping to achieve social change. Gandhi’s face appears during the daily cash transactions, several roads are named after him in almost every part of the country, yet his teachings remain neglected by the contemporary India. Rather than drawing a silhouette of Gandhiji as seen by his eight-year-old-self, Raza presents his teachings in ‘Satya’, ‘Shanti’, ‘Sanmati’, ‘Peed Parai’ and ‘Hey Ram’. Raza brings to the fore, a quest for an alternative tradition.

SH Raza_Satya_59 x 47.25 inches_Acrylic on canvas_ 2013

Holding on to truth was of primary importance to Gandhi, and while walking in the path of truth, one may experience moral purification. Gandhi’s struggle to achieve a secular world through non-violent means had been a successful attempt but in the present day, India’s commitment to Ahimsa is consciously waning. Religious intolerance has led to humanitarian crisis in different parts of the world; several displaced communities are surviving as refugees, in camps that fail to meet their basic necessities. The foundation of religion lies in humanity, and Gandhi believed in the universal religion; an idea leading to the ‘one’ objective. Becoming bankrupt of all that is good was never the objective. Hatred, he believed, only hinders progress of the new India. In his words, universal religion could be understood as:

“Indeed, religion should pervade every one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. It is not less real because it is unseen. This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality.”

SH Raza_Sanmati_ 59 x 59 inches_Acrylic on canvas_2013

Therefore, marginalizing what the Mahatma stood for would be unethical. Raza had not only painted, but internalised the universal religion, a secular form of nationhood.

Gandhi in Raza. Mapin Publishing , 2017.

Written and Edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host blogger, Akar Prakar


Centre and Multiplicity

“In Krita, language is redundant, and rituals have no meaning. Krita is intent made real. Hold a thought, and it will be known, for the inner eye is wide open.”
— Amruta Patil, Adi Parva- Churning of the Ocean

Syed Haider Raza, one of the masters of the modernist language, is among the most-presented artists of AkarPrakar since 2010.

His passionate search for different tints of expression and contribution to the dialectic of modernism lasted beyond the age of ninety. He continues to live through his concepts, rooted in the Indian tradition, glorified in the global space. As a modernist painter, he had mastered the art of broadening the scope of the modern society.

He believed in the plurality of culture; a modern society that grants equal status to its subcultures. The differences affected him to such an extent it resulted in the creation of ‘Shanthi Bindu’. In Uma Nair’s words, ‘Shanthi Bindu’ is a manuscript of peace in a troubled world torn by terrorism.

In an attempt to celebrate the essence of ‘Plurality’, he splattered warm tones of India on his canvases. They are his signature red, blue, yellow and sunset oranges bound in a sacred geometry. These are shapes that could be seen in the many religious monuments. The structure allows each culture and/or part to celebrate its own identity, and at the same time, be visualised as a whole. The centre holds them together. His principle of colours was based on the Panchamahabhutas; commonly known as the five great elements, composed of fire, earth, water, air and ether.Together they form the platonic solids reflecting energy and potential in every being.

His idea of unity was not restricted to cultures alone. He expanded the idea to the universe and the being, and between individual bodies or the “seed that is fertilised”. ‘Rangraag’ and ‘Bindu’ are an embodiment of the quest for enlightenment and finding it in the unity of souls.

The gift of peace, he believed, could teach one many a thing. He was blessed with the ability to understand the poetry in pastures; days fading into nights, seasons greeting another season. He once said, “Memory is an asset, not a burden”.

As he explored the ‘Bindu’, he began to unearth acoustic ranges and vibrations, sending out ripples of colours in his palette. He reached for the beauty of energy found in sound. He experienced the transformation upon listening to them. The moment he understood the flow, he decided to drown the sound in the depths of silence.
SH Raza_Bindu_Acrylic on canvas_24 x 24inches_2013

He questioned, “how can you understand silence if you have not appreciated the nuances of sound?”

