DAG’s March to Freedom at Bikaner House in Delhi is a world within many worlds. It is a critic’s delight and a curator’s dream to behold the many synergies that one can espie. And so this critic picked up a series of Bengal beauties from the artists in this historical suite of 160 works.
Khastgir’s drawing duet
The banner at the entrance with the pair of hands curled around a burning brand belongs to the universe.It has within a philosophic paean to the poetic world of the cry for freedom.It equates in the blink of an eye the great Martin Luther King with Karl Marx and Rousseau and many other thinkers who spoke of freedom in many avenues of livelihood and domicile dictates.Bengal artist Sudhir Khastgir’s drawing is one that holds the human gaze.
It is a drawing that makes you walk in and research and examine historical and cultural contexts for the works in the exhibition even as you ask yourself questions but also pay reverence to those who fought and gave us freedom.The red flames find their own tryst with time.Graphite has a wonderful eloquence that can be strong as well as soft, it can be subtle as well as fluid and create its own charisma.
The second drawing by Khastgir shows a young man and woman walking with a flag as they lead a crowd.Watercolour and graphite become two humble materials for Khastgir to have created these seminal works as far back as 1946.Both works have an evocative air of urgency, an emotive essence of the ethos for the unspoken desire for freedom.More than anything it is the simplicity of the contours and the direct impact of the composition that holds the viewer’s gaze long after we have seen it.
Black and white wonders
Amidst the landscapes and posters and memorabilia are a series of black and white wonders that draw you into their maw. A rare and unusual beauty is the Bengal Master Chittoprosad’s Lezim 1945 ink on paper .This is a robust rendition of a group of dancers performing the folk dance that belongs to Maharashtra. Chittoprosad had a rare felicity for the perfection of contours and his handling of the human figure was one of artistic aura, to tool at this artwork is to know that only a great artist makes available an emotion through which our thoughts, absorption, or even curiosity transform.
Two charismatic woodcuts and a watercolour
The woodcut master Haren Das’s 1947 work Rural Life is yet another work that creates monochromatic magic.Das’s love for the rural idyll is rooted in the everyday symbolism of simple village folk.
The study of subject becomes important when you study this work because 1947 the year of Indian Independence we are looking at a woodcut created in the cultural fabric of an Indian idiom.Bengal School artists were trying to find their own odysseys in the many works they created. The natural surroundings and their own environs presented them ample subjects to move away from insipid academic British subjects and perfect realist studies.
India’s abstract master Biren De’s Untitled watercolour of 1946 is yet another lithe beauty. This study of boats on the river shares many qualities with a vast riverscape—not just in the horizontal bands in flat monochrome colors, but in their forms of lithe lines. In this watercolour there are no hard lines, they represent an endless depth, in which you may feel yourself floating. There’s nothing determinant, but there is tranquility and a sense of infinity, there’s the silent sonata of movement of life’s many journeys.
A great discovery as a printmaker of virtuoso calibre is Narendra Kesari Roy whose woodcut High Court from the top of the museum Calcutta 1933 is a masterpiece in clarity and compositional brilliance. The miracle is the moment in which you’re capable of seeing a topographical study of man made architecture and the punctuation of nature.In this study done in deep tones of darkness you see something beyond words, beyond language and beyond understanding. Roy’s woodcut moves you into an Arcadia of the past . This woodcut makes available an emotion through which our thoughts, absorption, or even curiosity is transformed.
Musician in cubist tones
Sunil Madhav Sen’s Musician created on canvas as far back as 1950 is a work that carries the music of melody and the tenor of rhythms.Sen had a deep understanding of cubist dynamics and it creates an all encompassing world in which there is a balance between many realms the inner and outer and the call of greater harmonies.
To look at this work is also know that the best notes of music are hidden in unfinished depths.In an uncanny way you think of an artist performing in the darkness and the work stands on its own in the light of day so many years hence.An artist paints for what it is and just behind the edges we are given a taste to savour something more in the textures that unravel.
Roy’s Musician creates a coda of the song of freedom in this curatorial exercise that has so many shades and shadows amidst its questions that tumble out through centuries.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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