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A Heretic in Indian Art



A Heretic in Indian Art

he birth centenary of Ramkinker Baij is being celebrated this year. It is expected that art historians will write fresh scholarly treatises on the greatness of his art. There is a need to trace the genealogy of the heretical artist. His rule-breaking personality attracted other iconoclasts of his time. Shakti Chattopadhyay, the heretical Bengali poet, developed a close friendship with him. Samaresh Basu, the great creative writer, wrote a novel, Dekhi Nai Phire, based on Ramkinker’s life. Rittik Ghatak, the eminent Indian filmmaker, made a documentary on Ramkinker. Ramkinker was born in Jugipara village in the Bankura district of West Bengal on May 25, 1906. He got his early training in art from the carpenters and potters who lived in his neighbourhood. In his autobiographical reflections, he stated that he had his first art lessons from Ananta Mistri, a carpenter by profession, who used to paint pots and make clay-models of gods and goddesses. His coming to Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan in 1925 was quite accidental. The legendary editor of the famous Bengali periodical of the time, Probasi, Ramananda Chattopadhyay (who was also from Bankura), introduced him to Shantiniketan.

Ramkinker had great reverence for Tagore. He loved Tagore songs. Tagore’s initial encouragement was a turning point in his life. But, his real teacher of art in Shantiniketan was Nandalal Bose. Nandalal often differed with his disciple but he never acted as a barrier to Ramkinker’s non-conventional experiments in art.

Ramkinker had to suffer financial hardship in his career as an artist. Immediately after coming to Shantiniketan he had to earn his livelihood by doing some book illustrations. He was forced to use cheap materials in many of his sculptures. Ramkinker had made many revolutions in his artistic career. He was the first artist in Shantiniketan who did painting and sculpture simultaneously. Moreover, he first started doing oil painting in Shantiniketan. The most revolutionary thing he did here was to use models in his paintings. His ‘mastarmosai’ (teacher), Nandalal Bose, was dead against using models. He did it clandestinely. While looking back to his past, Ramkinker stated with satisfaction that his models are still alive in many of his sketches, paintings and sculptures.

Ramkinker had special fascination for capturing the rhythmic motions of toiling people in his art. His famous sculptures such as Santal Family amply bear this out. He used to take long walks into the neighbouring villages where he was at home among the santals. His free life gave a special dimension to his works of art. Ramkinker did not participate in active politics. In his pre-Shantiniketan days, he made some oil portraits of nationalist leaders during the non-cooperation movement. But, he believed in the social commitment of art in a broad sense.

Shantiniketan was instrumental in the making of Ramkinker. But, we have come to know from reflections of his close associates that he witnessed many dirty things here, even among educated people. Ramkinker’s beloved student, late Shankho Choudhury, could not mentally accept that such a great artist had to suffer so many humiliations in his life because of lack of ‘Kaulinya’ (respectable background). One can get an idea of how Ramkinker could

(Continued on p 5088)

  • (1) In the first review of this issue, the headline ‘Many Threats of a Story’ should have read as ‘Many Threads of a Story’.
  • (2) In the review entitled ‘Decentralisation and Democracy’ by Yamini Aiyar (November 25) the name of the publisher of the book (Local Democracy in India: Interpreting Decentralisation) was wrongly mentioned. The publisher is Sage Publications.
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    (Continued from p 5018)

    withstand such traumas of everyday life from K G Subramanyan’s assessment:

    So in today’s world, where many artists are as sharp and astute as bankers and handle their work with great proprietorial sagacity, Kinkerbabu is a rare phenomenon indeed. He is probably one of the lone survivors of a lost tribe, the ‘Khepa’ Bauls or the mad mystics, an artist crazy with his art, lost so much in his search as to forget both his person and his product, not concerned in the least whether it brought him name or fame or success.

    At the beginning of the 21st century,

    we hope that some young painters and

    sculptors will carry forward Ramkinker’s heretical legacy against so many odds in the age of power and money-making.



    Violence in Singur

    he intimate connection between development and violence was demonstrated by the brutality the state of West Bengal unleashed on December 2, 2006 on the protesting farmers of Singur. Their movement against the state’s land acquisition drive for the Tata small-car project reached a peak on December 1, when the fencing off of the land began in the presence of a large police force. The next day saw a further violation of human rights as the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, Medha Patkar, was “picked up by force from Singur and packed off to Kolkata”. Further accounts were provided by the Kolkata dailies. According to one, a 5,000 strong police force stormed the three villages of Beraberi, Bajemelia and Khaserberi, “entered houses, dragged out the villagers and beat them up mercilessly. By nightfall, all villages were empty of their menfolk who had run away to escape being arrested”.

    The farmers of Singur, like those elsewhere, are victims of state-sponsored “development”. The Left Front’s political strategy in implementing its depeasantisation policy is also one of “dominance without hegemony”.



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