Thursday, February 27, 2014

Evolution of Bengal modern art on display - Mumbai meets Kolkata


Mumbai: The Delhi Art Gallery — one of the national capital’s richest galleries with a vast archive of Indian classical and modern art — expanded its footprint in Mumbai inaugurating a new display space Feb 25, 2014 with an exhibition “The Art of Bengal” and unveiling of a book, “Emeralds”, an illustrated volume about the precious gemstone widespread in India as a heritage jewel discovered in the geo-surface of the earth five million years ago.      

The gallery which promotes 20th century art has a collection of over 32,000 artworks — ranging from early 20th century classicism to the contemporary art post-Independence art continuing till date.   

The exposition, “The Art of Bengal” features more than 200 works documenting the movements in Bengal art in a chronological sequence from the 19th century modernism to contemporary multi-media visuals. 

The exhibition follows the journey of Bengal aesthetics with 19th century art when local and ethnic artists created vernacular idiom based on micro-myths, lores and mythological legends using an array of village-oriented crafts influenced artistic iconography like the pata chitra (scroll narrative art) and the “battala” illustrations of north Kolkata printing avenues. 

The pata chitra as a oeuvre flourished in the villages around Midnapore and Bankura district in the 18th century (though they date back to over a millennium). In the 19th century, groups of scroll painters from Midnapore migrated to Kalighat in Kolkata looking for sustenance during the early years of the East India Company reign. They began to paint the social realities of the time in Kolkata — breaking away from the mythology, religion and folk as traditional themes. The strange adoption of urban Kolkata as a new homeland and the mingling of rural-urban sensitivities gave birth to the “babu-bibi” scrolls in Kalighat — a direct engagement between European, elite Bengali and semi-urban cultures of suburban Kolkata.

Legend says “the babu-bibi” tradition of art began with a famous love scandal between a young housewife Elokeshi, wife of a Bengali babu Nabinchandra Banerjee and head priest of the Taraknath temple  at Tarakesvara” which became the muse of several chitrakar (painters) in the 19th century. The painters — both the Kolkata School of Pata Chitra and their counterparts in the countryside — began to hunt for humorous and “mischievous” social trends to add to their iconography.  The signature imagery include “cat and the shrimp”- an allegory for the general decadence of the era, the “courtesan, babu (East India Company employee) and bibi (wife)” and “the British sahib ruling India”.  

The century-long presence of European painters in Bengal influenced the local art practice and aesthetics, resulting in interesting blends of academic oil portraiture and traditional Indian art as a parallel school of mainstream art— evolving from the early folk stylisations. By mid-19th century, trained local artisans began creating paintings using oil as their medium and the “till then-absent perspective”, termed the Early Bengal Oils.

The showcase tries to present Bengal art in the way it matured following in the steps of European classicism. It hosts rare works by oil pioneers like B. P. Banerjee, leading to the work of salon and ‘gentleman-artists’ produced by the newly-emergent art schools and institutions in Calcutta in late 19th-early20th century, such represented by J. P. Gangooly. The oils are complemented by water techniques — a genre that was honed to an unique refinement by the Bengal artists.   

The school that came to be known as Bengal School with its dreamy, romantic imagery using the technique of watercolour wash is represented substantially at the show, featuring works of Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Asit Haldar, Kshitindranath Majumdar and D. P. Roy Chowdhury.

The artists of the 1930s and 1940s, however, rejected this school in favour of a new and robust Indian art.
These modernist masters include the stalwarts like Somnath Hore, Prodosh DasGupta, Chittaprosad, Rabin Mondal, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Jogen Chowdhury, Nikhil Biswas, Bijan Choudhary, B. C. Sanyal, Chintamoni Kar and others, as well as those claiming allegiance to an older Bengal order, such as Bireswar Sen.

 With ‘Bengal’ as the connecting thread, this exhibition – mammoth in scale –the artists featured not just claim ancestry to Bengal but those who vitally nurtured in its cultural climate. Bengal’s cultural and intellectual climate, together with its artistic imagination continues to exert a great pull on contemporary Indian art.

