When Kali Sold Swadeshi Cigarettes

On My Watch

A picture can speak a thousand words. And sometimes trigger a million thoughts.

Kali (Advertisment)_Lithoprint in paper (Calcutta Art Studio)_16 (1)

Kali image on a cigarette pack. Lithoprint on paper. Calcutta Art Studio. Undated

At the 19th Century Swadeshi Art show, organised by Delhi’s Akar Prakar Gallery (on till 31 October 2017), this image of goddess Kali, on a cigarette pack, set me thinking how religion, identity, politics and business get interwoven through art.

My student Pushpita Dey did a rough translation of this cigarette adv. in Bengali. The cigarette brand was called Kali, and was projected as a “Swadeshi product”. The adv. assured the buyer that as the pack had the image of Kali, the cigarette was not harmful. “It is not injurious to health.” Goddess selling cigarettes? It will cause outrage today in the 21st century but in the 19th century this probably was a cool idea. The cigarette, a gift of love from AH Johar (probably the sales agent) was targeted at the Hindu bhatrigan (community of brothers). It implored them to buy the cigarette in order to support the Swadeshi movement and the poor labourers of Bengal. So, goddess Kali became a model for a cigarette that was manufactured by East India Cigarette Manufacturing but was sold as a Swadeshi product!

Amidst the 30-odd works on display in Akar Prakar Gallery – oil paintings, lithographs and oleographs – the unique images of goddess Saraswati are even more engaging. Popular Hindu iconography depicts Saraswati as a woman clad in white, playing the veena, holding a book, a water pot and a string of beads with her multiple hands. The goddess of wisdom and knowledge is usually presented as a spiritual being. But many 19th century artists created a different Saraswati – more decorative and enchanting. She too graced some advs. selling Ayurveda products ranging from hair oil to malaria medicine.

Sri-SaraswatiAdvertisment_Lithoprint-in-paper-Calcutta-Art-Studio_16.25-x-12in_C.1885

Image of the advertisement featuring Sri Saraswati. Lithoprint on paper, Calcutta Art Studio, 1885

Religious and mythological figures were powerful messengers of ideas of identity and nationalist spirit.  Curator of the show Ashit Paul, a painter and an expert on woodcut prints of Kolkata, is fascinated by the inter-play of ideas in this period. There were protests against use of Kali’s image on a cigarette pack, but Paul doubts if the British would have bothered about them. He asserts that the use of religious, mythological characters revived the self confidence of Indian artists in the 19th century.

Gouranger Grihatyag(Gaurango leaving his family), Lithoprint on paper (Kansaripara Art Studio),15.75 x 11inch, C. 1900 (2)

Gaurango  Grihayatyag (Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, spiritual leader of the 15th century) seen here leaving his family. Lithoprint on paper. Kansaripura Art Studio, 1900

Bhubaneshwari, Oil on canvas, 23.25 x 17.75inch, C. 1880 (2)

Bhubaneshwari (Queen of the Universe), oil on canvas, 1880

After 1857, Paul says, local artists in Bengal consciously chose to depict themes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata or the Puranas. Many trained at the Calcutta School of Art (established in 1854) to learn the naturalist technique of painting but chose to evolve a more “Indian” visual  language that was inspired by Mughal miniatures and folk art.

What was Bengal like in the 19th century? It was definitely crowded with pioneers – Ramakrishna, Chaitanaya Mahaprabhu, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Madhusudan, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sharatchandra Chatterjee, and Jagdish Chandra Bose. Many of them cradled the Bengal Rennaissance when religious, art, literature and social norms were challenged. This period witnessed the creation of Brahmo Samaj, ban of Sati and child marriage, beginning of women literacy and demand for widow-remarriage in Bengal.

Swami_Vivekananda-1893-09-signed

Swami Vivekananda.Wikicommons

Swadeshi became art

 In art, local became popular. The pat paintings of Kalighat appealed to  the fast-emerging urban class of Kolkata. Kalighat paintings, with their confident brushstrokes and vibrant colours, depicted mythological characters, social scandals and even satire.The potuas (local makers of Kalighat art) captured an even larger market with the introduction of the litho print – a technique which helped them print the outline of an entire picture. The artist only had to fill in the colours. It became possible to mass produce art. The idea of Swadeshi travelled through art.

