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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.