“This exhibition is a tribute as much as a celebration. For us, showing the extensive repertoire of the Bengal School in Mumbai was critical to the understanding of the development of Modern art in the country, and Kolkata's immense contribution in this," Kishore Singh, project editor and head of exhibition and publication at the Delhi Art Gallery said.

- Staff Writer 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Communism forced Polish foreign correspondents to adopt literary reportage


New Delhi
The distinction between the genres of non-fiction and fiction is getting more "mixed" with writers of non-fiction and reportage using more literary tools in their journalistic accounts since the literary reportage made its debut in the writing space in 1960s-1970s, says Polish reportage writer and author Wojciech Jagielski, a student of master of literary journalism Ryszard Kapuscinski. Jagielski, a senior foreign affairs correspondent and the author of four reportage books, is an authority on Afghanistan, Central Asia and Africa. 
"All  journalists in Poland wanted to end up as writers in the 20th century. News reports have such limited space in our country. To ensure that the traditional Polish brand of reportage has its way, most journalists write books,"  Jagielski, said in an informal chat at the World Book Fair 2014 in New Delhi (Feb 15-23). 
Journalism has evolved as a "curious medley of reportage and literature for the last 150 years in Poland — since it arrived in the country in the 19th century. Poland was then a hub of classical European culture with large communities of artists, performers and writers for whom freedom and philosophy were cornerstones of creative progress. 
"But the arrival of Communism after the second World War and its consolidation for nearly 50 years forced journalists to write in a metaphorical way - about specific issues and specific situations without sounding critical," Jagielski said. A section of rebellious writers, however, began to write between the lines to convey disenchantment with the regime.
"Writers were writing one thing - but readers knew that they were allegories pointing to some profound truth and exploring connotations behind the scene in the garb of descriptive reportage," the writer said. This made the writers more literary. "We were all trying to follow wither way of writing. We did not invent things but we used the litetrary structures to write a story,"  Jagielski  pointed out.    
The Polish School of Reportage — as this style of literary journalism — came to be known - has broken through the bastions of conventional journalism with its "verbose style replete with colours, descriptions, analysis and people's stories". 
One of the unique features of Polish school of journalism is that "reporters write more about the world than about their own country". They travel extensively and bring home "rich troves of stories and experience". The tradition traces its roots to the pre-War days when media houses had money to splurge on their reporters for overseas coverage. During the Communist regime, while space shrunk and spends were scaled down, the Communist dispensation "discouraged reporters from writing freely about home turfs— clamping strict censors. All the fall of the Communism in Eastern Europe and in Poland in 1989-1990, media was freed from state control. However, resources continue to remain constrained for reportage style foreign coverage till this day.  
"Most of the media houses send journalists to Ukraine because everything that is happening in Kiev is important to Poland,"  Jagielski said. 
The writer "joined journalism in 1990s- it was the golden era of foreign journalism in the country". "Now, the Polish media is closing foreign offices worldwide because "they cannot afford to maintain international  bureaus or send reports on extended reportage missions for "multiple serial reports about a country". 
"As a result, most foreign correspondents carry their missions to books — to be able to write all that they have gathered and have seen," the reportage writer said. 
Jagielski  has been coming to India since 1980s. "I admire the South Asian press. I follow the weeklies," said the writer, whose account of Afghanistan, "Praying for Rain" was the consequence of 10 years of touring the country for sustained stretches.
Recounting the triggers that led to the book, the writer said there was no space for "stories from Afghanistan in his Polish Press Agency initially". "Then my employers realised that my reports (edited and shortened) from Afghanistan were attracting several hits (eyeballs) on the Internet. "The immediate result was my book. I continued to visit the country (Afghanistan) till 2009 where I was embedded with the soldiers".  "It took me 10 years to understand Afghanistan- what Afghanistan was all about," he said.     
The writer offers "fresh insights into the future of Afghanistan after the 2014 pullout — "they come from the situations and opinions of common man and scholars across the society", he said. 
"If the west  has enough patience to pay president Hamid Karzai (or the one in helm in the future after April 2014 presidential poll) to help the army survive, then there will be enough force to counter the Taliban. If the West is not patient, then the country might fall back to the 1990s situation or worse,"  Jagielski said. 
The writer like his mentor Kapuscinski  looks for unusual metaphors and icons to begin his story. 
"They have to be symbolic of the large story I am trying to narrate about a place,"  Jagielski said.  
'I was looking for a story in South Africa— a country I had been visiting since the 1990s. There were many biographies of Mandela.I did not want to write another biography. Then I met a soccer fan in 2007, who narrated his life story to me. I realised the soccer fan's life and Mandela's life were the same. I wrote a story about the soccer fan, Nelson Mandela and my own self,"   Jagielski said. The result was the "Trumpeter of Tembisa"- a portrait of Nelson Mandela and the shaping of contemporary South Africa.  
"What I hunt for is  an idea of a subject that goes beyond the immediate report," he said. 
Once on a trip to Chechnya, when the writer as a war correspondent (covering the civil war) was travelling through a region known as "Bagestan", he came across a "large boulder" with an inscription, "You Will Not Be a Hero If You Think of The Consequences". "It reminded me of the Chechen rebel army commanders— Shamil Basayev and Aslan Mashkadov - one a radical and the latter a responsible and moderate leader respectively,"  Jagielski  said. The stone paved the foundation for his popular political account.of the Chechnya war "Towers of Stone".  .        
Jagielski is now looking for an offbeat story to "script" his India reportage.
"Normally people would like to write about Narendra Modi or the Nehru Gandhi family. But I would like to write about the end of an era- a trademark of India that has become old-fashioned. I would like to write a biography of Rahul Gandhi  - how he was laughed at by the people and is not so successful any more, How much you miss the old politics. Something is coming to an end in India. I want to write about the hippie trail - why it has turned cold. I was in Paharganj (in the old quarters of Delhi- a favourite haunt of foreign visitors and backpackers) the other day. It is not the same anymore. There is no drug; it is not Nepal... the India people miss and the India to expect— I want to write about," 
Jagielski said. 

