Sunil Janah: A Tribute

Manjari Sihare of Saffronart speaks with Ram Rahman about noted photojournalist, Sunil Janah

New York: Renowned Indian photojournalist, Sunil Janah (born in 1918 in Assam) died due to natural causes at his home in Berkeley, California in June this year. Janah, who worked in India in the 1940s, is best known for his wide coverage of the infamous Bengal famine of 1942. A member of the Communist Party of India, Janah had the fortune of sharing an amicable relationship with political stalwarts such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and M.A. Jinnah. Janah’s passing was announced to the art fraternity by his close friend and associate, Ram Rahman, via an email (copied below). Rahman, an eminent photographer himself, and the sole authority on Janah’s work, mounted a large retrospective of his work in New York in 1998 in an informal but extremely well received exhibition of 600 vintage prints. Click here for a note on this exhibition by Rahman, and his proposal for a monograph on Janah is still to be published.

I would like to thank Ram Rahman for sharing this email with us, as well as his book proposal.

Sunil Janah, at his exhibition in New York, 1998.
Photo © Ram Rahman (not to be used without full caption and credit)

Sunil Janah’s Obituary by Ram Rahman

It is with great sadness that we have to inform you that Sunil Janah, the great photographer, passed away peacefully in his home in Berkeley, California on June 21st. His wife, Shobha, passed away only a few weeks before. He is survived by his son Arjun Janah of Brooklyn, New York.

Janah was born in Assam in 1918, but grew up in Calcutta. He was educated at St. Xavier’s and Presidency colleges in Calcutta. Like so many others at the time, he had joined the student federation inspired by left wing politics. When the ban on the Communist party was lifted by the British as they supported the allied front against the fascist forces of Hitler and Mussolini, he caught the eye of the visionary General Secretary of the Communist Party, PC Joshi. Janah was a keen amateur photographer, Joshi recognised his talent and overnight persuaded him to abandon his English studies and travel with him and the artist Chittoprasad to photograph the famine raging across Bengal in 1943. The photographs by Janah published in the party journal People’s War brought him instant fame as they revealed to the shocked nation the horror of the famine. He moved with Chittoprasad to live in the party commune in Bombay, where both were intimately associated with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) and IPTA, The Indian People’s Theatre Association. Janah had become the most famous photographer in India by then and was sought out by Life magazine’s Margaret Bourke White, with whom he formed a unique friendship and working relationship in 1945.

Unlike other photographers, Janah was an active political worker whose political work happened to be photography. Because of his talent and reputation, PC Joshi happily acceded to requests from the Congress party, The Muslim League and The National Conference in Kashmir to allow him to photograph their meetings and conventions. As an insider with a political ideology, Janah’s photographs stood out for their passionate engagement, idealism and an uncompromising artistic vision. He became intimate not just with all the legendary cultural figures associated with the left in the 1940’s, but also the entire spectrum of the political leadership. His portraits of these legends stand out for their intimate and personal power. Most were published in the Party journal People’s Age.

After the political split in the Communist Party when PC Joshi was sidelined in 1947, Janah moved back to Calcutta and opened a studio. He was a founding member along with Satyajit Ray, Chidananda Das Gupta and Hari Das Gupta of the Calcutta Film Society. Satyajit Ray designed his first book of photographs, The Second Creature (Signet Press) in 1949. In Calcutta he started photographing dance and dancers making iconic pictures of Shanta Rao, Ragini Devi, Indrani Rahman and many others. He also made an extensive document on commercial assignment of the new steel mills, coal mines, power plants, railway engine factories and dams being built in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa – the great temples of the new India coming up in the 1950’s. His later documentation across India of the tribal communities, done with the anthropologist Verrier Elvin, was another landmark.

In my view, his work is the defining epic document of the last decade of the freedom struggle and the first decade of free India – the ‘Nehruvian’ years. Janah remained a committed communist till his last breadth, though not a party member. Sunil Janah had married Shobha, a medical doctor, and moved to Delhi in the sixties when she got a job here. Never very good at commerce, Janah became very bitter at his work being extensively used without payment or credit, and fulminated particularly against Mulk Raj Anand who used his pictures in Marg – pictures which educated an entire generation about India’s temple architecture and sculpture. This bitterness made him a recluse in later life and led to the huge body of work being hidden from public view for decades.