Nalini Sundari, Lithoprint on paper (Kansaripara Art Studio), 14.75 x 11inch, C. 1890... (2)

Nalini Sundari, lithoprint on paper, Kansaripara Art Studio, 1890

The new group of artists, named the pre-Bengal School, discarded the themes that were attractive to their colonial masters – family portraits, still life, house pets, landscapes. Among the prominent pre-Bengal School artists were  Annadaprasad Bagchi (1849-1905), Shyamacharan Shrimani, Nabakumar Biswas (1861-1935), Phanibhushan Sen, Krishnachandra Pal, Yogendranath Mukhopadhyay, Bamapada Bandyopadhyay (1851-1932), Shashikumar Hem and Bhabanicharan Laha (1880-1946).

Bagchi started the Calcutta Art Studio (near Bowbazar) along with Biswas, Sen and others in 1878. The studio artists included patriotic themes besides religious and social. Most of the works produced were neither dated nor signed. Five-six artists collectively created a single work. Frequent visitors to the studio included Surendranath Bandyopadhyay, Keshabchandra Sen and Swami Vivekananda. Paul says Calcutta Art Studio’s works were most sought after and even replaced the “high art” of that period. Similar, smaller studios emerged in Kansaripara and Chorbagan that printed many paintings through litho technique.

For close to three decades, the pre-Bengal School dominated the visual terrain of Bengal. They not only gave Swadeshi ideas an indigenous artistic vocabulary but prepared the foundation for a bigger art movement – the Bengal School of Art.

All pictures from the exhibition are courtesy Akar Prakar Gallery.

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Muse Called Cow

The soft power of the cow was on display at the Dastkar show Inside & Outside: The Home Bazaar. Clocks, coasters, boxes and the traditional wall art – the kind and gentle creature was everywhere.

IMG20170826120206img20170826122945.jpg

IMG20170826122757

The cow is a popular muse of Madhubani,Phad and Pichchwai artists

I shut my political eye and asked the artists why the cow appears so often in their works. Phad chitrakar Prakash Joshi from Rajasthan says the cow is a happy animal. “She is calm, content. She gives you hope.” Pichchwai artist, Kamal Soni, also from Rajasthan, finds the cow inspirational. Soni’s entire household is involved in creating Pichchwai paintings, some of which are remarkable pieces of grace and beauty showcasing scenes from Hindu diety Krishna’s life. “The cow is a symbol of tenderness and innocence,” he says, displaying a beautiful Pichchwai painting depicting two cows in a lotus pond.

IMG20170826122924

A close look at this Pichchwai painting, by artist Sunil Joshi of Bhilwara, revealed that the cows were playing Radha and Krishna

However, Joshi says the cow is not the only animal figure in his or other artists’ creations. Elephants, peacocks, deer and tiger also figure prominently in traditional Indian art. Each animal symbolises a mood or signifies something unique – elephants represent good fortune, deer symbolises grace and peacock beauty.

Joshi claims he can make a Phad painting on my life also. I was really tempted.Right now he is engrossed in creating a Phad painting based on the game of snakes and ladders.

IMG20170826133403

Phad artist Prakash Joshi is busy working on his version of the game of snakes and ladders. The winner attains “moksha”.

The rain adds magic to a place. You look at things longer, may be harder, and then fall for them. Like I did, for this beautiful bowl created by ceramic artist Megha Rawat.

IMG20170826164825

Rugs, mats, furniture, clay utensils, studio pottery – there were several treasures.

IMG20170826134627

img20170826134515.jpg

New dreams for balcony/terrace gardens.

IMG20170826132549

IMG20170826132457

Imagine a home full of such art. It would be a sweet one.

All photographs are by the author.


Treasures of the Masters

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi, is 63 years old. To mark its 63rd foundation day, an exhibition, Itihas, showcased  the works of some of the country’s master sculptors. What a treasure the gallery owns. On display were some of the finest works of Amarnath Sehgal, Ram Kinkar Baij, Sankho Choudhari, Prodosh Dasgupta, Shirin Jal Virjee, and more.

