Photo Essay – Changing forms of Indian sculpture

‘Roopantar’, an art exhibition of nearly 100 sculptures, has been curated out of the National Gallery of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Experimenting with different materials such as wood, fibreglass, stone, bronze, the exhibits demonstrate a multitude of thematic explorations, from exploring the human, animals forms to delineating abstract/spiritual representations. 

The NGMA exhibition, curated in-house by the Delhi-based gallery, reflects around 50 years of modern and contemporary art practice in India. It includes some of the well-known sculptors: Balbir Singh Katt, Ramkinkar Baij, Leela Mukherjee, C. Dakshinamoorthy, Nagji Patel, to name a few. The collection is remarkable in the astonishing scale of different forms of sculptures that it covers. The sculptures stand out for their stillness and provocative nature, while the others call out the visitor’s attention for their unambiguous ‘living’ quality.

The prominence of the form of figures in the show merits an important observation related to the origins of sculpture in the Indian subcontinent, which witnessed the earliest works of “plastic art” in parts of Indus Valley. “This first emphasis on vitality of the whole figure is important, because it was to characterise almost all the later art,” according the 1962 editorial of Marg magazine, while referring to the ancient terracotta figures of the hump bull exuding a forceful expression.    

However, one major drawback of the NGMA show is the lack of context about the movement of sculpture-making in India in the time span that it covers. Why did artists make the sculptures the way they did? What kind of artistic movements or socio-political ethos of the day informed their practice? How did the form of sculpture transform over a period of 50 years? The exhibition does not answer these questions.

For example, Britain’s domination of India for 200-odd years caused a major setback to one of the world’s greatest sculptural traditions, due to the introduction of colonial education in art schools, which included: sentimental portrait sculpture, glorification of the imperialists and naturalist imitation of the Graeco-Roman models. In this context,  Abanidranath Tagore, among other artists, has made a significant contribution towards the revival of sculpture forms in India. (Marg, 1962, Volume 1)

Despite the curatorial lacunae, a walk through ‘Roopantar’ is a transformative experience, and can be summed up in the words of the Marg editorial: “The communication of the processes of Becoming of the sculptor, seem also to offer a deeper experience to the onlooker, because they call upon all the faculties in us to be alive to the processes in which the artist is engaged. And thus the aesthetic of creative sculpture opens up new areas of awareness to the tentative sensibility, deepening the inner life and thus bringing about the only kind of subtle change that is possible in art experience, the intensification of the consciousness, the enrichening of the emotion, the refinement of feeling the integration of the whole man.”

Below is an overview of the NGMA show: 

National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi         
Nagji Patel, ‘Seed’, Marble
Natraj Sharma, ‘Standing Man’, finer glass and wood 
Natraj Sharma, ‘Standing Man’, finer glass and wood 
Rajat Kumar Ghose, untitled, terracotta
Ramkinkar Baij, ‘Horse Head’, cement 
Ishwar Chandra Guota, ‘Putna Wadha’, terracotta   
R Stojadinovic, ‘Nude Girl’, bronze (left); Subhashini Puri, ‘Chasm’, bronze (right)   
R Stojadinovic, ‘Nude Girl’, bronze
S G Vidyashanker Satpaty; ‘Gopika’, copper and bronze 
M Dharmani, ‘Frustration’, marble
Narender, ‘Sculpture-1’, fibre glass 
Suman Yadav, ‘Family’, bronze 
Swaroopini Roy Shanti, ‘Man in Circle-II’, bronze
Neelam Yadav, ‘Head with the Red Nose’, stone (left);
Leela Mukherjee, ‘Figure Lifting Foot’, wood’ (right)
Leela Mukherjee, ‘Figure Lifting Foot’, wood’ (right)
Unknown, ‘Mother and Child’, wood (left);
Piraji Sagara, ‘Sculpture’, wood (centre);
Dhanraj Bhagat, ‘Cry’, wood painted (extreme right) 
Unknown, ‘Mother and Child’, wood (left)
Tapan Basu, ‘Brahma’, copper
Shashi Arora, ‘No Answer Mama’, ceramic
Panwar Goverdhan Singh, ‘Seasonal Beggar’, terracotta
Shyamal, untitled, terracotta (left);
Shashi, ‘The Budding Venus’, stoneware (right) 
S C Ahija, ‘Musician’, aluminum 
Harbhajan Sandhu, ‘Harvest’, bronze (left);
Mohini Trikha, ‘Who the Victim, Who the Slayer’, bronze (right)
Harbhajan Sandhu, ‘Harvest’, bronze
Tarak Varol, untitled, bronze
Ashok Prajapati, “Sculpture-1”, bronze
Swaroopini Roy Shanti, untitled, fibre glass
Gopal Prasad Mandal, ‘Composition-1’, wood;
Lt. Gen. Ved Prakash, ‘Sculpture No.1’, neem wood
Krishna Shresta, ‘That Far’, plaster

Alibag – a holiday destination for art lovers

It was an advertisement of an art exhibition that led me to Alibag, a sleepy coastal town south of Mumbai.