-Madhusree Chatterjee 





Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso come to Delhi in a classical package


New Delhi
A showcase of lithographs, etchings and drawings by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso  — two of the foremost 20th century masters of modern art — has brought to the country a couple of striking lithographs by Salvador Dali, "The Miserable Flat" and "Cecile Receives Germeuil Letters" that play on rainbow colours and story-telling. 
"The Miserable Flat" — from the suite of "Marquis de Sade" painted between 1967-1969 in bright shades of red, yellow and black is a theatrical reproduction of "existence" in a cramped flat — which is as artificial as the set of a stage play and the inhabitants are characters watching the enactment of life. It takes on Shakespearean maxim of the world as a stage and also from the "Spanish artist's dalliance with Nazsim: in his art.
The lithograph is one of the 25 that make up the incomplete Marquis De Sade suite - a series of lithographs that the artist created in 1969.  "Cecile Receives Germeuil's Letter" is another lithograph from the Marquis de Sade suite that shows the tortured protagonist Cecile (named after his daughter) in a surreal setting. The suite named, "Three Plays by Marquis de Sade" is an allegory on his own life in war time Europe and United States. 
The suite includes visual parables like   "Allegory Brave Cecile!", "Without Hope", "Marianne and the Chevalier Allegory,  "The Chevalier's Dream of Cecile", "Protect Her from Misfortune's Mistakes", :"The Crime", :The Prison Allegory", "The Chevalier's Proposal", "Allegory Cecile's Chastity", "Merville and His Sons Reunited", "Panorama: The Siege of Jerusalem", "The Death of Clorinda", "Tancred's Choice", "Tancred's Oath", "The Obsequies for Clorinda", "The Arrival of Dumont", "Celise Receives Germeuil's Letter", "Adelaide's Promise", "Damis's Dilemma" and "All's Well that Ends Well". The lithographs run like a play — linking life with mythology, contemporary literature of the times and geopolitics.
The two works on display are tributes to the Absurd Movement in European theatre that closely resembled the "isms" that Dali was occupied at the time— surrealism, existensialism, Dadism and to an extent Cubism.     . 
The Spanish painter of Catalan birth, known for his eccentric style, imbues the suite with a larger than life quality of characters and sequences — that reflect his grand posturing of life and the influence of his mentor Diego Velazquez . The suite has been auctioned in several reprints.  The exposition puts Dali in context of his friend and "inspiration", Pablo Picasso, fellow Spanish master and the father of Cubism. A set of 14 etchings and sketches by PIcasso of human figures — of his trademark  man and woman in various juxtaposition of the yin and the yiang energies and corpulent desires — explore styles ranging from the neo-classical. The works include masterpieces like  such as Trois Baigneuses III (Three Bathers III) that pays tribute to Paul Cezanne’s work by the same title; and humorous works such as Vieux peintre avec une adolescente (Older Painter and seated nude wearing a brassier). Another important work is Figures/Personnages, a collage of figures in motion which ushers the beginning of Picasso’s famous "Blue Period".
The exhibition opened at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi Feb 21-March 25.

