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CONTEMPORARY ART MOVEMENTS IN INDIA


The first notable `movement' to ignite India 's art scene was initiated by the well known ` Bengal School ' of Abanindranath Tagore. The body of work generated by him and the renowned artists who followed - Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mookherjee, Mukul Dey and Asit Haldar among others had an enduring impact on the Indian art scene.

   
 

Binodebehari Mukherjee
‘Tree Lover'

 
     

With its centers in Calcutta and Shantiniketan, this movement exerted a huge influence on the art schools of the sub-continent.

Triggered by nationalistic fervor and the search for an Indian identity, the Bengal School tried to revive India 's traditional art within a nationalistic format. Yet to dismiss its artists as mere `revivalists', and its art as wishy washy overly sentimental `romantic naturalism'- as was done later by Amrita Sher Gil, the Bombay Progressives and even the Calcutta Group - would be to

gloss over their real contribution to `modernism' in Indian art. As Kajal Sengupta writes, 'What ever may be the political sentiment growing around the movement, it was necessary at that juncture, to restore the artistic self-respect of a nation trodden down to servility'.

Its greatest exponents did not believe in art `manners' or conformity to any system - traditional or foreign. They stressed personal search and sensitivity to the impulses of a living environment. Each searched and experimented with different expressive modalities - Persian, Japanese, Chinese and, in the case of Gaganendranath even Cubism - to find their appropriate form of expression. And for content they delved into persona! mysticism, mythology, the romantic past, and occasionally in Gaganendranath even tight social satire.

   
 

Gaganendranath Tagore

 
     

Less mature disciples did stray into `mannerism', but those who got teaching positions in government art colleges, were somewhat able to influence these institutions to look beyond their rigid programs in Western academicism; thus pointing out the way towards Europe's `modern' art movements to a new generation of students.

Around the same time, Amrita Sher-Gil newly returned to Shimla from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris , injected a new dynamism into the Indian art scene. Her strong emotional response to her theme - the life of village India - was projected in compositions, which vividly synthesized Indian and Post-impressionist styles, particularly that of Gaugin. Sher Gil pointed to the rich variety of content available to Indian artists in their immediate environment, and taught them the importance of technical `painterly' values in art.

   
 

Amrita Sher-Gil
‘Haldi Grinders'

 
     

But the most radical change came later, with the formation in 1943 of the 'Calcutta Group' of artists against a background of violent social and political upheaval -- war, famine and widespread political and sectarian violence - in India in the forties of the last century. Artists like Paritosh Sen, Rathin Maitra, Sunil Madhav Sen, Gopal Ghosh, Subho Tagore, Nirode Majumdar and others, expressed their protest in their own distinctive voices. To quote Sundaram Tagore, “Among Indian artists the first to respond in unison to international modernists values was the Calcutta Group... They attempted to launch an art of change - anti-nostalgic, anti-sentimental, subversive of hierarchies.”

The Calcutta group broke up in 1953, when the members started to leave one by one for Paris - the artists' Eldorado. When they returned after tong periods, neither they who left nor those who had remained behind were the same.

   
 

Paritosh Sen
‘Music Lover'

 
     

Then in 1948 the `Progressive Artist's Group' with F. N Souza, Ara, Bakre, Gade, M.F Hussain and S.H Raza among its founders was started in Bombay . Though not unified by a single aesthetic, these artists wished to escape the limits of both `colonial' academic art and the `nationalist' revival of the Bengal School . Wanting to express their originality in a modern idiom, they looked towards the contemporary international art scene for exploratory exposure.

Souza and Raza left the country shortly afterwards, but held frequent shows and had their largest public in India . Bakre followed. But Hussain remained behind, assimilated influences from and experimented with both Western and Indian models to eventually develop a vividly emotional `epic' style that expressed the rich diversity of post-colonial India .

   
 

M.F Hussain
‘Untitled'
gouche

 
     

The Bombay Group, with Krishen Khanna and Gaitonde among its last members, didn't last long. Though its individual artists produced original and sensitive works, they were essentially toners, sharing no commitment to any social or artistic ideology. They left therefore no singular influence on the total art scene. Yet like all original artists whose identities are necessarily fused with the culture to which they belong, they couldn't sustain their'cultural neutrality' for long. Occasionally and inescapably, India invades their artistic consciousness - in symbol, theme, quotation, calligraphy or color.

Bombay, as India's cosmopolitan hub, went on to produce many eminent `originals', including K.K. Hebbar, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Sudhir Patwardhan, Jehangir Sabavaia, N.S Bendre and more recently, Atul Dodiya and Jaideep Mehrotra.

