NGMA Mumbai’s centenary celebration of Amrita Sher-gil’s birth through an exhibition of her works recreates the life one of the most powerful female voices in Indian art
–Rashmi Rajgopal

Yashodhara Dalmia next to Amrita's 1933 painting, Professional Model

Yashodhara Dalmia next to Amrita’s 1933 painting, Professional Model

The eve of 2nd June 2014 was a charged-up one at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Noted art historian and curator of the ongoing exhibition Amrita Sher-gil: A Passionate Quest, Yashodhara Dalmia, would be guiding visitors shortly through a carefully curated selection of paintings. This wasn’t an arbitrary crowd of appreciators new to Sher-gil’s art either: artists, art students, gallerists and collectors were present, eyes narrowed probingly (and knowingly).  Some were already steeped in private discussions over Sher-gil’s work, and in far more animated discussions about her life.

It’s almost a truism that interest around yesteryear celebrities generates feverish discussions on a scale that those around contemporary celebrities wouldn’t.  Amrita was just the kind of person who commanded attention. It wasn’t merely because of whom she was and when she lived—she was sensational. Outspoken and forceful in her beliefs, she had a personality that couldn’t go unnoticed. She was highly individualistic, which is evident in the many letters she exchanged with her family, friends and acquaintances.

Visitors at the NGMA for the walkthrough held on 2nd June 2014

Visitors at the NGMA for the walkthrough held on 2nd June 2014

If you’re among those unfamiliar with her as a person, the artworks on display may risk coming across as a set of pretty pictures. This superficial impression is partly deflected by a neat sectioning of her works into specific periods—they show her growth as an artist. Works from the early 1930s reflect an influence of Western academicism in their composition. This would be an unfair dismissal of their potency; Sher-gil showed a unique sensitivity in her approach to her subjects, poignantly capturing their inner turmoil. Among the works on display is one referenced in R. C. Tandan’s ‘The Art of Amrita Sher-gil’: Professional Model, 1933. Quoting art critic Denise Prontaux from the Minerva of Paris,

“The memory of one of her most recent pictures still haunts me. A woman seated in a pose as unaesthetic as possible with dishevelled hair and ravaged breast and in her eye all the misery of besotted humanity! From where has this young girl learnt to see life with such pitiless eyes and this absence of illusions?”

Left: Nude Professional, 1933

Left: Professional Model, 1933

Another work, part of her model studies, was alluded to colleague and painter Marie Louise Chassany—and a possible sexual relationship with her. Though Amrita was known to have been in relationships with both men and women, she had denied being in one with Chassany in a letter to her mother in 1934:

“…I believe that it is impossible to fully transform one’s sexual desires into art, to idealize it and tranquil it through art for a whole life-time this is only a stupid superstition of the feeble brains…Marie Louise was such an abnormal type of woman…we never had anything sexual between us.”

Brahmacharis, 1937

Brahmacharis, 1937

Her colourfulness deftly transits to poignancy again. This time the viewer notices a marked shift in style. These works aren’t academic—they break away from it.  Certain works have an interesting story behind them. Brahmacharis, 1937, shows a group of young South Indian priests—presumably Iyengar—made by Amrita after her return to Simla from the South. Story goes that she got her driver to pose for her as the central character, and servants to model for her. Also part of the exhibition is her last work—an unfinished painting that was, well, unfinished, owing to her untimely death at the age of 29.

Amrita's Unfinished Work

Amrita’s Unfinished Work

For all the debate over her approach to painting, one easily overlooks how feisty she was as a person. You might have read about/heard about her famous rejection of a prize awarded to her by the Simla Fine Arts Society for a painting made by her which she considered less superior to some of her other works which the committee had rejected. It isn’t just this. She had strong views on everything: on the prevailing Bengal School trend which she utterly disdained, on people, and on the course her own art would take. This comes through clearly in her letters, only one of which is included in the exhibition. And that’s a drawback for those who don’t have Vivan Sundaram’s exhaustive two-volume monograph on Amrita which has most of her letters—they reveal a strong-willed, highly intelligent and ambitious young woman who could have gone on to achieving much more had she lived.

A letter from Amrita dating to 1932

A letter from Amrita dating to 1932

That said, the exhibition definitely must be attended. These are works to be seen and experienced in person, so head to the NGMA before the end of this month.

Experiments with Truth: Atul Dodiya

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Atul Dodiya’s current exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. 

New York: Atul Dodiya, is one of India’s leading and most significant contemporary artists. His solo exhibition ‘ Experiments with Truth’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, curated by cultural theorist and poet Ranjit Hoskote, brings together for the first time over 80 works by the artist over his prolific career from 1981-2013. It will also show works made by the artist during his time as a student at the J. J. School of Art in the early 1980’s.

Atul Dodiya at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi<br />Image Source:

Atul Dodiya at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
Image Source:

The exhibition highlights Dodiya’s versatile artistic practice as he experiments, embraces and explores with various mediums- oil, acrylic, watercolor, mixed media works, sculpture installations, assemblages and photography. His tendency to work with different media and refusing to stick to a homogenous style is distinctive of Dodiya’s work. It is this ability of working across various mediums and juxtaposing Western art history and popular Indian culture through his work, that marks his oeuvre and makes him one of the most sort after and distinguished contemporary artists in India.