His ‘Bindu’ is symbolic of the storm in the world. Udayan Vajpeyi beautifully explains Raza’s first encounter with the dot:

“…One day, a teacher, Nandlal Jharia, drew a pencil dot on the school wall and asked Raza to stare at it for as long as he could. Like an obedient student, Raza did what was asked of him.
It might sound strange but this little, almost unnoticeable, event changed the way Raza’s mind worked. It was as if his mind had found a home in the space of a tiny dot as the last refuge of reality before its obliteration. Raza’s mind peopled the dot with all possible colours and forms, seeing reality in thousand-fold ways. Finding the dot in his life was like finding the very source of reality.”

His brush created ethereal forms in ‘AkarPrakar’. Colours are his assigned characters, they are allowed to have a dialogue, in life-like forms they play host to their viewers and they serve them the beauty of being.

He gifted the world with the experience of infinity. There is not much one has to follow in order to experience infinity; concentrating in the dot allows one forget about the egoic self and experience the universal vibration.

In the run up to the exhibition at India Art Fair, 2018 are some of his works on the philosophy of Gandhi.

Krita: According to Hindu belief Yuga is a period of the four-age cycle. The first and the best age of the world cycle.

Written and edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host blogger, Akar Prakar


Abstract Expressions

The ongoing exhibition at Akar Prakar, titled ‘Ganesh Haloi: Poetics of Abstraction’, is designed to take one through different creations of concept by Ganesh Haloi. His concepts come to life against the white backdrop, following a series, sometimes in pen and ink and the other times in watercolour. The walls bear the titles of each group— Steps of Transition, Deconstructing Forms, Realm of Metaphysics, Spatial Resonance, Notes on Poetics and Energy in Motion.

One can experience the spiritual transformation walking by the compositions, staring at the asymmetrical-symmetrical shapes. The content of the exhibition is somewhat other-worldly asking the visitor to identify with certain logic; the logic forgotten by many in the rat-race that is life; the logic that is based on truth. The problems faced in life are many but they are simple, as simple as his lines and curves. The proportion in his drawings, the life-like elements and the lack of acceptable appearance follow a specific sequence breathing as whole.

The walls convey visual depictions of nothingness. The drawings maintain a uniform identity, only once breaking away in red, brown, saffron and green. Penning his world down would be difficult as his art is an expression of his sensibility. He speaks of nature and the influences of his early science lessons, in unspoken words. The absence of conventional language compels one to be present in the realm of imagination. The patterns, forms, steps, and cycles of nature are drawn in a vernacular that speaks to the soul; the possibilities are infinite. In this manner, his art causes an awakening of the senses; to experience what he has experienced through each work. The distinct figures tell a tale about Haloi’s experiences in the fields of paddy and jute, of places inhabited by the wild creatures. He narrates his adventures to his visitors; he shares with them his experiences in the green.
Quite understandably, the works seem interrelated. They compel one to feel the “already known”.

Curator Speak

Jesal Thacker has Known Haloi for over a decade and she seems tremendously excited about the exhibition. From her days at J J School of Arts, she has been fascinated by abstract art. She met Haloi, in the year 2005, when she did a long interview with him. Since then, she has been following his creations more closely and researching on them rigorously.

Ms. Thacker’s take on theory and art:

“I share what I write with him. Our thoughts run parallel. I perceive what he paints. Then I pen down my thoughts, not his thoughts. They are naturally in sync with his art. What I write or what I conceive, I expand it, so I keep adding more and theorizing more. But things are always in line with what he feels or what he perceives.”

When asked why she chose abstraction, she responded:

“Very naturally I lean towards abstraction. I feel the concept of abstraction and abstract artists have not been sufficiently historicized in our country. I am drawn to Haloi’s works. I see things. I see, I feel, I experience, and that is why I work on it. I try to pursue that enquiry within myself as to why am I getting attracted to his work? What is it that I like in the work? What is it that the artist is trying to convey through the work? Maybe I act as an instrument— analyzing, historicizing, writing and conveying it to a larger audience.”

