The journey of Bengal art from traditional to modernity

July 07, 2023 11:51 am | Updated 01:36 pm IST

Shantiniketan by Paresh Maity (Acrylic and oil on canvas)

Shantiniketan by Paresh Maity (Acrylic and oil on canvas) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Art lovers in Delhi can see some masterpieces by legendary and contemporary artists of the Bengal School that have never been on public display before. The exhibition Bengal Beyond Boundaries opens at Bikaner House today

Three hundred watercolour and oil paintings, etchings, drawings, prints and sculptures by 100 artists spanning two centuries will adorn the Bikaner House galleries for the next 10 days, showcasing the social consciousness of Bengal and how it influenced and transformed the Indian art scene.

If art is about memories, history and experiences, Bengal art is a journey of different perspectives, of creative expressions through the cultural and political lens, of personal and private trials and tribulations, pathos of the great Bengal famine, many incidents of devastation during Partition and more.

Fallen Dictator by Anjolie Ela Menon

Fallen Dictator by Anjolie Ela Menon | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Santinketan-based painter Jogen Chowdhury thought of positioning the old and the new for a unique exploration of the evolution of artistic practices in Bengal. Art curator Uma Nair, known for doing three retrospective masters (Gopal Ghosh in 2015, Jamini Roy 2016 and Prodosh Das Gupta 2020) was roped in.

“It was an invigorating exercise of research and insights for over four months. From mythological origins to complexities of today’s society and culture, the exhibition exemplifies India’s rich artistic heritage bridging the past and present,” says Uma. The seminal works not only celebrate the individual artistic journeys of discovery and contemplation but also signify the enduring need for artists to provide insight into the broader historical and cultural context in which they created their art.

Sitting Lady (in Bronze) by Shankar Ghosh

Sitting Lady (in Bronze) by Shankar Ghosh | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“The artists of Bengal school draw inspiration from surroundings; their nuanced narratives and visual language are not copies but documentation of historic events. The techniques each of them uses shapes the legacy of the Bengal School and continues to define India’s art scene,” she adds.

There will be much to see at the exhibition highlighting the journey from traditional to modernism. “There is a range and depth in the works and we have put together a museum quality show,” promises Uma.

Artworks of Abanindranath Tagore, a pioneer of the Bengal School, Jamini Roy, Gaganendranath Tagore, Benode Bihari Mukherjee, Nandlal Bose, Hemen Majumdar, Paresh Maity, Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpita Singh and several others highlight the artist’s contribution to creating a comprehensive understanding of Indian art.

The hallmark has been bringing together a diverse and captivating range of artworks from private collections of art connoisseurs, artists’ families and personal collection of Vikram Bachawat, the founder of Kolkata-based Aakriti Art Gallery. “With thought-provoking perspectives in a storytelling style, the exhibition is spread across multiple rooms and each is a mini-exhibition by itself recording various aspects of human history and helping to shape our understanding and reflecting on our cultural identity,” he says.

Ahir Bhairav by Jayasri Burman (Water colour pen and ink on paper)

Ahir Bhairav by Jayasri Burman (Water colour pen and ink on paper) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Featuring the works of established artists and emerging talents, the exhibition also explores the relationship between art, printmaking, and sculptural practices and how pre-and post-Independent India shaped each other with artists blurring the boundaries to capture moments in time. The sculptures and prints add their own charisma of compositional clarity and explorations in mediums and transcend time to celebrate the indomitable human spirit.

Many of the artworks, with an artistic sensuality and a grace of quietude, have never been exhibited in public before.  “We have created an inventory of utopias lost and regained; there is an underlying message about societies to exist in pluralistic patterns for a worthwhile harmonious living,” says Uma.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

At the Centre for Contemporary Art, Bikaner House, between Pandara Road and Shahjahan Road, India Gate; Till July 16; 11am to 7pm

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