Dadagiri, 1998. Oil, acrylic and marble dust on canvas.<br />Image Source:

Dadagiri, 1998. Oil, acrylic and marble dust on canvas.
Image Source:

The audience is confronted with a variety of forms and mediums capturing the contrasting nature of change. Dodiya being highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy puts the exhibition in perspective and forms an invisible string connecting the political, cultural and spiritual contexts in his expansive work. Atul Dodiya’s own artistic journey has been considered as constant experiments with the ‘truth’.

Strong influences of artists such as Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Tyeb Mehta, Gerhard Richter and Bhupen Khakhar can be traced in Atul Dodiya’s art. Works by these masters will also be on display as reference points, enabling the visitor to comprehend Dodiya’s work more effectively.

Atul Dodiya pursued his bachelors of Fine Arts from Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai. He furthered his academic training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1991 to 1992 subsequent to a scholarship awarded by the French Government. He currently lives and works in Mumbai.

Jamini Roy: Journey to the Roots

Shradha Ramesh celebrates the 125th birth anniversary of Jamini Roy

 New York: The current exhibit ‘Journey to the Roots’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Delhi, evokes a sense of nostalgia. As the title notes, the exhibit celebrates the 125th centennial of Jamini Roy (1887-1972), one of India’s most celebrated 20th century artists. He is one of the pioneers of modern Indian art, who revolutionized the field and created a new visual language. A language that was more egalitarian and forthright.

I would like to quote the Cultural Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch who described the artist in the best light: “Jamini Roy’s contribution in the growth and shaping of modern Indian art is well-established and enormously significant. His artworks have a particular appeal in the popular imagination because of their strong, simple forms and vibrant colours…” His painting style is an eclectic representation of both Western training and Indian inspiration. Seeing his style one might refer to him as modern India’s outsider artist. But there is lot more to the artist and his work.

Born in Beliatore, West Bengal, his repertoire evolved from classical British academic nudes and landscapes to scenes that appropriated forms of folk and calligraphic expression.

A student of Abanindranath Tagore at Santiniketan, Calcutta, he was trained in western academic styles. He later gained inspiration from Indian epics and episodes such as the Ramayana and Mahabharatha for his two dimensional paintings. His oeuvre was also strongly influenced by Kalighat Patuas, a popular painting genre from his region. This folk painting style is linear, with bold and vibrant colors. Jamini Roy had captured the essence of this traditional Bengali style of painting and incorporated it with his own modern sensibility.

The NGMA exhibit is an odyssey through the artistic explorations of Jamini Roy’s lifetime. A mellifluous blend of modern thought with traditional themes and indigenous brush strokes, his works speak volumes.

Krishna with Cow 2, Jamini Roy

Krishna with Cow 2, Jamini Roy. Image Credit:

To read more on the exhibit click here.

Indian Printmaking Exhibition at NGMA Bangalore

Tarika Agarwal of Saffronart on an exhibition in Bangalore that documents trends in Indian printmaking over the last 100 years

Bangalore: The National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore, has organized a month-long exhibition on Indian printmaking in the city. The exhibition opened on April 28, 2013, and will continue till the end of May.

The exhibition is titled ‘Between the Lines’, and has been curated by Lina Vincent Sunish, an art historian from Bangalore. The exhibition is mainly based on Indian prints from the private collection of Waswo X. Waswo that document the trends in Indian printmaking over the last 100 years. Waswo is an artist hailing from Wisconsin, USA, who now lives in India, and has a special interest in Indian printmakers and their work.


The opportunity to view works from a private collection is bound to raise interest within art circles. Art collectors are the ones who ultimately drive the market as well as dictate future trends. When an public institution as important as the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) decides to go ahead with an exhibition displaying a private collection of Indian prints, be assured that it will be a comprehensive show as well as a learning experience.

The exhibition tells the complete story of Indian printmaking through a variety of printing techniques on display, including etchings, lithographs, woodcuts and serigraphs. Programs have been designed to help the general public as well as artists and students understand Indian history through these prints. What makes the show a ‘must-visit’ is the timeline of the collection. While some of the prints date back to 1917, the more contemporary prints count some as recent as 2012. There are about 152 works by 79 artists displayed from the collection.

This exhibition was first held at the Visual Arts Gallery of the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, which we blogged about here. It is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue titled ‘Between the Lines: Identity, Place, and Power – Selections from the Waswo X. Waswo Collection of Indian Printmaking‘.

A Jubilant Quest for the Chromatic: Gopal Ghose @NGMA

Sneha Sikand of Saffronart on the latest exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi

New Delhi: To commemorate the birth centenary of eminent artist Gopal GhoseAkar Prakar in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art, the Ministry of Culture, the Lath Sarvodaya Trust and the artist’s daughter Deepa Bose, has organized an exhibition comprising a comprehensive collection from Ghose’s body of work. Curated by Sanjoy Kumar Mallik, the exhibit includes works by the artist dating from the 1930s to the 1980s. Known particularly for his use of bright colours and sharp lines, Ghose was one of the founder members of the Calcutta Group which was founded in 1943.

Gopal Ghose’s earliest works include several sketches of the Bengal famineHe painted several landscapes during this time, but not with the idyllic imagery of a rural setting, instead shifting his attention to the plight of the people suffering due to the famine. His style of painting was reminiscent of the European Modernist tradition. The works will be on display till the 20th of January, 2013.

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