Thacker adds a bit about her favourites from the show:

I like the earlier works because they give you a glimpse into his base, the skeleton of his thinking. How he perceived the foreign and how he has evolved over the years. But my favourites are the miniature compositions of 2017. I think they are master pieces! All of them!

Her definition of ‘Poetics’ in Haloi:

There’s a certain ‘Poetics’ in his work. Poetics refers to Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’. This one is Haloi’s own ‘Poetics’. The different kinds of abstractions he is touches upon. And there is of course a lyricism and poetry underlining his works. I try to read into his own process, his own language of how he composes these forms, and then I assess the compositions, the different levels of transformation and connection. Subtle connections!


Ferrari, P. L. “Abstraction in mathematics.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 358, no. 1435, 2003, pp. 1225–1230., doi:10.1098/rstb.2003.1316.

Cook, Roy T., and Philip A. Ebert. “Abstraction and Identity.” Dialectica, vol. 59, no. 2, 2005, pp. 121–139., doi:10.1111/j.1746-8361.2005.1023.x.

Bernstein, Charles. “Disfiguring Abstraction.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 39, no. 3, 2013, pp. 486–497., doi:10.1086/670042.

Ferris, David S. Walter Benjamin: theoretical questions. Stanford Univ. Press, 1996.

Stein, Gertrude. Tender buttons objects, food, rooms. Dover, 1997.

Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo. Vision in motion. Paul Theobald, 1947.

Written and edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host-blogger, Akar Prakar


Connected Roots

“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.”
― Edward Abbey

Humans are capable of sensitivity, they have their own reflexes, they follow instincts, and most importantly, they have the ability to love and care. Intelligence is a bonus; with these gifts they are responsible for creating and maintaining a harmony beyond their communities. There are ways in which humans apply their intelligence and sometimes it has proved to be damaging to the creatures they share the planet with. Towering buildings, elaborate interiors and bright lights are indeed charming but much is ignored in the process of urbanization. The process starts with clearing out a chunk of green, proceeding on to create supposedly tallest towers, assigning names that strangely replicate the “natural environment” and planting trees by the sides of the fields in order to create a park. Another uncanny feature of modern cities is to duplicate constructions. Is it not necessary to break away from this monotony of parks? To preserve what the earth already has? When planning a weekend-trip to a far away land amidst nature, is it not vital to think about the state of green around us?

Jayashree Chakravarty, one of the eminent contemporary artists of the age, talks about the idea of relationships, her work as an answer to what she feels and the role that memory plays.

Experiences are what we pass on to the world; the experiences we gather through our relationships. The moment we stop passing the experiences, evolution might stop. Hence, we must protect relationships from crumbling. Chakravarty adds, “Relationships are something that you build over the years. You cannot discard anything as such. You get used to the things you see around you every day. You build a relationship. It’s like an experience. Layers of experience add up. Seeing and understanding are essential; as essential as the first layer of a structure. So, the layers of understanding, defines the depth of a relationship.” With reference to relationships, Tom Chi, a former astrophysical researcher, inventor and co-founder of Google X best expresses how the universe keeps multiplying its creations; the smallest organism builds up oxygen over billions of years– the oxygen we breathe. The meaning of relationships might be beyond the scope of our understanding, but we must note that everything has a butterfly effect on everything.

Jayashree Chakravarty mostly turns to her memories of attachment with nature for her subjects. Being close to nature has been a great source of connecting with her inner-self. Her memories have become “as precious as pearls”. Through her work she leaves inspiration. She creates a spiritual bond with sloppy regions, at times dry, at times marshy, the flowers of spring and natural lines. The bond is visible in her work. Her memories help her go back in time and she treats each of her pieces as a time machine through which anybody could relive her memories.