I was able to mount a huge retrospective of his work in New York in 1998 in an informal exhibition of 600 vintage prints, which created a sensation. A full- page review in the New York Times brought scores of people to the gallery, many older Indians left sobbing in tears, so moved by the history they saw. Sadly, I was unable to ever raise funds for a book and failed for years to persuade the government of India to acquire the treasure of his archive, which sits in his basement in Berkeley. The government of India awarded Janah a Padma Shree in January 2012, mistakenly awarding him the same honour which Indira Gandhi had given him in 1974. Embarrassed, the government upgraded it to a Padma Bhushan. It had not yet been presented to Janah by the Consul General in San Fransisco at the time of his death.

Sahmat pays tribute to Sunil Janah with whom we had an intimate relationship. Sahmat hosted a major lecture on his work by Ram Rahman at The Nehru Memorial Museum at Teen Murti two years ago. Janah’s photos of Gandhi featured in Sahmat’s posters during their commemoration of Gandhi and his photographs, books and pictures in People’s War were recently exhibited at Teen Murti in Sahmat’s symposium on the Progressive Culture Legacy of the PWA and IPTA in Teen Murti. Ram also presented his lecture on Janah at the Town Hall in Ernakulum, Kerala at a huge public meeting.

Sahmat will host a memorial meeting shortly.

Ram Rahman

Your E-pocket Guide to Exhibitions this July

The Saffronart team has been scuttling around to put together a handy list of exhibitions to check out this month. Some end soon, and with some others you can take your time, though we wouldn’t really recommend waiting too long. So if you’re in Mumbai, Delhi, England or the U.S. of A. this month, you know where to go.

Mumbai

Ghiberti, Lorenzo (1378-1455). Gates of Paradise. 1425-52, lost wax bronze replica from original mould with gilded patina. Guild of the Dome Association/ Museum of the Opera del Duomo, Florence, 2014. Credits: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum website

From the Exhibition The Florentine Renaissance: “The City as a Crucible of Culture”
Ghiberti, Lorenzo (1378-1455). Gates of Paradise. 
Credits: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum website

The Florentine Renaissance: “The City as a Crucible of Culture”
Where: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum City Museum, Byculla
On View Till: July 8, 2014

You don’t need to travel all the way to Florence to get a glimpse of Italian Renaissance…not this week anyway. The Bhau Daji Lad Museum has extended this exhibition which features prolific early renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti’s masterpiece, ‘The Gates of Paradise’: a work also revered by other artists such as Michaelangelo himself. The interior and permanent collection at the museum will be an added bonus to your visit.

Mansoor Ali: “Anatomy of an Unknown Chair”
Where: Gallery Maskara, Colaba
On View Till: July 31, 2014

Ever thought about chairs beyond their functional and aesthetic qualities?  Mansoor Ali’s ongoing show at the Gallery Maskara is sure to provoke you to think about much more through his installations that employ chairs as a primary medium. His five installations address several issues pertaining to politics and power play, reminding us of the effectiveness of found objects in art.

If the idea of visiting this exhibition hasn’t incentivized you enough already to make your way to Colaba, you should know that the nearby Mumbai Art Room, Sakshi Gallery and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke have ongoing exhibitions too. You could combine visiting the three galleries to make for an enjoyable, art-filled afternoon.

Amshu Chukki, Kaushik Saha, Anil Thambai, Pradeep P.P., Yasmin Jahan Nupur and Sangita Maity: “Art for Young Collectors”
Where: Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Colaba  
On View Till:
July 31, 2014

As per tradition, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke is currently hosting its ongoing exhibition, ‘Art for Young Collectors’. While each artist has a unique approach and style, all the works are connected by a similar theme: “the common trail of seepage–the flowing of one system, one suite of meanings, one realm of belief into another, creating an uneasy ecology and forever changing both in the process.”

