THE ITINERANT BENGAL

DR. ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT

Until 1940s, during pre-independence, artists responded to the call of nationalism in visual arts by expressing “Indianness” in their pictorial representation. This was achieved by directing their creative energies to their past visual tradition and engaging particularly with the miniature painting and folk art styles, with Indian subject matter, typically derived from Hindu mythology, folk lores and other legends.

These works were rendered in layered washes of transparent watercolor on paper, instead of oil on canvas, a medium associated with the materialism of Western art and particularly imperial colonialism. After Independence, many artists sought to be “international” and experimented with varied visual languages including pure abstraction. The cluster of artists in this exhibition namely, Kshitindranath Majumdar[1891-1975], Hemendranath Majumdar [1894-1948], D.P. Roy Chowdhury [1899-1975], Gopal Ghosh [1913-1980], Paritosh sen [1918-2008] and K.G. Subramanyam [1924-] are Bengal based artists with a commonality of thread linking them. They all share the common space of being art pedagogists, exerting strong influence on a generation of artists who emerged within post-Independent India. As artists they displayed different sensibilities and styles in their works, but each of them have been movers and shakers within their realm. They were itinerant, relocating from other parts of the country to either study under teachers of their preference or after their studies moved out taking up various positions in various art schools within the country or went back home and settled there. Kshitindranath Majumdar was a student of Abanindranath Tagore, Gopal Ghosh and Paritosh Sen of Roy Chowdhury, having joined the Madras School of Arts and Crafts attracted by his powerful and rebellious persona.

Subramanyan came from Kerala and studied at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan and worked in the Faculty of Fine Arts at M.S. University, Baroda, or Roy Chowdhury who applied for the post of the principal from Calcutta and headed the Madras School of Arts and Crafts. Gopal Ghosh after his studies in Madras lived in Calcutta and taught at the Society of Oriental Art and Government College of Arts and Crafts.

Paritosh Sen taught art at the Daly College in Indore and was a founder member of the Calcutta Group in 1943 that established the modernist visual language due to contingent economic and political factors. Hemendranath Majumdar was the co-founder of the Indian Academy of Fine Arts in 1919.

The decade of 1940s was a climatic one for Bengal politically, economically and culturally. The Calcutta Group, founded in 1943 was among the first group of Indian artists to respond to international modernism. The members were Gopal Ghosh, Prodosh Das Gupta, Paritosh Sen, Rathin Moitra, Nirode Mazumdar, and Subho Tagore. Their guiding motto was “Art should be international and interdependent”.

The artists addressed issues that would effect social changes and bring about cultural regeneration. Despite their optimism of moving forth there were set backs as the onslaught of catastrophes beset by the Bengal Famine, World War II, and the continuous political and social struggles for freedom. Paradoxically these varied contingent social and political factors stimulated them to respond to the situation by evolving a new artistic language that would reflect the environment in which they were contextualized and simultaneously come together as a fraternity with the commonality of the modernist outlook.

Incidentally they had no precedents of the practice of tradition of modernism, but the inhuman suffering imposed by man became a passionate driving force which helped in creating an expressionist language, a new iconography and rethinking of formal concerns. The artists in this show have in their practice through the various decades of the first half of the twentieth century developed different visual language to express and communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Kshitindranath Majumdar was one of the core artist’s around Abanindranath Tagore who helped in fostering and establishing the Neo Bengal art movement. He developed a personal and visionary style for the representation of Vaishnavite theme. Hemendranath Majumdar’s fame was premised on his academic realism representing the nubile women with wet draperies evoking visual titillation through covert sensuality and an emphatic tactile feel through the rendering of the jewels and other adornments. Roy Chowdhry in his paintings combined his expressionist personal style of scratching the surface of paint on paper, together with calligraphic Chinese brush strokes and Japanese wash technique invoking variety of emotional and nocturnal moods. Paritosh Sen engaged with the cubist fragmented and fractured vocabulary of formal language in the representation of his human forms integrated with strong and diabolic chromatic colours which enhanced the satire and biting wit in his paintings. Gopal Ghosh developed a personalized impressionistic methodology of technique together with gentle and subtle washes to create landscapes that transcribed moods of nature rather than realistic representation of any particular topography. Subramanyan on the other hand emerged from indigenist thinking without circumventing modernism and wittily and playfully encountered both the east and the west.

TUESDAY, MARCH 13
Event 1 “Itinerant”, Exhibition of paintings by Bengal artists.
Curated by Pradipta K Mohapatra
Artists Hemendranath Majumdar, Kshitindranath Majumdar,
Deviprasad Roy Chowdhury, K. G. Subramanyan, A. R.
Chughtai, Sudhir Khastgir, Paritosh Sen, Gopal Ghose,
A. Ramachandran
Event 2 “Paradise” – Zaw Win Pe, Solo Exhibition
(Organized by Calcutta Arts Club)
Time 7:30 PM
Venue Vinnyasa Premier Art Gallery
Show Closes March 20

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