‘The Art of Santiniketan’ show

Kala Bhavan, the Santiniketan arts school, laid the foundations of modern art in India. The institute continues to produce some of India's finest artists. London’s Royal College of Art is holding an exhibition of at least eight etchings by the Nobel laureate, and paintings by Santiniketan masters of yore.

This unique art event will involve artists – from past and present – all associated with Santiniketan. Their works will be exhibited in London for showcasing the alluring magic of India's first art school of international repute. Looking back into the history of the Bengal School and the Kala Bhavan, the questioning of the West and the attempt to resuscitate India’s cultural identity started in early 1900. The artists who adopted this mandate belong to what is known as the Bengal School of Painting.

Among the artists who expressed themselves through the form and style of this school were Abanindranath Tagore, D.P. Roy Choudhury, A.K. Haldar, Nandalal Bose, Kshitindranath Mazumdar and M.A.R. Chugtai. Rabindranath and Gagnendranath Tagore - though allied with the school's broad goals - preferred more personal idioms, and chose to experiment with concepts like cubism and to execute paintings in strikingly modernist terms.

It was in Santiniketan that artist like Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij expressed their love for nature and its rhythms in work today recognized as pioneering. Rabindranath Tagore’s father Maehashi Debendra laid the foundation of Santiniketan (abode of peace) in the year 1863. Almost four decades later, Rabindranath started his school in 1901.

The school started functioning with no more than five students. It was, in part, a fulfillment of his father’s wishes. The curriculum comprised various aspects like music, painting and dramatic performances. The open-air school over a period of time developed into an international university and came to be known as Visvabharati where the diverse cultures of the East and the West met to strengthen the fundamental concept of cultural harmony.

By 1917 the range of his experience via travel worldwide and the restlessness of his exploration led to his concrete idea of a centre of Indian culture at Santiniketan to provide ‘for the coordinated study of the different cultures’. Participating in all the major spheres of Indian life, the institution attained a representative character and entered into an encounter with the rest of the world.

Named ‘The Art of Santiniketan’, the paintings that owe allegiance to the famed art institution are being displayed at the famous Henry Moore Gallery. Sangeeta Ahuja, a London-based art collector and exhibitor, has painstakingly collected the original works of the old Santiniketan masters - 120 works by 56 painters - ranging from old masters Tagore to young and emerging artists. She has curated the collection, with the help of Jogen Chowdhury, the noted contemporary artist and professor emeritus of Kala Bhavan, Visvabharati University.

"Santiniketan is so unique, so utterly steeped in history. This is nothing like I have done before. It's an entirely new concept - to exhibit works by painters from a particular institution. The traditional element is there of course, but you will see far more of the Western influence among the younger artists," the curator has been quoted as saying.

The artists whose work will be shown in London are divided into four categories. The ‘old masters’, whose works have been sourced from private collections in the UK, include Rabindranath Tagore himself, Nandalal Bose, Benode Bihari Mukherjee, Sudhir Ranjan Khastagir, Manishi Dey, Sunayani Devi and Gaganendranath Tagore.

They are followed by ‘contemporary masters’ - Somenath Hore, K.G. Subramanyan, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Reba Hore, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishna Reddy, Bipin Goswami, Suhas Roy and Ramananda Bandyopadhyay. In the next category are the ‘senior contemporaries’ — Nandadulal Mukherjee, Sibaprasad Karchaudhuri, Falguni Mukherjee, Prasun Kanti Bhattacharya, Pinaki Barua, and Dr Sitansu Mukhopadhyay.

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