The Itihasa exhibition at NGMA, Bangalore was a revelation. It showcased the work of 22 sculptures who were the first group of modernists in Indian contemporary art. The work of Devi Prasad Roy Chowdary, Ramkinkar Baij, Sankho Chowdari, Pradosh Dasgupta, Amarnath Sehgal, etc were displayed and they gave an interesting perspective on modern art scenario in the country. Metal, wood, marble, stone the sculptures were done in various mediums-each vying with one another in precision and details.
History of Modern Sculpture
Unlike the art movement in Indian painting that began in the late 19th century and ushered in Bengal School of Art, Santiniketan School, etc the modernism of Indian sculpture began much later. Before the advent of the British, the sculpturing was purely traditional.
In the colonial period, it was influenced by European styles and popular with the nobility. There was not much deviation towards individual expressions or styles-rather it confirmed to the academic art schools and the patron’s preferences.
After the 1920s however, sculptors began experimenting. Newer styles, techniques, and mediums started getting adopted. The early modernists of this period were Deviprasad Roy Choudhury[1899-1975], Ramkinkar Baij,[1906-1980], etc.
Deviprasad Roy Choudhury
Deviprasad Roy Choudhury was influenced by the French sculptor Rodin and some of his notable works are ‘God of Destruction’,’Triumph of Labour’, ‘When Winter Comes’ etc. One of his temple sculpture ‘After Bath’ done in bronze kept in the exhibition showed great form and details.
Triumph of Labour
Photo Source: By Rasnaboy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Ramkinkar Baij was a pioneer in the realm of sculpturing. He had joined Santiniketan and initially was influenced by miniatures. Later on, he went on to pave his own path choosing to paint in oil and sculpting. Some of his notable works are ‘Lamp Stand’, ‘Santhal Family’, ‘Harvestor’ etc. 26 of his works are displayed at NGMA event like the plaster works of Yaksha, Yakshi, the bronze of Tagore, Gandhi in cement, etc.
The Santal Family
Photo Source: By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, Link
Other popular sculptors who came in 1940-1950 were Pradosh Das Gupta, Dhanraj Bhagat, Amarnath Sehgal, and Chintamani kar.
Pradosh Das Gupta was trained under Deviprasad Roy Choudhury and later under Royal Academy of Arts, London. There is rhythm and beauty in his forms. His works ‘Fallen Figure’ and ‘Twins’ are displayed at the museum. Dhanraj Bhagat another notable sculptor of the times used unconventional mediums like metal, wood, ceramic, papier-mache, etc. His styles evolved towards cubist and geometric forms. Some of his works are Standing figure and Flute player, Monarch Queen… His work ‘Standing Woman’ in copper is graceful and feminine.
Amarnath Sehgal’s ‘Cry’ is a figure depicting agony. His art is candid, impassioned and depicts human expressions vividly. Chintamani kar’s[1915-2005] work ‘Flight’ in mahogany is graceful and has traces of European influences. Though he was trained at Indian Society of Oriental Art run by Abanindranath Tagore he also studied in Paris and worked with stone, metal, vitrified clay, etc. His work ‘Skating the Stag’ won an award at the 14th Olympic exhibition in London.
Post-independence with advancements in industrialization, art mediums were impacted too. Machines and tools were integrated into the field.
Sankho Choudhury, was one such artist. He was the student of Ramkinkar Baij. He used unconventional materials; metal, planks, employed welding, etc integrating industrial tools and giving rise to abstract forms. His work titled toilet’ in marble and Two Heads are displayed at the event. Another popular artist was Adi Davierwalla(1922-75)who experimented with glass, aluminum, lead, plastic, etc. He was self-taught and his works Icarus and Man in iron are displayed at the event.
In 1970, Pilloo Pochkhanawalla was a name to reckon. She has worked with different mediums like wood, copper, steel, etc and has used scraps in her works.
Many artists over the year have contributed significantly over the years towards Indian sculpture. And some of them like the nudes of Jitendra Kumar, the works of Uma Siddhanta who was the student of Prodosh Dasgupta, the abstract works of Kewal Soniare are displayed at the event. One of my favorites is the bronze beauty ‘Win Min Than’-a Burmese beauty with flowing hair and chignon done by Shirin Jal Virjee. The model was an actress in the 1954 movie The Purple Plain.
The curated figures try to showcase the history of Indian sculpture in a concise way. So if you would like a glimpse then head to NGMA. The event is on till the end of the month.