Ramkinkar Baij- A Retrospective



The Culture and Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja today inaugurated an exhaustive retrospective of Ramkinkar Baij, one of the most seminal artists of modern India. He was not only an iconic sculptor but also a painter and graphic artist. The retrospective has been insightfully curated at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), by sculptor K.S Radhakrishnan, who was also a student of Ramkinkar. Prof. K.G Subramanyan, who was also present at the inauguration and Prof. A. Ramachandran have been advisors to the curator. Shri Jawhar Sircar, Secretary, Ministry of Culture also graced the occasion.

Speaking on the occasion, the Minister said, ‘Shri Ramkinkar Baij was one of the pioneers of modern Indian sculpture. He 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 range of human suffering he saw around him led him to transform immediate facts into allegorical, symbolic and occasionally even didactic images. This gave a new thematic focus to his works, as well as an element of drama and expressive-immediacy to his execution’.

Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980) was born in Bankura, West Bengal, into a family of little economic and social standing, and grew by sheer determination, into one of the most distinguished early modernists in Indian art. In 1925, he made his way to Kala Bhavana, the art school at Santiniketan and was under the guidance of Nandalal Bose. Encouraged by the liberating intellectual environment of Santiniketan, his artistic skills and intellectual horizons blossomed thus acquiring greater depth and complexity. Soon after completing his studies at Kala Bhavana he became a faculty member, and along with Nandalal and Benodebehari Mukherjee played a pivotal role in making Santiniketan one of the most important centres for modern art in pre-Independent India. In 1970, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan for his irrefutable contribution to Indian art.

Ramkinkar’s monumental sculptures established landmarks in public art. One of the earliest modernists in Indian art, he assimilated the idioms of the European modern visual language and yet was rooted it in his own Indian ethos. He experimented restlessly with forms, moving freely from figurative to abstract and back to figurative, his themes were steeped in a deep sense of humanism and an instinctive understanding of the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Both in his paintings and sculptures, he pushed the limits of experimentation and ventured into the use of new materials. For instance, his use of unconventional material, for the time, such as cement concrete for his monumental public sculptures set a new precedent for art practices. The use of cement, laterite and mortar to model the figures, and the use of a personal style in which modern western and Indian pre-classical sculptural values were brought together was equally radical.

The retrospective includes over 350 works from various important collections including paintings, drawings, graphics and sculptures- covering about six decades of his artistic journey. The exposition is also enhanced by diverse media interventions such as photographic blow ups, digital prints, texts and video clips in an attempt to ontextualize the man and the artist in the most comprehensive manner.

The curator of the exhibition K S Radhakrishnan says “My curatorial venture aims at flagging those junctures where Ramkinkar Baij met all those who travelled before him, with him, and after him. In other words, this retrospective aims to be a context in which the post 1980s generation of Indian artists see, accept, reject, understand or misunderstand the master creator, the artist, the man, Ramkinkar Baij”.

On the occasion of this retrospective exhibition, NGMA is honoured to bring out a number of significant publications ‘Ramkinkar Baij’ by Prof. R. Siva Kumar, being brought out in collaboration with the Delhi Art Gallery, ‘My Days with Ramkinkar’ translated by Ms. Bhaswati Ghosh originally authored by Mr. Somendranath Bandhapadhyaya being brought out in collaboration with Niyogi Books, ‘Ramkinkar’s Yaksha Yakshi’ by Mr. K.S Radhakrishnan brought out by the Musui Art Foundation and supported by Aakar Prakar and Navya Gallery, ‘Ramkinkar Straight from Life’ by Mr. Johnny M.L brought out by the Musui Art Foundation.

Besides these extremely well illustrated productions the NGMA is delighted to publish two comprehensive books on Ramkinkar that provide a holistic view of Ramkinkar the man and the artist. ‘Ramkinkar and his Work’ authored by Prof. K.G Subramanyan and ‘Ramkinkar: The Man and the Artist’ authored by Prof. A. Ramachandran. The NGMA has also produced three portfolios drawn from the repertoire of watercolour, oil and graphic works of Ramkinkar Baij.

“I on behalf of the NGMA am extremely delighted to present the retrospective exhibition of Ramkinkar Baij, a bold and daring creative personality. Perceived as a bohemian, he has been the subject of much mythification. His powerful experimentations, ranging from the representational to the abstract have inspired generations of younger artists.

The exhibition sheds light on an enlightened and creative soul who was more of a Fakir and a wanderer and through his work represents the larger-than-life persona of the artist and his creative genius.” Says Prof. Rajeev Lochan, Director, National Gallery of Modern Art.

This is the ninth retrospective exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Modern Art as part of an endeavor to showcase the lifetime achievements of artists whose contributions in the field of art are outstanding. This year NGMA had organized the retrospective exhibition of prominent modern artist – K.K Hebbar and now of Ramkinkar Baij.

The exhibition will subsequently travel to its regional centers at Mumbai and Bengaluru.

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