IMG20170521175057

The in-house curated exhibition had some magnificent sculptures and a few paintings. But I wish the exhibition was better curated. Several of the works were placed on huge wooden crates used for shipping stuff. I am not sure if it was a good idea. The huge boxes with some scribblings here and there seemed to overpower the delicate and often exquisite pieces of art.

IMG20170521174305

IMG20170521173509

My eyes did not move for a long while from Prodosh Dasgupta’s terrifyingly broken man entitled In Bondage. The bronze is a masterpiece – the man appears crushed and humiliated by poverty. His hands are missing, or have they been broken? Or have they been consumed by long years of labour? He seems to be staring at you,  almost asking, “Is that enough? Or would you take my legs?”

IMG20170521175318

I almost missed the Egg Bride by this outstanding sculptor who was inspired by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.

IMG20170521175249

The Egg Bride is another marvel that represents Dasgupta’s constant theme of evolution and genesis. The woman, shaped like an egg, is the beginning of creation. She is open and free,  naked and full.

IMG20170521175242
Egg Bride by Prodosh Dasgupta

And then I saw him. From far, I knew it is Gurudev (Rabindranath Tagore).  A closer look presented the extraordinary craft of Ram Kinkar Baij, Shanti Niketan’s famous modernist. Baij’s masterpiece captures an ageing thinker and poet, broken in parts but not shattered. Still capable of writing wonderful verse and hopeful of a new India.

IMG20170521174635

Although there were several voluptous women on display, GC Butt’s work, Toilet, took my breath away. Created more than 60 years ago, Toilet is a peep into the personal space of a woman who has finished her bath and is now probably contemplating about the day that lies ahead. Besides the  grace in form I wondered if the woman whoud have been any less arresting if she had not lifted her arm and placed it on her head.

IMG20170521172541

NGMA could hire better curators and proofreaders in the future. The past needs to be retold correctly and creatively.

All photographs are by the author.

On My Watch

ON MY WATCH: Treasures of the Masters

On My Watch

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi, is 63 years old https://www.facebook.com/ngmadelhi/photos/a.362681847129529.86598.188278384569877/1413734995357537/?type=3&theater. To mark its 63rd foundation day, an exhibition, Itihas, showcased  the works of some of the country’s master sculptors. What a treasure the gallery owns. On display were some of the finest works of Amarnath Sehgal, Ram Kinkar Baij, Sankho Choudhari, Prodosh Dasgupta, Shirin Jal Virjee, and more.

IMG20170521175057

The in-house curated exhibition had some magnificent sculptures and a few paintings. But I wish the exhibition was better curated. Several of the works were placed on huge wooden crates used for shipping stuff. I am not sure if it was a good idea. The huge boxes with some scribblings here and there seemed to overpower the delicate and often exquisite pieces of art.

IMG20170521174305

IMG20170521173509

My eyes did not move for a long while from Prodosh Dasgupta’s terrifyingly broken man entitled In Bondage. The bronze is a masterpiece – the man appears crushed and humiliated by poverty. His hands are missing, or have they been broken? Or have they been consumed by long years of labour? He seems to be staring at you,  almost asking, “Is that enough? Or would you take my legs?”

IMG20170521175318

I almost missed the Egg Bride by this outstanding sculptor who was inspired by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.

IMG20170521175249

The Egg Bride is another marvel that represents Dasgupta’s constant theme of evolution and genesis. The woman, shaped like an egg, is the beginning of creation. She is open and free,  naked and full.

IMG20170521175242
Egg Bride by Prodosh Dasgupta

And then I saw him. From far, I knew it is Gurudev (Rabindranath Tagore).  A closer look presented the extraordinary craft of Ram Kinkar Baij, Shanti Niketan’s famous modernist. Baij’s masterpiece captures an ageing thinker and poet, broken in parts but not shattered. Still capable of writing wonderful verse and hopeful of a new India.

IMG20170521174635

Although there were several voluptous women on display, GC Butt’s work, Toilet, took my breath away. Created more than 60 years ago, Toilet is a peep into the personal space of a woman who has finished her bath and is now probably contemplating about the day that lies ahead. Besides the  grace in form I wondered if the woman whoud have been any less arresting if she had not lifted her arm and placed it on her head.