In 1957, the `Baroda Group of Artists' was formed under the guidance of N.S Bendre. Prominent artists of Baroda include, Bhupen Khakkar, Gulam M. Sheikh, Ratan Parimoo, Rekha Rodwittiya, Jyotsna Bhatt and Vivan Sunderam. This dynamic group evolved from a significant occurrence in 1950 in the Indian art scene - the founding of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda University .

   
 

Gulam Mohammed Sheikh
‘Still Life' (1993)
charcoal

 
     

With renowned Bengal sculptor Sankho Chowdhury as its first advisor and a faculty staffed with legendary names from India 's art milieu - including N.S Bendre and Jeram Patel from Bombay , and K.G. Subramanyan from Shantiniketan, the Baroda School was to become a vibrant creative center and workshop for gifted artists from all over India . While proclaiming their adherence to Indian tradition - students had to routinely visit and sketch scenes from daily life in the streets, markets and railway stations - faculty and students also grappled creatively with the issues of cubism, abstraction and other formal concerns of style and language.

     
   
 

K.S Kulkarni
‘The Last Supper’

 
     

There was no collective voice or artistic impulse that ruffled the surface of the Delhi art scene till painter-sculptor K.S Kulkarni founded the avant garde Delhi Shilpa Chakra in 1947. Born in Belgaum , and educated at Bombay 's JJ School of Art, Kufkami was then working at AIFACS (All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society). The Delhi Shiipa Chakra gave the city's young forward looking artists a platform from which to challenge the insipid forms of traditional art then in vogue. The following year, Kufkarni established the reputed Triveni Kala Sangam. Though starting with two or three students, eventually these two institutions became the conduits for his creative ideas.

In the nineteen years that Kulkarni was Director of Triveni's Art Department , he trained a number of brilliant students who are eminent artists today. Others, such as Gade, Gaitonde and Laxman Pai gravitated towards Delhi from other parts of India to work and some eventually settled there. The famous names in Delhi today, are, among others Aryan, Anjoli Ela Menon, Arpana Caur, Arpita Singh, Kishen Khanna, Paramjit Singh, Rameshwar Broota, Ram Kumar and Satish Gujral.

   
 

Arpana Caur
‘The Baul & the Trapped Soul' (1989)
oil

 
     

In South India meanwhile, artistic practices and education took another path towards 'modernism'. When reputed painter and sculptor D.P. Roy Chowdhury came down from Bengal in 1929 as Superintendent of the Madras College of Art, he carried with him - as a disciple of Abanindranath Nath Tagore - the traditions and influence of India's first reactionary art movement, that of the Bengal School. In his thirty years in Madras , he tried to synthesize Eastern ideas with Western techniques, thus providing the required impetus towards modernism in the south.

   
 

D.P Roy Chowdhury
‘Hillscape'

 
     

But it was K.C.S. Panikar succeeding Roy Chowdhury as Principal, who pioneered a new trend in painting. In the late fifties and early sixties, he led a small band of artists including N. Viswanadhan, A.P Santharaj, Redeppa Naidu and Ramanujam, trying to extricate themselves from the grip of the standard figure, and space defined by perspective - the ideals arbitrated by Western Renaissance art tradition. The figurative style of folk art, the anecdotal style of Indian miniatures, the grand epic style of traditional sculpture and the enrichments of iconic and calligraphic imagery, all became possibilities in their work.

Premier art institutions sprang up in other states of South India . And artists from the South have since forged ahead to assert their presence in the national and international arena. They include in their celebrated number, L. Munuswamy, Acchutan Kudallur, Surya Prakash, Yusuf Arakkal, K. M. Adimoolam and K.R. Subban.

   
 

K.M. Adimoolam
‘Reflex'

 
     

While discussing artists and art trends from different areas of India , we must remember that the true artist is a citizen of the world. Though he is to some extent shaped by the influences of his environment; his 'voice' eventually is defined not by geographical boundaries, but by his inner aesthetic, the traditions he has inherited, and his personal response to his immediate `reality'.

Veteran Goan artist Laxman Pai for instance, trained at the J.J School of Art in Bombay and worked for a while in that city. Subsequently, he spent ten years in Paris , and after his return settled down to work in Delhi . Finally he opted to settle down in his home territory of Goa . And this has been true, to a lesser or greater extent, for a considerable number of artists.

   
 

Laxman Pai
‘Untitled' (1992)
oil

 
     

As K.G. Subramanyan (who himself spent some very productive years in Baroda) writes "!t should be a great tribute to any artist or writer to say, that while he works within his own traditions, it is as if he owned the whole world."

In other sections we shall trace briefly the evolution of innovative trends and concepts as they developed and transformed in the work of representative contemporary Indian artists. While Bengal will remain our focus, we shall also give brief sketches of eminent artists and art trends in other areas of the country.

 

Contemporary Indian Art: Historical Overview
Contemporary Art Movements in India
Contemporary Indian Art Prints
Contemporary Art in Calcutta & Bengal

 

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