Anirban Mitra, Arunkumar H.G., Jagannath Panda, Jitish Kallat, Manjunath Kamat, Ravinder Reddy, Shilpa Gupta, Surendran Nair, Vivek Vilasini: Group Show
Where: 
Sakshi Art Gallery, Colaba
On View Till: July 31, 2014

Don’t miss Sakshi while on your mini art excursion. This exhibition features a mix of paintings, photographs and sculptures by important contemporary artists whose works you should be acquainted with.

Anna Ostoya, Agnieszka Polska, Karol Radziszewski, Janek Simon, Rafał Wilk: “We Rather Look Back to Futures Past”
Where:
Mumbai Art Room, Colaba
On View Till: August 7, 2014

This is a unique exhibition that is presented in collaboration with the Polish Institute. The exhibits include photomontages, films and sculptures by five contemporary artists who share a common Polish background. While the artists explore the common theme of looking back and questioning the past, they each employ a unique individualistic approach. Not only does this exhibition give you the chance to learn more about Polish contemporary art, but it should also compel you to think about your own associations with the past.


Delhi

Gauri Gill, “Hall of Technology - Diptych 1”, Archival Pigment Print, 9" X 12", 2010 Credits: Vadehra Art Gallery

From the Exhibition “Invisible Cities”
Gauri Gill, “Hall of Technology – Diptych 1”, Archival Pigment Print, 9″ X 12″, 2010
Credits: Vadehra Art Gallery


Group Show: “Invisible Cities”
Where: Vadehra Gallery, D-53 Defense Colony
On View Till:  July 12, 2014

If Italo Calvino popped into your mind on reading this, you’re quite close to guessing the theme of this exhibit. “They are stories of spaces that are invisible or underground, mute spaces hidden under the bustling cover of the city. They are stories of people and their relationships, of which the artist is part of”, reads the Vadehra Art Gallery press release. Featuring well-known artists and photographers such as Atul Bhalla, Gauri Gill, Sunil Gupta, Malini Kochupillai and Asim Waqif, this group show highlights aspects of cities that may otherwise remain unnoticed. Perhaps your otherwise hectic urban life doesn’t give you the opportunity to actively observe the little details that are easily missed. Don’t miss this chance to see the work of these acclaimed artists, under a single roof.

Pradeep Puthoor: “New Paintings”
Where:
Nature Morte, Central South Delhi                                                                         When:  July 5 – August 2, 2014

Pradeep Puthoor, an artist from Kerala who has shown his works in a number of galleries across India and abroad, is featuring his new mural-size paintings in this exhibition. These paintings depict the meeting point between computer science and biological engineering, and create a space for viewers to “swim in and get lost, to drown in their luscious complexities.” The unique theme and large paintings are sure to entice a wide audience, making Nature Morte an ideal gallery to visit this July.

Raj Rewal: “Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape”
Where: National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
On View Till: July 20, 2014

Did you think you missed this show? You’d be happy to know that the NGMA has extended this exhibition, giving you the opportunity to visit it this July. This retrospective features five decades of work by renowned architect Raj Rewal. The works on display will make you see architecture as a field of visual art, as structures may otherwise be judged mostly on their functionality. Of course, Rewal’s own achievements, such as his work being featured at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, make visiting this exhibition even more compelling.

“Smart Art Cart”
Where: Gallery Espace, Delhi
On View Till: July 31, 2014

On view and on sale at Gallery Espace are a collection of works by Amit Ambalal, Rajendar Tiku, M.F. Husain, Manjunath Kamath, Owais Husain, Suddhosattwa Basu, Mala Marwah, Mekhala Bahl, Chintan Upadhyay, S.H. Raza, and Jai Zharotia, among others.

England

From the Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition of Senaka Senanayake’s works Butterflies, 2014, Oil on canvas, 122 x 182.9cm. (48 x 72in.) Source: Grosvenor Gallery Website

From the Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition of Senaka Senanayake’s works
Butterflies, 2014, Oil on canvas, 122 x 182.9cm. (48 x 72in.)
Source: Grosvenor Gallery Website

Senaka Senanayake
Where: Grosvenor Gallery
On View Till: July 11, 2014

If you’re ever at Green Park this week or the next, pop by Grosvenor Gallery to take in a tropical medley of colours, all harmoniously arranged by one of Sri Lanka’s most important artists, Senaka Senanayake. The prodigal artist has been exhibiting internationally since his teenage years. His recent work is inspired by the plight of the Sri Lankan rainforests, many of which have been subject to intense deforestation to make way for tea plantations.