-Staff Writer

Friday, February 21, 2014

Litetrary Reporatge, non-fictions grab prime space at World Book Fair 2014 — a look at reportage genre


New Delhi, Feb 2014 
Writers and reporters  from the developing regional bloc of South Asia found intellectual vitamin at the foreign theme section of the World Book Fair 2014 
(February 15-23 in New Delhi) where Poland, the guest country brought the 
best of the Polish School of Reportage with a showcase built around the founder
of the genre, Ryszard Kapuscinski.
An exposition, "The Poet of Reportage— Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007) introduced the Indian audience - especially the emerging breed of non-fictions and reporters — to the Polish School of Journalism that "pride of position" in setting the contenporary trend of creative journalism in an age of instant news by using literary devices in reportage to make news stories nuanced, well-researched and engaging — like the raconteur's art.        
The highlight of the "educational" capsule at the fair was the launch of Ryszard Kapuscinski's "Shah of Shah"— a political account of Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran and his ouster  in Hindi. The Hindi avatar, "Shahahon Ka Shah"  translated by Prakash Dixit has reproduced 22 censored pages that were deleted from the English translation of the Polish book.
"Kapuscinski was not only a journalist, a writer and a commentator on political events. He was also a poet, photographer and a philosopher — but first and foremost he was the interpreter of culture and an active participant in the dialogue between civilisations. He was also a very keen listener," Piotr Klodkowski, envoy of Poland to India, said.
The exhibition chronicled  Kapuscinski's oeuvre with panels of photographs and texts from his political biographies — in the context of the contemporary trends of world journalism.
Kapuscinski, born to economic hardship in Belarus, graduated from Warsaw University in 1955, saw life's vagaries from Ground Zero, developing in course a panchant for mass stories.  A freelance writer of political articles since early youth, Kapuscinski published a  "critical article" about the construction of a Nowa Huta — a Cracow conurbation built on the site chosen as the first Municipality of Poland- which brought to light the inhuman working conditions of the labourers involved in the project. The reportage was received with "resentment" and anger by the Comunist regime in POland but eventually won the favour of the regime. It earned  Kapuscinski the golden cross of merit at the age of 23.
In August 1956, he was sent to report from Kiev and then to India— an epic journey which he documented in a six part article, "India From Close". He returned via Afghanistan and Moscow. During his subcontinental trek, Kapuscinski photographed the terrain extensively, which were published a year later.   Subsequently, he went to China and Japan and them all over the world — including Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railways and Africa. Many years later, he returned to India in an autobiographical account, "Travels with Herodotus".
Kapuscinski'sa strength was digging out "unusual stories" that brought to light the broad composition of a place and  conflicting situations.
In his books, "The Emperor" (on Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia)  and Shah of Shahs (the last Shah of Iran), Kapuscinski hunts for characters from within recesses the "monrachies'" power corridors, who are symbolic of the decadence and corrupt coteries that brings down imperial orders.
In "The Emperor", Kapuscinski interviews the minister of pillows, who is in jail. The minister was tasked with the job of "placing pillow under the emperor's feet when the latter sat. The minister was expected to know "the edicts of Selassie's royal conduct - and his governance".  Narrating Kapunscinki's process of building his story-telling,  Polish envoy  to India Piotr Klodkowski recalled that Kapuscinski in an interview had once admiited that "he found it difficult to begin The Emperor". "Kapuscinski said he had lot of trouble in introducing the book. He was browsing through the photographs — he had clicked hundreds — and came across a photograph of a small dog - Lulu - often and often. It became the beginning of Kapuscinski book. In the image of Lulu, there was a tragedy, Kapunscinki had told interviewers".
Kapuscinski's style  of reportage that went beyond the "spot" was a cult for legion of journalists in Poland like Witold Szab┼éowski, Wojciech Tochman, Hanna Krall, Anna Bihont, Mariusz Szcygiel, Jacek Hugo-Bader and Zofia Nalkowska - who used literary elements of fiction for their nonfictional journalistic narratives.
