US museum showcases works of ‘Father of Indian Modern Art’

August 24th, 2008 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 24 (IANS) The exquisite and historically groundbreaking work of noted Indian painter Nandalal Bose, often called the father of Indian modernism, has been showcased at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of America’ largest museums.Called “Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose”, it’s the first travelling exhibition outside Asia to highlight the works of Bose (1882-1966) includes nearly 100 of the artist’s finest paintings in a variety of styles and media.

Organised by the San Diego Museum of Art in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi, the exhibition marks the first time a survey of Bose’s artworks - which are considered Indian National Treasures - has travelled to the US.

Considered the father of modern art in India, Bose worked to regenerate and redefine India’s art during the region’s emergence from British colonial rule and transition to an independent nation in 1947.

The paintings on display were selected from nearly 7,000 of the artist’s works, all of which are held by the NGMA as the result of a gift to India from the artist’s family.

“We are delighted to present this rare retrospective that examines one of South Asia’s great 20th century artists,” says Darielle Mason, the Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art.

“Bose’s art is inextricably bound to the story of India’s national awakening and independence, and at the same time is deeply personal and nuanced. Although he was highly influential to a younger generation of artists, his work represents an area of modern art that has been little understood in the United States.”

In a 1200 word review of the exhibition, the New York Times’ critic Holland Cotter wrote: “Word is that contemporary Indian art is the next sensation on the international market. So now’s the time to learn something about where it came from.”

The Philadelphia show, “reminds us that every Museum of Modern Art in the United States and Europe should be required, in the spirit of truth in advertising, to change its name to Museum of Western Modernism until it has earned the right to do otherwise,” Cotter added.

Six sections of the exhibition highlight the depth and variety of Bose’s work and the different formats he used, from intimate monochrome sketches on postcards or scroll-like wash paintings to brightly coloured monumental murals.

It also examines his relationships with key figures including Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) - a major political and spiritual leader during the independence movement - and the writer, educator and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).

Among the exhibition’s key works is a striking black-and-white linocut, “Dandi March (1930)” depicting Gandhi on the famous 248-mile journey he and his followers took to make salt from seawater in defiance of a British colonial tax.

Bose’s image is now considered one of the most iconic portrayals of the leader. The section devoted to Gandhi also includes seven posters that Bose created at Gandhi’s request for the 1938 Haripura Session of the Indian National Congress, a group at the centre of the independence movement.

To produce these striking posters, Bose used local materials, including handmade paper and colours ground and mixed from the earth. The large-scale paintings celebrate Indian village life and culture in bright colours and lively scenes.

Bose also depicted traditional Indian religious icons in modern styles, as illustrated in Saraswati (1941), a fresh take on the Indian goddess of knowledge, learning and music.

In Annapurna (1943), he depicts the Hindu god Shiva’s wife - whose name translates as “abundance of food” - together with her ascetically emaciated husband, as a comment on the great Bengal famine of the same year, caused by the British stockpiling rice for World War II military rations.

In Sati (recreated in 1943 from a prize-winning work he did as a student in 1907), Bose reveals one of Siva’s other wives in a moment of supreme devotion. He painted it in a style reflecting the delicacy of Indian Mughal “miniatures” while using a Japanese-inspired wash technique.

Visitors to a simultaneous exhibition, Multiple Modernities: India, 1905-2005, can see more than 25 drawings, prints and watercolour paintings created by Bose’s contemporaries and successors.

Multiple Modernities reveals the broad range of artistic sources, traditions and experiments in visual culture that emerged before and after Indian independence.

“These wide-ranging works by many of India’s pre-eminent 20th and 21st century artists offer visitors an excellent context in which to view Nandalal Bose’s art and connect it with South Asia’s vibrant contemporary art scene,” Mason said.

The works drawn from the Museum’s own collection include a rare and never-before-exhibited group by Rabindranath Tagore.

Following its showings in the US, Rhythms of India will tour museums throughout India.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the San Diego Museum of Art has published a 304-page catalogue with nearly 100 colour plates, along with essays by a renowned and international group of art historians, historians and contemporary Indian artists.

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