Apart from relationships and memories, identifying the subject has been quite a learning process for Chakravarty. She recollects, “As a girl I didn’t realize how much I wanted something or what my point was, but as I grew up my way of seeing things changed and has been evolving since.” Her evolution as an artist could be observed in her exploration with reference to organic materials. She has used juices extracted from papaya, inknut and hibiscus in the past. In her works one can spot leaves from the bean family, Fabaceae, neem leaves, peepul leaves, banyan leaves and roots and stems of various trees which sometimes takes the form of an image of the tree as a whole. She has a habit of keeping aside shrubs and leaves discarded by the gardener, and fallen flowers for using them later in her work; she feels deeply for the discarded plant lives. Her work serves as a sign of her unswerving loyalty to the planet.

Written and Edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host blogger, Akar Prakar


Insights from Reena Lath

“2017 has been a splendid year! We have travelled to Paris thrice this year to present the works of Jayashree Chakravarty at Guimet, Paris. Apart from that we have also presented Ganesh Haloi and Binodbehari Mukherjee at Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel,” said Reena Lath, Director, Akar Prakar. The travels have brought the gallery a step closer to presenting the best of Indian art in a global platform, a vision that the gallery aims to achieve.
When managing a space at the India Story, Swabhumi, I was asked a number of questions by some of our visitors. I felt the need to write down the answers to each of them. Here are the answers, answered by Reena Lath.

People are often curious about the collection. What do you have to say about it?

We make our own collection. We buy art. But then, collections normally are not related with galleries. Ours is meant to be because we started out as collectors. But most galleries would not collect for the sake of collection. They would collect for sale.

What is your USP?

We present rare and authentic modern and contemporary Indian art.

What is your vision for the gallery?

The vision of our gallery is to take Indian art to global platforms through institutions and museums. With that focus, we work. Every gallery has their own focus. Some deal with contemporary artists, some deal with modern masters, some put up exhibitions for the works to move, while some have a clearer version of what they want to present to the audience. We want to present the masters of Indian art along with selected contemporaries. However, with our new space in Delhi, we plan to balance our exhibitions between the contemporary and modern masters while working with world-class curators.

How important is sticking to context?

Context is similar to culture. In the sense, it is not stuck in a place. We usually have a vision of our program, which branches out into three. To give you an idea, the first aspect forms our responsibility as a gallery; to create a context through which modern Indian art emerges. So, our shows such as, The Tagore Triad, Swadeshi Art would fall under that category. The second aspect is to present the modern masters; contextualizing them with reference to the growth of the Indian art scene and highlighting the masters’ role, as well as the importance of their contribution in building modern Indian art. The second aspect therefore involves showcasing art and artists in their breakthroughs at their chosen medium; be it sculpture, painting, new media or representing a particular movement in Indian art history. The third aspect is to present outstanding contemporary artists through the gallery, and through collaborations with major museums. For instance, there’s Jayashree Chakravarty whose works were shown at the Musee National des Arts Asiatiques – GuimetMuse’ (one of the foremost Asiatic Museums of the world). She has done her two-dimensional back-illuminated artworks with natural organic materials woven into the paper that she creates, sometimes leading to three-dimensional sculptural forms. Debanjan Roy was presented at the Seattle Art Museum, Manish Pushkale in Musee de Guethary along with the ICCR.

So, collaboration is the way ahead?

We do collaborations with galleries. We partnered with Bengal Foundation in Dhaka and Baudoin Lebon Gallery in Paris where we have exchanged many exhibitions. Some more international tie-ups are in the pipeline. The way forward is through collaboration and working along with other institutions. There were about 5 other exhibitions opening around the same time we were presenting in Paris. I believe, Indian Art is gaining the much-deserved platform!

What are the highlights of the past year?

2017 has been a remarkable year with major breakthroughs for Indian artists! For the first time, we had a strong representation of Indian artists at the Documenta 14. We began the year with Ganesh Haloi’s abstractions based out of the Indian sensibilities in art. The medium of gouache and selection of colours and textures are an influence from his days at the Ajanta and Ellora caves in the ‘50s. In between we had Manish Pushkale’s creation of light out of matter, secrets embedded in fossils and the soulful spirit of Indian Classical music. Talking about the modern masters, we presented Pyne’s imagined landscape that narrates Indian fables, Raza’s circles of peace; a tribute by Raza to Gandhi ji. Raza always looked up to Gandhi ji’s ideals and he often tried to follow some of them in his own life. We had a great many shows to remember—Swadeshi Art, Synchrome Masters, Gopal Ghose’s “The Chromatic Image” and we made a toast to the end of the year with The Tagore Triad. 2017 has been a cumulation of good shows!

