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Who made Indian Art Modern?

Falguni Chakraborty
04/01/2017 0 0

The Bengal School of Art emerged in 1950s Bengal, specifically Kolkata and Santiniketan as an avant garde movement, establishing itself along the lines of the Indian freedom struggle and all its basic elements like Swadeshi movement (self-sufficiency in production), non-cooperation with foreigners, self-governance, unity of all Indians against foreigners, among many others. As a result, artists like Abanindranath Tagore, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandlal Bose, Asit Kumar Haldar, M.A.R Chughtai, Bireswar Sen, Debi Prasad Roychoudhury devised new methods of envisioning an independent India that would derive its strength from the rich cultural and historical heritage that it holds and from ideological and metaphysical traditions elsewhere in the world, not being restricted to the European understanding of modernity and progress. Europeans like E.B. Havell who were sensitive to the cause also catalysed the growth of Bengal school of Art by providing them a base to function within the Calcutta school of Art.

Talking in terms of art theory, the paintings of Bengal school of art are characterized by a redefining of historical Indian art styles, especially the Rajput and Mughal miniature art styles. Most artists of this group worked with watercolours, inspired to do so by the Far Eastern brush techniques and calligraphy. Indian Society of Oriental Art produced works that had definite Japanese characteristics, such as the ink and wash, actual lines in the final product, increased use of decorative floral motifs and landscape themes and the human features resembling Japanese features.

There was a very fine line between the Bengal School of Art and the Santiniketan School of Art. Kala Bhavan, the Arts school at Santiniketan established by Rabindranath Tagore in 1901, laid the basis of modern art in India. The school taught music, art and performance art ‘for the coordinated study of the different cultures’ and eventually became the symbol of harmonious coexistence of western and eastern cultures. It was meant to serve as the center for exploration and research into the vast Indian cultural heritage, but one can see influences from all over the world in the member artists’ works. The artists associated with Kala Bhavan were Rabindranath Tagore himself, along with Benode Behari Mukherjee, Abanindranath Tagore, D.P. Roy Choudhury, A.K. Haldar, Nandalal Bose, Kshitindranath Mazumdar and M.A.R. Chugtai.

Thus, Bengal School of Art became the first cohesive nationalist art group, that did not follow fixed rules of art in matter or technique, rather each followed his own calling in order to gather inspiration from any source to build the modern Indian aesthetic. The common feature in all Bengal school works, however, was the rejection of Western notions of modernity and materialism and embark on a rediscovery of the lost spirituality that was characteristic of ancient India.

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