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An old Dutch connection

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This year, as Cholamandal Artists’ Village celebrates 50 years, an old friend, Ritske de Koningh, is visiting from The Netherlands. From the 1980s to the 1990s, de Koningh was responsible for many exchanges between Cholamandal and Dutch artists: he credits his association to Harikrishnan Sankaran, artist and art aficionado.

Harikrishnan, an avowed globetrotter, was on a whirlwind tour in the 80s; doing the last leg on a motorbike, he landed in Utrecht. He met de Koningh by chance at a Dutch café and they soon became fast friends. “At that time, I was the executive director of CODA, the Council of the Dutch Artists Printers Association,” says Ritske, who founded this umbrella organisation with 1200 graphic artists and printmakers in the 1970s.

Majoring in Sociology from the University of Groningen, de Koningh had completed Arts and Media Management at Utrecht University. Sensing de Koningh’s talent for organisation, Harikrishnan suggested, “I know a place called Cholamandal Artists’ Village. Maybe we can do something there together.” Their first programme in 1984 was a graphic arts and print workshop. In 1986, they organised and curated a show of Dutch prints and posters. Ritske gave many lectures as well on Dutch art and printmaking at Lalit Kala Akademi, Madras and Delhi.

Enthralled by the unique setting at Cholamandal, Ritske was encouraged to take the printmaking programme further. In 1988, he managed to get a grant equivalent to Rs. 27 lakhs from the Dutch Government, for setting up serigraphy and lithography presses at Cholamandal. However, the Dutch Government’s condition that the Artists’ Association should contribute equally towards the building could not be met. If de Koningh has one regret in his life, it is that this project fell through.

In the 1990s, de Koningh collaborated with Harikrishnan to conduct a sculpture camp and many Dutch artists came on his invitation. All these sculptures are so well integrated in the landscape of Cholamandal Artists’ Village that we tend to take them for granted. At the entrance, we pass a red-pillared edifice with a glass prism at its central base. Going closer, an inscription reads Temple by sculptress Cune van Groeningen from The Netherlands. Visitors sit around Tiara madeby late artist Paul Beckman by riveting aluminium to wood with mathematical precision. Just behind it is Geert van de Camp’s Christmas Tree, which looks like a jungle gym with huge Christmas ornaments. Maggie Owen’s metal Tree captures the lacy canopy of foliage. A graphic painting in baked enamel on steel is by Dick Donker. Artist Gopinath recounts, “He made it in panels and fired it in the same kiln where we baked plates and cups. Later, he assembled it.”

In the late 1990s, de Koningh organised shows with C.Douglas, M.Senathipathi, P.Gopinath and Jayapal Panicker in The Netherlands. Along with artist Bhaskar Hande of Pune, de Koningh curated a show of Indian and Dutch artists at The Hague. De Koningh applauds K.C.S Paniker’s vision, saying, “In Israel, the Ein Hod Artists’ Village is sponsored by the government. In the US too, artists’ workshops are funded. Nowhere else have I seen a self-sufficient artists’ village.”

Ritske’s relationships with artists at Cholamandal span 35 years. With great delight, Ritske recalls buying batik lungis and shirts from artist Jayapal. Ritske and Gopinath would go to the beach early in the morning and hitch a ride on fisherman Gajendran’s wooden catamaran to watch the sun come up. In the evenings, artists would gather under the banyan, engaging in hot debates. Dismayed by the decreasing value for the arts in The Netherlands, De Koningh treasures these earlier exchanges. Ristke’s secret passion is his poetry and he writes under his pen name Mindert Warre.

But carry the memory along with you

Like a netsuke attached to your garment

Gently itching as sand on soft skin

Those memories are here to stay.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 9:43:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/an-old-dutch-connection/article7818221.ece

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