Interviewed and edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host blogger, Akar Prakar


One Morning with Mr. Ladi

Pictures from the gallery.

Prithpal Singh Ladi, as we all know, is a distinctly familiar name in the list of contemporary artists. He has been making a good progress with his containers, producing contrasts in each with immense emotional energy. Ladi Saab working along with his accomplices look like Mr. Claus working with his elves at Akar Prakar workshop! The only difference being a moderately wintry Kolkata, unlike the snow-covered Pole. One morning, I decided I must head to the lawn and converse with this man. This is how our recorded conversation went…

When did sculpture become a career option?

In ‘72, I just passed school, and I wanted to get into the arts. That was an era when you hardly had any idea about Art Schools, though I had heard about Sir JJ School of Art and Santiniketan. I was very keen to get in. My family has a science background, we had doctors and engineers. My father wished for me to pursue Science. That’s exactly what I did. I was doing my B.Sc., till the third year when I happened to come to Bombay and found out about JJ School of Art. And I was very keen. I thought I should apply but I was too late and I did not meet the academic years the school required. I went back to Shillong with a very keen idea that I want to get into the art world. As a child, I was into a lot of crafty things, and I used to paint a lot! The nuns of St. Mary’s, the sisters, every year at their art fair, would request me to do a few paintings which they would sell and raise money for the charity. I used to do a lot of handiwork; I used to disappear into the jungles and sit by the stream, pull out clay from the natural seeps, generate clay and start making things. I would be all alone and doing things for the whole day… so it was fun! One day, I got a call from JJ, and I was going to Bombay. My sister got a seat in Home Science, in Baroda. So, I thought, I will first go and drop her then I will head to Bombay. I went and dropped her and made sure that she’s all settled. Then I met K.G. Subramanyan. We had a friend in common from Shillong. He had been living in Baroda and teaching there for years. He suggested that I should meet K.G. Subramanyan. So, I met K.G. Subramanyan. Mani sir said, “Why do you want to go to Bombay? Baroda has such a beautiful Art college… you go have a look.” I went to the Art college– Baroda Fine Arts, and I really liked it! But I was late. The entrance exams were already over. Then Mani sir told me, “Don’t worry, I will make some arrangements.” He rang up the Dean, Ratan Parimoo. He told him, “there’s this boy who has come from the Northeast, he is good…” then they arranged for a special examination for me. And, I made it! That’s how my art career had start. And in the first two years, which were preparatory years, no matter what I did, be it sculpture, be it painting or graphics, every department wanted me to join them. But my heart said sculpture because I felt, painting, I could do at home; sculpture is something which is three dimensional. It’s as real as I exist! So, I followed my heart and decided on sculpture.

What’s your definition of contemporary? Do you consider yourself as one?

I am contemporary is as much as saying, I exist in today. I might be born in a particular family, Sikh, Hindu or Muslim. It changes nothing. It’s actually the mindset. I come from Shillong. You see, predominantly it’s Christian. I did all my schooling in Christian schools. That doesn’t deter you from learning. I can say, I am very thankful that I am born and brought up in Shillong. I speak about six to seven languages. Shillong is home to a very diverse community. Climatically, it’s a beautiful place, throughout the day you can work. No issues. And when I say contemporary, I am relevant in this today because I exist in today. So, the way I apply my mind and my values, would obviously be of today. I cannot be hundred years ancient in my thoughts. I can also call myself one from the comic strip cultures. In my childhood, I have read so many comics. I used to love caricature! Your visual sense, sense of humour, everything changes because of the milieu you live in. so I have to be contemporary and I have to apply my mind at work in the most contemporary terms. And this is what I do. When I joined Baroda, initially there was a lot of resentment from even the Sculpture department. They said, “can you call this a sculpture?” I said, “I don’t give a damn!” My thinking process is so different from yours. You’re making some Oscar-evolved-looking-figure and calling it a sculpture. And you don’t even tire of it. I find it very stupid! So, I was always at loggerheads with a lot of people but everyone knew there was a spark in me. Right from my first year, I began receiving academic scholarships, so the amount of money my father used to send me was as much the money the government of India was giving me. I was happy because no one could touch me. I was always topping the class and when I passed, I passed with distinction. Therefore, academically, no one could question me, and by then I was also awarded the national award. So, my detractors had to register me. I feel my thought process is quite removed from what is considered normal. I always seek the new. I am known in the art world because of that.