Famous for its scenic beaches and sprawling properties of the rich, Alibag is also a holiday destination for art and culture aficionados, besides being a weekend respite for Mumbai residents. I spent a day looking at — collectibles and contemporary art-works at The Guild gallery, the multi-disciplinary repertoire of artist Dashrath Patel, and a permanent showcase of Vinayak Pandurag Karmarkar’s sculptures.

IMG_0800The Guild art gallery, Alibag

IMG_0805Collectibles at The Guild

IMG_0804Collectibles at The Guild

IMG_0806The Guild courtyard

IMG_0845Dashrath Patel Museum, Alibag

IMG_0842Painting by Dashrath Patel

IMG_0831Sculptures by Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar

An elaborate brunch awaited us at Bohemyan Blue, a garden café nestled in the wilderness of Alibag. Sitting in the verandah, we gorged on a large meal, which comprised of scrambled eggs, aloo paranthas, chicken sandwich, pots of coffee, and carrot beetroot juice. It poured heavily; there were no other guests to be seen, besides a friend and myself. As we ate, we beheld the luxuriant foliage of the property, and found ourselves captivated by the stillness of Alibag.

We walked towards a patch of wild vegetation, near the café, which hosted the stay area of a dozen luxury tents for tourists. The land had a swimming pool and an al fresco restaurant, where the radio was playing. There were no listeners, however.

IMG_0765Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0771Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0767Bohemyan Blue café

IMG_0799Bohemyan Blue gift shop

IMG_0797Bohemyan Blue café

The Alibag spell was soon broken when we reached Mumbai the following night. We grabbed a table at Café Universal, one of the city’s famous Parsi restaurants. The century-old café’s charming interior was a sight of redemption amid the stadium-like boisterousness of the guests.

That night, on my way back to my apartment from the café, I thought of the early morning in Alibag. It was a little before 6 a.m., when I had woken up to the sight of palm fronds soaked in rain. The morning felt crisp and tranquil, as if I’d never been tired. The short trip made me realise what we’re missing out on by living in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and the harm they are causing us.

IMG_0756Drive around Kihim village

IMG_0761Drive around Kihim village

IMG_0859Sasawane village 

IMG_0856Varsoli beach

IMG_0852Varsoli beach

IMG_0860Varsoli beach

Shrouded in stillness, Vinayak Karmarkar’s museum of sculptures in Alibag is a surreal artistic tour

A visit to the museum of Indian sculptor Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar can be a surreal experience. Located in a sleepy, narrow lane of Alibag, a coastal town south of Mumbai, this permanent museum showcases sculptures of famous and common people, in different moods and garbs. The first floor of Karmarkar’s house has been converted into the museum, called Karmarkar Shilpalaya. The property was deserted, except for an old caretaker woman who led us into the museum.

The property’s lawns greeted us with some of Karmarkar’s works draped in plastic sheets because of the heavy monsoon. As we climbed up the stairs, we walked into a corridor lined with more than a dozen sculptures. The corridor led to a large, sunny hall housing the full collection. We spotted Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak, PC Ray, CR Das, Chatrapati Shivaji, and many members of the Karmarkar’s clan, including the artist’s “self-sculpture”.

The museum was shrouded in stillness, accentuated by the serenity of Alibag, a popular weekend getaway for Mumbai’s residents. Despite the ambient stillness, the sculptures evoked a living quality, and perhaps that is where lies Karmarkar’s mastery over the form of sculpture.

In 1964, the Alibag-born artist received the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours awarded by the central government. The award citation recognised him as one of India’s outstanding sculptors, whose repertoire includes a 14-feet high bronze statue of Shivaji in Pune.

A student of the Bombay School of Art and the Royal Academy of Art in London, Karmarkar toured Europe to study ancient and modern Western art, the citation added. His sculptures have been acquired by private collectors in England, Germany and the U.S. He died in 1967.

Despite being a well-known artist, there are only a handful of blogs about his art. A Wikipedia entry has a brief bio-data, there are no news articles either. Like its obscure location, the museum has been reduced to a tourist spot on Alibag’s map.

Here is a collection of pictures from my visit to the museum:

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