IMG20170521172541

NGMA could hire better curators and proofreaders in the future. The past needs to be retold correctly and creatively.

Past lives : ”This painting is the best of my life”

Past Lives
Amrita_Sher-Gil_with_3_paintings

Young Amrita in the 1930s with some of her works. WIKICOMMONS

At age 16, Amrita Sher-Gil went to Paris to study art. It was 1929. Within three years  Amrita made close to 60 paintings and produced two outstanding canvases – Young Girls and Professional Model. Young Girls fetched her the Gold Medal from the Grand Salon, Paris’s top art event. Amrita’s sister Indira and friend Denise Proutaux were the models for this delightful painting.

Amriti_Young_Girls

Amrita Sher-gil (1913-1941), Indian, Young Girls, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

However, it is Professional Model that exhibited Amrita’s  superior talent. In Professional, Amrita portrayed a 40-year-old woman suffering from TB who struggled to survive in Paris. Amrita spent her Christmas eve painting this nude. In Amrita Sher-Gil: A Life, art historian Yashodhara Dalmia mentions what Amrita wrote to her cousin and later husband Victor Egan about this work.  “This painting is very good, (the best in my life).” Indeed it was an extraordinary piece of art from a girl who was barely 18.  “All the people whose judgement I trust told me that this painting is the best of my life and those who don’t have any knowledge about art say this is awful,” wrote Amrita to Victor. Both the works are now with the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.

professional model

Professional Model, National Gallery of Modern Art

 

Muse Called Cow

The soft power of the cow was on display at the Dastkar show Inside & Outside: The Home Bazaar. Clocks, coasters, boxes and the traditional wall art – the kind and gentle creature was everywhere.

IMG20170826120206img20170826122945.jpg

IMG20170826122757

The cow is a popular muse of Madhubani,Phad and Pichchwai artists

I shut my political eye and asked the artists why the cow appears so often in their works. Phad chitrakar Prakash Joshi from Rajasthan says the cow is a happy animal. “She is calm, content. She gives you hope.” Pichchwai artist, Kamal Soni, also from Rajasthan, finds the cow inspirational. Soni’s entire household is involved in creating Pichchwai paintings, some of which are remarkable pieces of grace and beauty showcasing scenes from Hindu diety Krishna’s life. “The cow is a symbol of tenderness and innocence,” he says, displaying a beautiful Pichchwai painting depicting two cows in a lotus pond.

IMG20170826122924

A close look at this Pichchwai painting, by artist Sunil Soni of Bhilwara, revealed that the cows were playing Radha and Krishna

However, Joshi says the cow is not the only animal figure in his or other artists’ creations. Elephants, peacocks, deer and tiger also figure prominently in traditional Indian folk art. Each animal symbolises a mood or signifies something unique – elephants represent good fortune, deer symbolises grace and peacock beauty.

IMG20170826132652

Joshi claims he can make a Phad painting on my life also. I was really tempted.Right now he is engrossed in creating a Phad painting based on the game of snakes and ladders.

IMG20170826133504

Phad artist Prakash Joshi is busy working on his version of the game of snakes and ladders. The winner attains “moksha”.

The rain adds magic to a place. You look at things longer, may be harder, and then fall for them. Like I did, for this beautiful bowl created by ceramic artist Megha Rawat.

IMG20170826164825

Rugs, mats, furniture, clay utensils, studio pottery – there were several treasures.

IMG20170826134627

img20170826134515.jpg

New dreams for balcony/terrace gardens.

IMG20170826132549

IMG20170826132457

Imagine a home full of such art. It would be a sweet one.

All photographs are by the author.


Treasures of the Masters

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi, is 63 years old. To mark its 63rd foundation day, an exhibition, Itihas, showcased  the works of some of the country’s master sculptors. What a treasure the gallery owns. On display were some of the finest works of Amarnath Sehgal, Ram Kinkar Baij, Sankho Choudhari, Prodosh Dasgupta, Shirin Jal Virjee, and more.

