Ramkinkar Baij colours Delhi`s spring canvas

New Delhi: The canvas of spring in the capital has been set ablaze by the colours of Ramkinkar Baij, the founding father of modern Indian sculpture, at a mega retrospective at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA).

Featuring 350 art works by the Shantiniketan-based maverick genius, the showcase was inaugurated by Culture Minister Selja late Wednesday evening. The exhibition will close March 31.

Selja, an admirer of Ramkinkar`s experimental sculptors and art depicting social realities of the Indian countryside, said the "culture ministry has sanctioned money to Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan to cast his sculptures in bronze to preserve them for posterity".

Ramkinkar, a village bohemian at heart, painted the landscape and the people around him in Bengal - capturing their strife and struggle for existence in pre-Independence and post-Independence India.

He shared a special rapport with the backward ethnic people whom he brought into his art.

A recurring motif in his art is the "tall well-built woman" winnowing and thrashing paddy - symbolsing the "mother goddess of abundance".

"Ramkinkar was a modernist with his themes well grounded in the local and the present. His work was a unique assimilation of what he took away from European art and his deep-rooted Indian sensibilities," the minister said.

She said "the range of human suffering Ramkinkar saw around him led him to transform immediate facts into allegorical, symbolic and occasionally even didactic images".

The exhibition covering nearly five decades of Ramkinkar`s life has been curated by KS Radhakrishnan, one of the artist`s student at Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan.

Divided into segments, it attempts to thread a visual narrative of Ramkinkar`s journey as a "modernist painter, sculptor and social realist" within the canvas of early contemporary Indian art.

The exhibits include his early studies of nude and the human figure, water colour compositions, tempera landscapes, oil paintings on canvas and his smaller sculptures of "yaksha-yakshi" - sets of rugged concrete and stylised bronze heads.

The monumental human abstractions in concrete like the ‘Santhal Family’ and ‘Harvester’, Ramkinkar`s signature art, have been brought in life-size digital blowups because of "transporation problems".

A section dedicated to black and white photographs documents Ramkinkar`s days as an "artist, orator and theatre personality".

"It took me four years to curate the exhibition... I had to locate the works, photograph them and digitise them for the show and publications," Radhakrishnan told reporters.

He said he had to "go from door-to-door of collectors in Mumbai, Kolkata, Baroda and Chennai to locate the art and digitise those he could not bring to the exhibition".

Several of the artist`s canvas and paper art were destroyed during his lifetime because of poor storage.

The curator, who trained under Ramkinkar between 1974-1980, the last six years of the artist`s life, said he learnt "passion and commitment from the sculptor".

NGMA director Rajiv Lochan said the exhibition, which was the 10th retrospective showcase of Ramkinkar`s art, stands out for its diversity of content and innovation.

"It chronicles the evolution of modernism in art in this country - how the unconventional can be made meaningful," Lochan told reporters.

Born in West Bengal`s Bankura district in 1905 into little social and economic standing, Ramkinkar watched local craftspeople and artisans as a boy. He began to craft small clay figures and was soon noticed by the nationalists with whom he was associated.

On the advice of publisher Ramananda Chatterjee, he joined the Kala Bhavan at Shantiniketan in 1925. He trained under Viennese sculptor Lisa von Pot, Marguerite Milward and British sculptor Bergman.

The artist died in 1980 at 70 years of age.