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South Asian Memories
the-south-asian.com 7 August 2000
Shantiniketan and the Origin of Modern Art in
By Vijay Kowshik
From L to R: Abanindranath Tagore, Nandlal Bose
Nandalal Bose who had studied under Abanindranath Tagore, founder of the Bengal School of Art, first headed the Art School, or 'Kala Bhavan', as it is known. [Abanindranath was the son of Rabindranath's older brother].
Abanindranath was instrumental in the start of the contemporary art movement in India. The political environment in India, in the early decades of the twentieth century, was charged with a nationalist spirit. The question of the time was whether to revive old art forms of the glorious past or to adopt the western techniques with the sparkle of the modern European mind, and the spectacular achievements of the west. Abanindranath was the one person who could overcome this dilemma and firmly develop his personal style. He confidently discarded the revivalist ideal but absorbed the implications of the Indian art traditions. In his personal style he easily assimilated the techniques acquired from his British and Italian teachers and he also set up an art school. One of his most gifted pupils was Nandalal Bose (1882 - 1966).
Rabindranath asked Nandalal Bose to build and head the art department at Shantiniketan in 1921. Nandalal believed in exploring the uniqueness of the Indian genius as revealed in the long tradition of Indian art. It was his firm conviction that an Indian artist must learn an authentic language, which is in harmony, and is compatible with his spirit, in order to respond to the emerging new era of art. The tension and warmth that saturated his works were a reflection of a conscious, creative personality engaged in the rigorous endeavor to evolve and project an image of Indian modernity. In a write-up on Nandalal, Rabindranath observed:
"Nandalal, I know, could not submit to … paralyzing effect of a personal manner in his progress to self-expression through art. I have long noticed a trait of self-rebellion in him. The creative power everywhere has need of this self revolt… Nandalal was urged by this continual restlessness of vitality in his creative work … His brush is ever directed to a journey beyond his own past achievement. That is truly the way to universality of creation, and endless is the road that lies ahead."
Nandalal’s mental makeup was in complete resonance with Rabindranath’s attitude. Nandalal never adhered to any particular technique or medium and continually vented his creative urge in diverse forms. Nor did he influence upon any of his students or interfere with their personal development. He also believed that an artist could not be created. A teacher of art could only assist a student-artist’s self-development. This freedom and an absence of academic rigidity certainly contributed to the emergence of talent with distinct individuality.
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