IMG20170521175057

The in-house curated exhibition had some magnificent sculptures and a few paintings. But I wish the exhibition was better curated. Several of the works were placed on huge wooden crates used for shipping stuff. I am not sure if it was a good idea. The huge boxes with some scribblings here and there seemed to overpower the delicate and often exquisite pieces of art.

IMG20170521174305

IMG20170521173509

My eyes did not move for a long while from Prodosh Dasgupta’s terrifyingly broken man entitled In Bondage. The bronze is a masterpiece – the man appears crushed and humiliated by poverty. His hands are missing, or have they been broken? Or have they been consumed by long years of labour? He seems to be staring at you,  almost asking, “Is that enough? Or would you take my legs?”

IMG20170521175318

I almost missed the Egg Bride by this outstanding sculptor who was inspired by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.

IMG20170521175249

The Egg Bride is another marvel that represents Dasgupta’s constant theme of evolution and genesis. The woman, shaped like an egg, is the beginning of creation. She is open and free,  naked and full.

IMG20170521175242
Egg Bride by Prodosh Dasgupta

And then I saw him. From far, I knew it is Gurudev (Rabindranath Tagore).  A closer look presented the extraordinary craft of Ram Kinkar Baij, Shanti Niketan’s famous modernist. Baij’s masterpiece captures an ageing thinker and poet, broken in parts but not shattered. Still capable of writing wonderful verse and hopeful of a new India.

IMG20170521174635

Although there were several voluptous women on display, GC Butt’s work, Toilet, took my breath away. Created more than 60 years ago, Toilet is a peep into the personal space of a woman who has finished her bath and is now probably contemplating about the day that lies ahead. Besides the  grace in form I wondered if the woman whoud have been any less arresting if she had not lifted her arm and placed it on her head.

IMG20170521172541

NGMA could hire better curators and proofreaders in the future. The past needs to be retold correctly and creatively.

All photographs are by the author.

On My Watch

Muse Called Cow

The soft power of the cow was on display at the Dastkar https://www.facebook.com/dastkarsociety/ show  Inside & Outside: The Home Bazaar. Clocks, coasters, boxes and the traditional wall art – the kind and gentle creature was everywhere.

IMG20170826120206img20170826122945.jpg

IMG20170826122757

The cow is a popular muse of Madhubani,Phad and Pichchwai artists

I shut my political eye and asked the artists why the cow appears so often in their works. Phad chitrakar Prakash Joshi from Rajasthan says the cow is a happy animal. “She is calm, content. She gives you hope.” Pichchwai artist, Kamal Soni, also from Rajasthan, finds the cow inspirational. Soni’s entire household is involved in creating Pichchwai paintings, some of which are remarkable pieces of grace and beauty showcasing scenes from Hindu diety Krishna’s life. “The cow is a symbol of tenderness and innocence,” he says, displaying a beautiful Pichchwai painting depicting two cows in a lotus pond.

IMG20170826122924

A close look at this Pichchwai painting, by artist Sunil Joshi of Bhilwara, revealed that the cows were playing Radha and Krishna

However, Joshi says the cow is not the only animal figure in his or other artists’ creations. Elephants, peacocks, deer and tiger also figure prominently in traditional Indian art. Each animal symbolises a mood or signifies something unique – elephants represent good fortune, deer symbolises grace and peacock beauty.

Joshi claims he can make a Phad painting on my life also. I was really tempted.Right now he is engrossed in creating a Phad painting based on the game of snakes and ladders.

IMG20170826133403

Phad artist Prakash Joshi is busy working on his version of the game of snakes and ladders. The winner attains “moksha”.

The rain adds magic to a place. You look at things longer, may be harder, and then fall for them. Like I did, for this beautiful bowl created by ceramic artist Megha Rawat.

IMG20170826164825

Rugs, mats, furniture, clay utensils, studio pottery – there were several treasures.

IMG20170826134627

img20170826134515.jpg

New dreams for balcony/terrace gardens.

IMG20170826132549

IMG20170826132457

Imagine a home full of such art. It would be a sweet one.

All photographs are by the author.


