While the National Gallery of Modern Art deserves all praise for hosting the works of the famous Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, sadly another famous artist, Ramkinkar Baij, considered by many as the pioneer of modern Indian sculpture, has not received the recognition due to him from this Government body. In fact the centenary celebrations of Baij are long overdue, but no one seems to care.
Baij came to the Indian art scenario at a time when a particular category of revivalism was taking a definitive shape. Unfortunately though in the last three or four decades of the 20th Century, Baij's revolutionary compositions have been continuously pushed into oblivion. Baij was basically an experimentalist and that explains why he was interested in trying out almost everything he could lay his hand upon. This later on became his major advantage. He was equally inclined towards the medium of painting and sculpture.
When he arrived at Santiniketan, he was at the zenith of his career and both Nandalal Bose and Rabindranath Tagore realised that Ramkinkar perhaps needed no training. The Santhals, the arid Khoai, the open sky combined with the tremendous freedom that the institution Kala Bhavan offered him at Santiniketan as a teacher and student, brought to the fore his creative best. Baij, in his frenzied quest to develop a new modern language in painting and sculpture, invested spontaneity, vitality and dynamism in his works, which stand unique till date.
His works talk about people, places and things as he focuses on rural treasures and the stocky and robust Santhals, the original inhabitants of the land. He talks about a society free from technological invasion and one where Nature dominates the pulse of life. We get to see wallowing buffaloes in mud-pools, harvesters threshing corn with an easy charm, or a Santhal family relaxing on a cot, in his watercolours. Every nook and corner of Santiniketan provided him subjects of pastoral innocence, evoking in us a strong sense of belonging that the artist had.
The first Indian natural or environmental sculpture, “Sujata”, was constructed at Sangeet Bhavan by Baij in 1935, surrounded by eucalyptus trees. In keeping with the rhythm of the trees the artist planned the sculpture as a perpendicular column to match the environment.
First abstract sculpture
Baij also created the first abstract sculpture in the Indian art scenario in the year 1938 named “Lamp-stand”. His environmental sculptures are unique. Rabindranath Tagore remarked that something created in anticipation of truth is art, and Baij's sculptures truly exemplify the above statement.
At a time when the so-called art historians and self-acclaimed art critics were actually unable to differentiate between doll-making and sculpture, or for that matter illustrations and paintings, and tried to introduce aesthetics of literature as aesthetics of art, they could not appreciate the true beauty of Baij's works. Even till date, many are very reluctant to acknowledge that it was Baij who made a real effort to produce sculptures infused with modern thinking and contemporary style, retaining the art's ‘Indian-ness' — rather than socio-cultural identities.