"The humanatarian element of story-telling where the observer is looking at the story through the lens of the intellect of the heart - of the normal person on the street and not from the highest political level - the micro-perspective of a revolution or a war (often disputed because the versions differ) make Kspuscinski unique. Authors of this oeuvre often use non-fictional narrative and construct —like a fictional person in the centre to make a hero. It makes the narative more relevant," explained Anna Tryc Bromley, director of the Polish Institute in India- the cultural arm of the Polish mission.
The spotlight on Kapuscinki at the World Book Fair 2014 brings the discourse to the need of print journalism to chart "creative frontiers" beyond the "time-bound" spot reporting to analytical and story-telling reportage in an age of Internet and television, which has made the process of news dissemination shortlived, instant and "eyeball -grabbing"- oriented at commerce.
In the last three decades, news in print has been slowly moving out of the confines of five "W" and one "H"— of institutionalised word counts and mandates — to assimilate from literature. Story-telling, often derided as magazine journalism — is central to good contemporary reportage with "anecdotes", "imagery", "people", metaphorical analysis, socio-cultural, economic and political contexts and news to present a holistic picture of an issue in discussion or in place under the lights.
Journalists like Ernest Hemmingway, Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mark Twain — have dominated literary story-telling space for more than a century with their eye for the "grassroots details" and "unusual odd features" that have carried their jorunalistic accounts - non-fictional and fictions based on facts — beyond "dry treatises". They are treated as classics both in the publishing industry and on the "book worm's" counters.
If the west has sustained on literature crafted from "real life stories" — in India, a handful of non-fiction writers has scripted their Kapunscinski tales with a  combination "gripping story-telling, litetrary idiom and a nose for factual authenticity and analysis.
The foremost on the list include the country's top writers of non-fictional accounts — like Jawaharlal Nehru, Shashi Tharoor, Ramachandra Guha,  Mark Tully, William Dalrymple, Arundhati Roy, Arun Shourie, Amartya Sen, P.Sainath, Suketu Mehta and Nayantara Sehgal— to name a few who deploy literary devices to narrate "facts" about the country and world— covering a wide range of issues on culture, politics, economy, history and even personal accounts of worth.
One of the books that made a mark in recent times — harking back to the tenets of the classical literary reportage— was William Dalrymple's "The Return of the King: The Battle for Afghanistan (1839-1842)",a story about the last Anglo-Afghan war and the ruler Shah Shuja, who was exiled. He establishes through historical story-telling the connections between the 19th century Afghanistan - a hotbed of intrigue, ethnic conflicts and political rivalries — to the country under president Hamid Karzai and the threat of the hardline Taliban forces. The story despite being embedded in history is still relevant today. In a similar manner, Shashi Tharoor in his last non-fictional account, "Pax Indica", uses "India's history ties with the west and the eastern spheres of the globe"  to identify the country's position in the prevailing contemporary world order —   in the process becoming a journalistic investigator of the country's foreign polity and the course it must chart. Writer Ramachandra Guha, in his sequel "India After Gandhi", assimilates from the craft of reportage and  offbeat narrative formats to "chronicle Mahatma Gandhi's years in Rajkot as a child, in London as a young student and in South Africa as a civil rights activist and lawyer— where the seeds of the struggle of Indian Independence were sown in the father of the nation.
In contrast, writers like Khushwant Singh —a veteran journalist and columnist and novelist Amitav Ghosh — the leading protagonist of the "non-fictional novel"— a distinctive genre of fiction based on facts, history and documentary evidence — use real life stories and history to build narratives in the traditions of classical literature complete with a "hero" and a cast of supporting characters to retell history, describe geopolitics and comment on the socio-cultural politics of regions across which they run their pens.
Ghosh's "Ibis Trilogy" about the Indian opium trade and Khushwant Singh's "Train to Pakistan" (stories about Partition) remain classics of this reportage genre of books.
"The feature pages of newspapers and magazine reportages have more loyal following than daily news pages," says a senior editor of Hindustan Times. The primary reason is that the media in India is relatively free- when compared to many countries that have been exposed to repressive regimes. The inherent Indian love for stories keeps the tradition of literary "reporatge" alive but with one essential difference — most of the Indian non-fictional stories are written about India in the global backdrop unlike the Polish school that write  largely about the world than about Poland — itself.  Blame it on the curfews of modern history.
-Madhusree Chatterjee

