Aakriti Art Gallery

‘Bengal Beyond Boundaries’

Uma Nair

[From classic Tagores to contemporary works by Anjolie Ela Menon, a curation of Bengal’s greatest artists, both past and present, come together at a show by Aakriti Art Gallery in Delhi’s Bikaner House.]

Think Bengal, and triumphant tradition to modernity fills one’s spectrum of thoughts. Kolkata’s Aakriti Art Gallery, led by Vikram Bachhawat, has over 20 years, across myriad mediums and multiple themes, created a historic paradigm of Bengal artists’ works that cultivates a documentation that welcomes the complexity of human coexistence as well as struggles in the history of Bengal. Curator Uma Nair gives an insight behind the curation of the show titled ‘Bengal Beyond Boundaries’ by Kolkata’s Aakriti Art Gallery, which ran from July 7- 16 at Delhi’s Bikaner House, Centre for Contemporary Art.

Early Bengal
Rabindranath Tagore founded Shantiniketan with the motto: ‘Where the whole world meets in a nest.’ History proves that Rabindranath Tagore was the first international modernist artist of India. Arranged chronologically, this series of Early Bengal has stellar works collected in Paris many moons ago. 'Sati and Raja Ram Mohan Roy' is a work that shows a group of well-dressed men watching a widow self-immolating on a pyre. While she burns, the crowd watches and your eyes moisten, as you think of so many Indian Brahmin wives who gave up their lives due to this ritual.

An anonymous work from the Murshidabad School, a watercolour on paper, is a page from nostalgia. The scene of a broken wall, the minaret and the bridge, all create a scenic setting of elusive elegance. Then one comes to the piece de resistance, an anonymous painter’s romantic realist work that portrays a lady sitting holding a copper pot. The transparent gilded sari and her jewels all speak of an age of solitude, beauty and an ethereal silence of longing.

Relating Art to Society
Bengal is about art through a social, cultural and political lens. It is not art made in a vacuum, but an insignia of human experience, memory and literature. At the show at Bikaner House, different works reflect different ages, of senior as well as younger artists. The circle of Tagores and their works have an implicit message as well as its explicit ethos. In Bengal, art is the history of heritage and contemporary developments.

Early Etchings and Prints
A small composite set of prints brings together the brilliant Mukul Dey who studied printmaking and dry point etching at Chicago, at the Slade School of fine art in London as well as Japan. His perfected hand for the contours in portraits of the Tagores and the girl reading are a treat for tired eyes. Santiniketan Guru Somnath Hore’s human figures in lithographs show angst ridden rendition of the human condition. The Famine of Bengal stands alone as a desolate stamp of devastation in its history.

In a beautiful tribute and reverence to the ‘Guru Shishya’ tradition at Santiniketan there are two prints by the brilliant Rini Dhumal, an MS University professor and printmaker, who went from Baroda to Santiniketan on a National Scholarship to study under Somnath Hore. Rini also studied at William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris. Her Sphinx, a multiple colour etching and linocut called ‘The Red Print’ is a study in colourative strokes, as well as the power of textures in the printmaking process. Her entire evolution was based on Shiva Shakti.

Arpita Singh and Anjolie Ela Menon
More than 200 paintings in the show form an album of both memories as well as a thread of sensibilities that define and create their own distinctions. On loan from distinguished collectors, India’s two most-important women artists Arpita Singh and Anjolie Ela Menon are represented by works that elevate the experience of emotive evocations. Singh’s untitled work and two smaller water colours are a study in the balance of human emotion as well as the handling of the human figures in harmony, along with autobiographical details. Men and women with a few flowers strewn around, contemplating the environs, is a distinctive narrative.

Anjolie’s ‘First Dictator’ and ‘Lady with fruits’, are works that bring together her brilliance at handling still lives and human elements of history within her palette and frames.

Jayashree Chakraborty and Jayasri Burman
Two artists who celebrate the pain and painterly ethos of nature are famed Jayashree Chakraborty who has shown at Musee Guimet Paris, as well as Jayasri Burman who embodies the principle of ‘Purusha Prakriti’. While Jayashree creates an elegiac portrait of the loss of lakes and nature’s habitat with mixed media work, Jayasri gives a goddess portrait with a musical instrument as she sits in the midst of lush tropicana amongst ochre-toned autumnal accents, as well as a series of monochromatic drawings.

Amongst larger works are Jogen Chowdhury’s drawing of ‘The Lady with the Mirror’, a topic that goes back to Renaissance Masters. Chowdhury is the master of the contour and his work stands as a testimony to his own evolution of finding a sensibility that is Indian wrested in the tools of Western grammar.

Paresh Maity’s ‘Santiniketan’, a panoramic work, is an ode to Rabindranath Tagore and his institution. It is the many details of paintings by Tagore and the vignettes and vistas that add charisma to this sun-bathed work.

Bikash Bhattacharjee’s ‘Salvationist’, an oil on canvas echoes the futility of war, and the soldiers and horse all share an elegiac moment on pedestals. Sudip Roy’s watercolour is a stirring, dark portrait of a horse looking at the ground, while the nimbus clouds gather in a Kolkata skyline.

Sculptures and Drawings
The sculptures and the drawings add their own charisma of compositional clarity and explorations in mediums. Akhil Chandra Das’s bronze of a human figure in ‘Monk’ is as riveting as Tapas Biswas’s Benares Ghats that are a relief pattern in bronze. Sudhir Khastgir’s drawing of a dancer and Ram Kinkar Baij’s cow and her calf create a mapping that looks like individual pearls on a string.

In the journey of different perspectives, experiences, and personal and private histories that come together, the mapping of ’Bengal Beyond Boundaries’ will weave the past and the present like never before, in boundary-pushing experimentation, and a heartfelt ode to humanism.


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Vol 56, No. 5, Jul 30 - Aug 5, 2023