Nasreen Mohamedi
Where: Tate Liverpool
On View Till: October 5, 2014

Nasreen Mohamedi is one of the most significant women artists of Modern Indian art, and a critically acclaimed one at that. Tate Liverpool is hosting Mohamedi’s largest solo exhibition in the UK. The show includes more than 50 of her works spanning paintings, drawings and photographs, especially highlighting the most significant artistic phases in her career, and runs in parallel with “Mondrian and his Studios”, exploring how she moved from the figurative to the abstract like Mondrian. Tickets for the latter include admission into the Nasreen Mohamedi exhibition.

Empire, Faith and War: The Sikhs and World War One
Where: The Brunei Gallery, SOAS
On View Till: September 28, 2014

The UK Punjab Heritage Association has organised an exhibition to remember the invaluable contribution and experiences of Sikh soldiers during the Great War. The exhibition features rare and unique finds such as unpublished photographs and drawings, newspapers and comics, postcards, works of art, uniforms, gallantry medals, and folk songs sung by wives left at home, as well as a unique album of X-Rays of wounded Indian soldiers’ injuries lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection.

London Indian Film Festival
Where: BFI Southbank, ICA, BAFTA and Cineworld cinemas across London
On View From: July 10-17, 2014

The London Indian Film Festival is back in town for its 5th edition. Following last year’s success, some of the best Indian independent films will be showing in several venues across London accompanied by talks with cinema personalities such as Santosh Sivan and Farhan Akhtar and a Q&A with film directors.  For the full programme, check the London Indian Film Festival website.

U.S.A 

From the Exhibition Gateway to Himalayan Art & The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room Photo by David De Armas Source: Rubin Museum Website

From the Exhibition Gateway to Himalayan Art & The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
Photo by David De Armas
Source: Rubin Museum Website

The Rubin Museum of Art has its eyes on the Indian subcontinent. Head there this month and combine your visits into one eventful day.

From India East: Sculpture of Devotion from the Brooklyn Museum
Where:  Rubin Museum of Art, New York
On View Till: July 28, 2014

Given the temporary closure of the Asian art galleries at the Brooklyn Museum, this exhibition allows visitor to partake from this significant museum collection. Curated by the Rubin Museum, the objects trace the development of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures to its root in ancient Indic art. On view are selections of works from various regions including Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, and Japan, which together map the wide-spread evolution of Asian art in the regions.

Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine
Where:  Rubin Museum of Art, New York
On View Till: September 8, 2014

This is one of the first major exhibitions which chronicle the origin, history and practice of the Tibetan science of healing. It brings to the viewers a visual narrative on the subject by presenting 140 objects dating from the 9th century to the present which includes manuscripts and paintings on medical practices and medical instruments. The exhibition highlights the relationship shared between Tibetan medicine and Buddhism and how it has shaped the visual arts in the Himalayan region. In addition to the historic objects is a multi-media installation which explains how Tibetan medicine is used today and allows visitor to find out personalized health information through questionnaires, making the visit informative and interactive.  There’s also a quiz online.

Gateway to Himalayan Art & The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
Where:
  Rubin Museum of Art, New York
On View Till: January 6, 2016
NOTE: Exhibit Reopening July 2, 2014

Curated by Karl Debreczeny and Elena Pakhoutova, this exhibition gives its audience an introduction to the principal concepts of Himalayan art and its cultural contexts. Visitors are welcomed by a large multimedia map of the Himalayan region which highlights the diversity in the region. This exhibition is divided into four sections: Figures and Symbols, Materials and Techniques, Purpose and Function, and Tibetan Art in Context. The centerpiece of this exhibit is the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room- a recreated model for everyone to experience. This well-documented exhibition has many learning tools making it an interesting visit for a diverse audience.