Could you talk about the subject matter that you are working on for our show in Delhi?

I am a great animal lover. Animals are beautiful creatures. The love I see in their eyes is unconditional. I love my dogs! On many of my works, animals and insects have surfaced. And I enjoy doing these but always in a certain context. So, this time I thought I would do a series of work. The whole gallery should be considered as one work. Almost all of them are about the same size. So, the idea is, Noah’s Ark. How Noah was told about the approaching deluge, and how he went about building a big boat; he carried all the animals to safety so that they can procreate. The flood might surface again. And then, like you said, contemporary, what happened to me was, I imagined Noah, in today’s terms. He must have carried all those animals in some cages. I thought, let me carry my animals in carton boxes and plywood boxes when transporting them. So, they are contained. Each sculpture is like a parcel. Imagine you get a present or a parcel. So first there’s a ribbon. You open the ribbon. Then, imagine it is a box; I just have made four corners of a box. Rest is just a cue, a suggestion that it’s a containing element, a box with a ribbon. You can cast your eye, you can see inside. It’s for you to fill in the blank; I give you certain cues and you fill in the blank. The whole idea revolves around containers; you have ships as containers, through which trade happens. So, this is my container in which I have my animals. And Mr. Noah has made sure that they arrive safely. So, I am quite enjoying myself! I have done about fourteen works. I wished to do about thirty pieces, but physically it was not possible. There were time constraints. Even then, I am quite satisfied with these fourteen. There might be a sequel for a later period but for now, just these!

How do you feel after a good, successful exhibition?

Well, it’s orgasmic! What happens is, 11 months, I am in my studio slogging, working hard because you have ceased in your head with a certain notion… you want to say it and you are saying it three dimensionally, which means it is one of the slowest art-forms. Painting is way broad. You have to make it exist by following so many processes—build it, mould it, cast it, etc. and when you finally arrive, you do feel so very good. You pop right up when the show happens. That popping up is once a year or once in two years.

How do you engage with your audience?

Well, I enjoy chatting. I enjoy chatting with people who ask me relevant questions and the fact that they are excited about my work. If they are curious, half your work is done. That is the best time for exchange. You know what’s the necessity. Over a period of twenty five to thirty years, when you have been delving in sculpture– three-dimensional art– what happens is you become very skilful. But skill is not the criteria. It has to be in your head. It’s not about making pretty things just because you’re skilled! They would be irrelevant. When you do something, it has to be justified. You should have the urge to let your ideas out. Otherwise, you will always be uncomfortable with yourself. It’s just like your child.

Because you say child, are you possessive?

Initially, yes, you are slightly possessive. But then you soon learn to part with your work. In the beginning I did it for myself. Now, when someone falls in love with it, they become the foster parent. It’s going into their collection. They care for it. I’m glad each work of mine is like a child who has been adopted by someone. It’s a good feeling!

How has the journey been?

