A walk through the history of modern Indian art (Book Review)

Book: ‘Manifestations IX: 20th Century Indian Art’; Publisher: Delhi Art Gallery; Editors: Kishore Singh & Shruti Parthasarathy; Pages: 219; Price: Rs.4,750

The idea of buying and collecting art has changed in the last decade with a flood of informed publications and inroads by the Internet that are guiding buying choices with educated hand-holding.

A series of publications and displays of works by the pioneering masters of Indian modern and contemporary art, ‘Manifestations IX’, is reaching out to art lovers and buyers across collectors’ segments in the country to educate them about the legacy of Indian art and to archive aesthetic history for posterity.

Published by the Delhi Art Gallery, home to a wide collection spanning 300 years, the ‘Manifestations’ series chronicles the evolution of the indigenous idiom in Indian art at the beginning of the 20th century.

That was when the first lot of Indian artists, fired by the zeal of nationalism, struggled to grow out of the 19th century European impressionism, abstract impressionism and the regimented documentary style of the British East India Company art to develop a personal language that drew from traditions to look ahead at modernism.

‘Manifestations 1X’, a colourful anthology featuring 75 icons of modern art, was unveiled this week at in the Hauz Khas Arts Studio Village in the capital. The launch coincided with an exhibition of the works by the masters profiled in the compendium.

The works have been sourced from the gallery’s archives.

The colourful illustrated anthology begins with a profile of one of the early ‘Bombay progressive’ artist Ambadas (1922-2012). It chronicles masters like Shanti Dave, Sohan Qadri, Manu Parekh, G.R. Santosh, K.K. Hebbar, Nandalal Bose, P.V. Janakiram, Jamini Roy, F.N. Souza, Chittoprasad, Bikash Bhattacharya, Paritosh Sen, Baburao Painter, Vivan Sundaram and several others.

The rare nature of the art works taken up for textual interpretation and analysis makes the series special.

One of the gems of ‘Manifestations IX’ is a watercolour wash on paper, ‘Shiva Drinking World Poison’, which is among one of Nandlal Bose’s most important works.

‘It is also one of the largest of Nandalal Bose’s works in size,’ project editor Kishore Singh said. The visual canvas of Shiva sitting with a bowl of poison with the snakes fleeing in the distance uses the Japanese wash tradition made popular among 20th century Bengal masters by Kakuzo Okakura, who taught Abanindranath Tagore. Tagore passed on the skill to his star student Nandalal Bose.

Untold stories shine between the pages. Vishwanath Nageshkar, who lived and worked in Germany, was inspired by European Cubist and war-time abstractionist. His canvas of genocide – bodies piled on a hill – in a colour palette of green and red has an eerie holocaust feel to it, shocking viewers with the bleakness of death and destruction.

A student of J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, Nageshkar went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts with Amrita Sher-Gil and then trained in Germany between 1938-40. It was not easy for an Indian artist to survive in war-time Germany and many of Nageshkar’s paintings housed in Berlin and Wurzburg were destroyed during the war.

Vivan Sundaram’s oil composition on canvas, ‘Passage’ spreads like a centre-page in the anthology. The work was the piece de resistance of art critic and curator Geeta Kapur’s exhibition, ‘Place for People’. The origin of the work was in a series of art workshops that Sundaram held in the hills of Kasauli.

Sundaram chooses three of his friends – Bhupen Khakkar, Nalini Malani and Sudhir Patwardhan – as the figurative studies for his canvas, which takes a look at urban life outside and inside the domestic spaces.

‘The works chosen for the anthology represent the growth of modern art across regions like Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata, across groups and mediums. You get a massive map of India at a glance. With each ‘Manifestations’, we introduce newer artists and show the richness and depth of our collection. We try to make it easy for people to understand and study art,’ Kishore Singh said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.