Treasures of the Masters

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi, is 63 years old. To mark its 63rd foundation day, an exhibition, Itihas, showcased  the works of some of the country’s master sculptors. What a treasure the gallery owns. On display were some of the finest works of Amarnath Sehgal, Ram Kinkar Baij, Sankho Choudhari, Prodosh Dasgupta, Shirin Jal Virjee, and more.

IMG20170521175057

The in-house curated exhibition had some magnificent sculptures and a few paintings. But I wish the exhibition was better curated. Several of the works were placed on huge wooden crates used for shipping stuff. I am not sure if it was a good idea. The huge boxes with some scribblings here and there seemed to overpower the delicate and often exquisite pieces of art.

IMG20170521174305

IMG20170521173509

My eyes did not move for a long while from Prodosh Dasgupta’s terrifyingly broken man entitled In Bondage. The bronze is a masterpiece – the man appears crushed and humiliated by poverty. His hands are missing, or have they been broken? Or have they been consumed by long years of labour? He seems to be staring at you,  almost asking, “Is that enough? Or would you take my legs?”

IMG20170521175318

I almost missed the Egg Bride by this outstanding sculptor who was inspired by Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.

IMG20170521175249

The Egg Bride is another marvel that represents Dasgupta’s constant theme of evolution and genesis. The woman, shaped like an egg, is the beginning of creation. She is open and free,  naked and full.

IMG20170521175242
Egg Bride by Prodosh Dasgupta

And then I saw him. From far, I knew it is Gurudev (Rabindranath Tagore).  A closer look presented the extraordinary craft of Ram Kinkar Baij, Shanti Niketan’s famous modernist. Baij’s masterpiece captures an ageing thinker and poet, broken in parts but not shattered. Still capable of writing wonderful verse and hopeful of a new India.

IMG20170521174635

Although there were several voluptous women on display, GC Butt’s work, Toilet, took my breath away. Created more than 60 years ago, Toilet is a peep into the personal space of a woman who has finished her bath and is now probably contemplating about the day that lies ahead. Besides the  grace in form I wondered if the woman whoud have been any less arresting if she had not lifted her arm and placed it on her head.

IMG20170521172541

NGMA could hire better curators and proofreaders in the future. The past needs to be retold correctly and creatively.

All photographs are by the author.

On My Watch

Picasso, Marie-Thérèse Walter & the Blind Bull

Past Lives, Uncategorized

Marie-Thérèse Walter was just 17 when a 40-plus Picasso spotted her in a metro and lured her to his studio. The relationship lasted for close to a decade, stirring Picasso to create some of the most erotic and sensitive works. Picasso drew and painted Marie-Thérèse consistently, often presenting her as a child who was not always innocent.

marie

A look at the Vollard Suite (a collection of 100 etchings Picasso did in the 1930s)  displays his passion for this classical beauty. In some of the etchings she is a sleeping beauty, in some others an enchantress, in a few a child guide and in many a passive lover.

minotaur2

Minotaur with a Goblet in His Hand and a Young Woman.

The most touching  among the etchings are those where she appears along with a Minotaur (a man with a face of a bull).  In Minotaure caressant du Mufle la Main d’une Dormeuse (Bloch 201), the Minotaur is presented as a gentle lover, careful not to disturb the sleeping beauty but desperate to find out what she is dreaming about.

Close to 15 etchings in this collection trace the journey of the Minotaur, from a powerful predator to a helpless, blind beast.

minotaur1

Blind Minotaur Guided by a Little Girl with Flowers

Was Picasso the Minotaur? Some art historians believe so, especially when they study the series.Picasso may have sexually controlled the very young Marie-Thérèse, but may have lived in constant fear of losing her. He never married her though he continued to paint her even after their affair ended. Marie-Thérèse bore him a daughter, Maya.She committed suicide four years after Picasso’s death.

 

 

 

The living & the dead

On My Watch

 


Speck of beauty

Speck of Beauty

cropped-prakriti5.jpgA lovely naked woman rising from the waves…Florence-born Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus  (1485) is a marvellous piece of sensual and spiritual experience. An art critic says the painting depicts the moment when “Humanity is born to civilisation, and coming out of nowhere lands on the shores of nature, who welcomes and clothes it.” Birth of Venus is the beginning of civilisation.botecelli