Mithu Sen: Border Unseen
Where: Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University,
On View Till: August 31, 2014

Mithu Sen’s first solo museum exhibition in the US is a massive installation in dental polymer, tracing a pink toothy line across a long prism-shaped room. This is the first of Mithu’s teeth works installed on suspended armature. The 80 feet long hanging sculpture inhabits the gallery space, its sheer scale and texture eliciting strong reactions from viewers. This monumental yet minimalist work reaffirms the artist’s exploration of the connotations of bodily materials like hair, teeth and bone in her works.

Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation
Where: National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Washington D.C.
On View Till: August 16, 2015

This iconic exhibition chronicles more than 200 years of Indian American contributions to the U.S. The 5,000-square-foot exhibition features Indian Americans’ migration experiences, working lives, political struggles and cultural and religious contributions. Highlighted artifacts include a dress worn by First Lady Michelle Obama designed by Indian American Naeem Khan; the 1985 National Spelling Bee trophy awarded to the first Indian American winner, Balu Natarajan; and Mohini Bhardwaj’s 2004 Olympic Silver Medal for gymnastics. Public programs include performances featuring Indian American art, comedy, cuisine, dance, film, television, literature and music. The exhibition will be travelling around the US for four years beginning May 2015.

There’s plenty more out there, so don’t forget to drop by our events listing page, updated each month.

Convergence: Contemporary Art from India and the Diaspora

Shradha Ramesh summates a curatorial note by Professor Kathryn Myers

New York : “Convergence: Contemporary Art from India and the Diaspora” an exhibition held at the William Benton Museum, University of Connecticut (14 October to 15 December 2013) is visual entourage of Indian Modern and Contemporary art.This exhibit encapsulated a different perspective on Indian art, with artworks dating from 1940’s to the present.

Aptly titled, the oeuvres of fifteen artists with different stylistic rendition converge under one roof. Each one of these artists set out on their own creative expedition to explore a common issue of identity and the continued power of place in the current global scenario. While inquiring the conundrums of identity and place the exhibition walked through a vast expanse of repertoire ranging from photographs to new media.

 

Image courtesy Benton Museum. Convergence: Contemporary Art from India and the Diaspora”, 2013, installation view.  William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut.

Image courtesy Benton Museum.
Convergence: Contemporary Art from India and the Diaspora”, 2013, installation view.
William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut.

A combination of emerging and internationally recognized artists adds a new visual narration.The list of artists has stalwarts like Madhvi Parekh, Waswo X. Waswo , Ravi Agarwal, Anupam Sud ,Sanarth Banerjee, Siona Benjamin, Neil Chowdhury, Sunil Gupta, Hanuman R. Kambli, Bari Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Sachin Naik, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, along with  young emerging artists such as Sujith SN, and Avinash Veeraraghavan, are ensemble of contemporary Indian art. These artists are of Indian origin, of which nine artists are from India and the rest six live and work from United States and London.

 

 

Image Courtesy: Connecticut Suresh Playing Hanuman, from the series  A Studio in Rajasthan (2007–present). Black-and-white digital  Print

Image Courtesy: Connecticut
Suresh Playing Hanuman, from the series
A Studio in Rajasthan (2007–present). Black-and-white digital
Print

Professor Kathryn Myers’s  passion and love for Indian art and culture that started in 1999, has transpired into a fine curatorial collection at the museum.According to Professor Myers, the concept “ “Convergence” emphasizes  how works of art continue to act as key avenues through which we increase our knowledge of and more fully invest in the world we inhabit.” One can experience this each of their works. Creating a strong link between Indian Art and education Professor Myer’s has played a pivotal role in compiling this collection.  Her collaboration with the William Benton Museum sowed the seeds for the first Indian Modern Art exhibit in 2004 called Masala: Diversity and Democracy in South Asian Art. The exhibit had 250 works of traditional, folk, popular, and contemporary art that filled three gallery spaces of the museum.  While “Convergence” is a contemporary sequel to “Masala” that revisits select work of the collection and also introduces audience to artists.

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