Wonderful! When you are on that threshold of life, you understand why parents are worried about their children. Initially, there was some sort of hesitance when I wanted to pursue the arts. But my father was right beside me. When I came to Baroda, I felt I must shine in my work. I’m glad I made my parents proud. I remember, my father was so thrilled when I received the national award! These are the moments you live for. My success is a gift to my parents. I have gone through a very bad phase from ‘98. My father was diagnosed with cancer. And losing a parent became a reality one day. It took me almost a year to cope. I lost my brother who was suddenly detected with Alzheimer’s disease, then I lost my mother. So, from ‘98 I have not been able to work the way I used to. We Indians are traditionalists. When your family is in crisis, everything gets shelved. Since then, I have been home. In a way I’m quite happy in Shillong. There’s no hustle-bustle, no sycophancy, like you see in the art world. I just take off into the wild. I visit my friends and drive down to Cherrapunji at times.

Interviewed and edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host blogger, Akar Prakar


The Tagore Triad

3 years of blood, sweat, and tears went into making The Tagore Triad show a success. The show had three of the country’s finest scholars—R. Siva Kumar, Sushobhan Adhikary and Debdutta Gupta— developing its language. A day before the show happened, the gallery was busy revising the selection, preparing excel sheets and making last-minute changes.
In 2011, the government of India celebrated the 150th year of Rabindranath Tagore; a yearlong celebration with awards, books, ceremonies, plays, and exhibitions of his art-works at various important museums and institutions across India and the world, in honour of Rabindranath’s contribution towards the promotion of international brotherhood and fraternity.

Imagine people painting the contours of the country, engaging in the struggle for freedom and the social reform movements… where do they lead you to? You will find the answer in Kolkata. The exhibition at Akar Prakar had been a modest attempt at reviving the artworks of the Tagores, and underlining the contemporary and the universal in their artworks.
Rabindranath Tagore was one of the first to argue in favour of thinking beyond the scope of nationalism and encourage cultural interests among the continents for humanity to triumph over all else. The visual language has evolved since the Renaissance. The modern masters, Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore and some of their contemporaries have lived through the changing times. The unanswered questions they ask in the present times are slightly different from that of the twentieth century. Their works provide an understanding of the flaws of blind-faith in traditional-values. They serve as an inspiration to the present-day nonconformists. To understand the nuances of Visual cultures in the light of Modernism, Akar Prakar, in collaboration with Raza Foundation, hosted Art Matters: a talk on the three Tagores and beyond.

Debdutta Gupta
The talk was held on the first showers of winter, 15th November, 2017 at Akar Prakar, Kolkata. Debdutta Gupta and Sushobhan Adhikary focused on historical events and significances of paintings, while Siva Kumar encompassed the popular digital culture. Tagore and Santiniketan formed an imperceptible sequence to the end.
Debdutta Gupta’s part was deeply personal. He walked up to the microphone and began, “This raining evening brings back memories of Santiniketan. How Sushoban Adhikary kept running along with me in one such evening at Santiniketan and we knocked on Siva Kumar’s door.” He enlightened the audience with the very importance of including Nandalal Bose in the talk. The Postcards of Bose serve as essential documents to understand the developing rural industry, particularly, machinery—the mode of transport, the drawing of water from the wells and slogging in the fields. “Under Tagore’s guidance,” are words of paramount importance when looking at Bose’s artworks.
The present-day obsession with selfies could be dated back to Gaganendranath’s period. His preference of angles is oddly similar to that of the modern “selfie” angles, as seen in his self portrait. Much less talked about are his sense of geometry, his attitude towards cubism and the fondness with which he took pictures of dimly lit stages. Another amusing facet brought about in Gupta’s talk, is cross-dressing– little Gaganendranath, photographed, dressed as a girl.
Among his next subjects, was the art-practice of Abanindranath Tagore and Rabindranath’s treatment of etchings, lithographs and prints chapai chobi. Thakurbari’s corridors had the young Abanindranath, scribbling behind pages of poetry; at times, on Jorasanko’s official pad and his uncle, Rabindranath preaching the importance of accidental values in art. The 1932 catalogue and the naming of Tagore’s paintings were briefly talked about. Gupta maintained that the deed was done without Rabindranath’s knowledge. He concluded with Surendranath Kar’s designs of architecture and furniture.

