Just a few steps inside the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in the capital and an entire potpourri of art works by sculptors throw up an enchanting world of visual imageries, dotted with all things artistic and displayed with utmost sensitivity.
It is a celebration of the 63-year-long journey of the NGMA and to truly reflect its purpose, an ongoing exhibition titled “Itihaas” showcases works of art by 22 sculptors from its in-house collection. The exhibition, which began on March 29, showcases these hidden treasures for the first time.
“In conceptualizing a show from the treasure trove of NGMA’s archives we are excavating the history of NGMA’S foundation. I want to show art lovers, friends, teachers and students of art that the NGMA has works that presents the history of modernism in Indian contemporary art. These works are like milestones in the history of contemporary art,” said NGMA Director General Adwaita Gadanayak.
“These artists have given us pathways of ingenuity and innovation. They have given us a new language when you think that all of them worked in metal in 1950’s. This show ‘Itihaas’ seeks to commemorate and rearticulate the debut of NGMA through the works of artists who were finding their own pathways,” he added.
Already stunned at the magnanimity of what I saw around and at a loss of words to comprehend the larger narratives of these masterpieces, the arrival of Uma Nair (a household name in the art fraternity) comes as a soothing balm. Nair, who has written extensive texts on the works that are on display, took IANS on a guided tour of this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
The first two rooms of the old building — a historical saga in itself — exhibits sculptures and paintings and drawings by modern masters Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury and Ram Kinkar Baij. One sculpture that grabs immediate attention and sort of compels you to pause and reflect on the genius of its creator is Chaudhury’s “When Winter Comes”.
Nair and I pause right before this masterpiece. The light is dim, except for a focus on the statue. It is an overwhelming experience, the silence and the overall impact of the ambience in itself seemed to speak volumes about the artistic heritage of NGMA.
Nair said that “When Winter Comes” is a compassionate yet coherent example of Chaudhury’s love for the human form.
“The image of a common labourer sitting huddled in the cold is an expressionist plaster that draws our attention to the sense of equipoise and humble rough-hewn posture. It is almost as if when he created this work he set about reorienting and rearranging the limbs, so as to gauge the position of sitting with feet pointed towards each other.
“His abandonment of the traditional vocabulary of allegorical symbols in favour of individual poses and gestures that reveal character were innovations that brought his work into their own ideations of ingenuity and prowess.There is intense pathos as well as a direct suggestion of the inherent struggle of toil and labour in this seated figure which reflects a face that holds more than a thousand emotions,” she added.
The next room is beautifully exhibited with the works of Ram Kinkar Baij. His works on Gandhi and Tagore is a haunting walk down memory lane and brings an altogether different narrative to the fore.
All the rooms that follow are as captivating as the one that you just step out of. You come across works of Prodosh Dasgupta and I.P. Gajjar, masters in their own right, and cannot help but fathom the depth of their passion as well as dedication.
“The NGMA archives are an endless contemplation of the human condition. This celebration of 63 years refines institutional foundations and defines the fountainhead of Indian contemporary art.
“These works seem to express the revelation that we are our architects of imagination — and that through art, liberated from the constraints of conventional academism, we can discover new possibilities of both mind and spirit,” Nair mentions in one of the texts, “Genesis of a Vision,” that accompanies the exhibition.
“Itihaas” is the brainchild of Gadanayak and Nair commended his efforts in bringing these treasures on public view.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Saket Suman