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'Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose (1882–1966)

The San Diego Museum of Art has organized the first comprehensive traveling exhibition outside of Asia to survey the expansive repertoire of monumental Indian artist Nandalal Bose (1882'1966), considered the father of modern art in India. He is regarded as one of the stalwarts of the Bengal School Movement in Indian contemporary art.

The show titled 'Rhythms of India' features close to 100 of Nandalal Bose's finest paintings, which are executed in a variety of styles and media. It also reveals how Bose contributed to the success of India's non-violent struggle for independence from colonial rule through his close association with Mahatma Gandhi.

It was a culmination of the classical with the rural, the classical with the coarse, and the homely with the technical, which gave his art its great composure and fundamental directness. Besides learning from European art and drawing upon indigenous sources for his artistic expression, Nandalal Bose also imbibed the wash technique used by Japanese artists. These gave rise to a series of wash paintings that transformed the simple objects of everyday life into tools of powerful artistic expression.

When Abanindranath Tagore took him under his wing, Nandalal Bose learnt from him the technique of teaching art as a subject. The chance to prove his mettle in this capacity came when he was handpicked by Rabindranath Tagore to teach at the Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan.

He was one of many artists and visionaries who sought to revive the spirituality and cultural authenticity of Indian art after 50 years of colonial rule and westernization. In 1919, he became the first director of the art school at the new university founded by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in rural Bengal. Here, traditional Indian teaching methods were favored over British-style education.

His oeuvre consisted in the use of historical references, which every Indian intrinsically related to. Thus, the art he produced communicated with the spectator. Folk art was juxtaposed with classical content in such a way that it exuded spiritualism and evolved into an artistic language that was a welcome change from plagiaristic western copies. Although he admired the great European masters of that era, he was equally impressed with the works of Raja Ravi Verma as well as his contemporaries, K Venkatappa and Asit Haldar.

Perhaps the best-known works of the master are those called the Haripura panel paintings. These were a series of seventy-seven panels that were executed on handmade paper in 1938, to mark the Congress session in Gujarat and which he had painted at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi. Filled with a rare dynamism, these portraits of everyday Indian life covered every aspect of rural existence. Subjects like the humble cobbler, a tailor, a farmer or a woman milking a cow, were handled with superb artistic discipline and with the greatest economy of strokes.

Organized through a collaboration with the government of India and the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, this groundbreaking exhibition explores the crucial period of India's transition from a British colony to an independent nation through the lens of the country's premier artist of the time.

The show also marks the first time that a survey of the legendary artist's work has been permitted to leave Asia. The works on view reveal the way he contributed to the development of a new Indian art form and laid the foundation for modern visual culture in independent India. 'Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose' will be on view at the San Diego Museum of Art till May 18, 2008.

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