Prof. R. Siva Kumar
In the next segment, Siva Kumar talked about his experimentation; the theory sprung from a series of random Google searches. One search result led to another which motivated him to coin a theory of self-presentation: artists and public figures having a sense of the images they use. He began talking about the depiction of Tagore’s images. The searches did not show a single happy, smiling face of Tagore. Instead, he appeared to be the “wise bearded man from the East”.
His next search result was Einstein, his tongue stuck out in one of the twenty images; the prominent feature being the visible-hands. The subsequent searches were Gandhi and Lenin. The principal feature of Gandhi’s images was his face. He seemed to have an impish look about him, quite like Einstein. He was a seemingly amiable man, not weighed down by his mission. The body however, appeared incomplete leaving no suggestion. Unlike Gandhi, Lenin’s photographs were uncomfortably stern; the one with his fist rose and the one where he is portrayed as a Russian man playing with a pet cat. Kumar’s slide paused at Obama’s face. He exclaimed, “Obama’s face is mobile and fun!”
The previously browsed public figures noticeably exercised a very stringent idea of individuality. Einstein, for example, appeared to be more iconic than candid. In Kumar’s words, “faces have immense psychological value. They are a constellation of mobile parts.” Kumar quickly summed up his theory of presentation: humans possess more mask than persona and men and women are not always represented by their faces but by their bodies. He emphasized, “Bodies, not physiognomies”.
He could not get past the image of Rabindranath Tagore in a gown. He elucidated the body-dress relationship with reference to Tagore. Everything about the body was invisible. Gandhi’s exposed body stood in stark contrast to Tagore’s covered body. Apparently, Tagore valued the beauty of the body. Kumar, in the successive pictures, pointed out the changes in the attitude of Tagore’s body: the various dramatic tensions in the body.
To further Gupta’s observation on cross-dressing, Kumar ended his segment with Rabindranath’s portraits; he made of himself, a clown, a woman and many more trying to dismantle the idea of gender.

Sushobhan Adhikary
Adhikary kept his part short and stunningly detailed. He mused upon the power of technology, taking the audience through the history of Nandan Museum. He developed the talk from Binodbehari’s time, when the collections were still not archived.
After going over a list of contemporary artists, he stopped at a life-size image of Shimomura Kanzan’s Blind Monk. The monk swathed in the golden sun rays, his only source of light even though it is all dark in his eyes. Tagore collected 3 such paintings. 7 x 21” divided in two halves. Kanzan’s reference to Noh theatre and the touch of divinity reveals how Japanese art influenced the visual language in India, and Tagore in particular. The tree is said to be conserved in Japan until the present.
Surprisingly, Tagore reserved a peculiar hatred towards dates and journals. He must possibly, have hated recording accurate details of everyday experiences. He was not fond of documentation, but he invented new methods to conserve his artworks. One such method was requesting Biswaroop Basu– lovingly called Bishu– to make copies of his works. Adhikary referred to Abanindranath’s Last Journey of the Poet (1941), while putting into picture, the scarring details of the bard’s funeral.
Adhikary opened up the tenets of modern visual language and how the language is still young and maturing. He presented the audience with Ju Peon and Nicholas Roerich. Roerich painted the bard, very similar to Merlin, an old, wise man with long white whiskers, wearing a sorcerer’s hat, standing in a fairyland abound in stars and crescent moons; the way you would imagine Albus Dumbledore or Gandalf.
The evening ended with the audience looking on in awe at Kusama Affandi’s composition. His blend of Van Gogh’s psychedelic and Baij’s expressionism—expressed in his drawing of Viswa Bharati’s hospital– is the definition of nonconformism.

Centenary 1861-1961: Drawings and Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore. Lalit Kala Akademi, 1961.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “The Colonial Context of the Bengal Renaissance: A Note on Early Railway-Thinking in Bengal.” Our Indian Railway, pp. 1–22., doi:10.1017/upo9788175968264.004.

Written and edited by Shreyashi Mandal, host blogger, Akar Prakar