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

India -Art

 New Delhi An exhibition, "Parikrama: Around Gandhi" at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi is paying tribute to the Indian contemporary master, S.H. Raza, one of the last few survivors of the Progressive Artists Group with a display f his new works post 2010 on the occasion of his 92nd birthday. Raza had returned to India in 2010 after spending nearly 60 years in France.    
The art works are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, who changed the destiny of India's freedom struggle with his ideology of "ahimsa" and "Swaraj". S.H. Raza saw Mahatma Gandhi in a public meeting in Mandla, his hometown in Madhya Pradesh, when he was eight years old. This ‘darshan’ left an indelible mark on him. Whenever he visited Delhi from Paris between 1950 and 2010, Raza visited Rajghat to pay respect to Gandhi at his memorial along the Yamuna river. 
He has always been inspired by Gandhian concepts and words. Since his return to Delhi, Raza has been working on a series inspired by the teachings of Gandhi. He explores them in his own inimitable style without falling into traps of representation or illustration. They are tributes to a great human being by a master. In conjunction with the exhibition and the artist’s birthday, Vadehra Art Gallery in association with The Raza Foundation will release two books Raza: A Journey of the Master and Geysers.
"Raza: A Journey of the Master" is a collectors’ tome with 100 large high quality prints of the artist’s important works. A limited number of books will have prints with the artist’s signature on it. "Geysers" is an athology of correspondence between Raza and fellow artists and critic friends: Akbar Padamsee, Bal Chhabda, E. Schlesinger, FN Souza, Gaintonde, Laxman Pai, MF Husain, Ram Kumar, RV Leyden, Tyeb Mehta and Walter Langhammar.
"Raza is a great colourist as well as a master of form. Not many artists in the world can orchestrate colours the way he can akin to a composer who conducts various musicians effortlessly.Fascinating is that ,there is a tonality so masterfully achieved on the canvas,which not only happens automatically but is also rooted in his in-depth study of Indology, from where the concept of seed or Bindu comes which ultimately gives rise to the entire universe," managing director of the Vadehra Art Gallery Arun Vadehra said.     
SH Raza was born in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh, in 1922. He painted nature around his hometown in his childhood— away from the dust and din of the playground. A reticent child, Raza liked to spend time amid nature rather than go to school. As a young man, he moved to Mumbai to study  at Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, and later at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He was influenced by the European impressionists — whose landcape interpretations coloured his initial canvases. In the 1970s, Raza began to tire of the western idioms of landscapings and look for creative life force in Oriental philosophy.  His oeuvre witnessed a transformation under the influence of spiritual studies — and Hindusim.
Raza diiscovered the karmic significance of the "bindu" or the dot as the root of his new artistic expression - and changed the language of his art to interpret spirituality on his canvas with the "bindu", mandala circles, squares, cubes and abstract religious patterns to explore the cycle of life and its cosmic links.  For the last four decades, Raza has been eperimenting with the "bindu" as the source of creative energy.          
His has been honoured with the Padma Bhushan 2007); Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (2004); Padma Shri by the Government of India (1981); the Kalidas Sanman National Award by Government of Madhya Pradesh (1981); the Prix de la Critique (1956); the Gold Medal by Bombay Art Society (1948); the Silver Medal Bombay Art Society (1946).
-Staff Writer