June 21, 2012


Akar Prakar, Kolkata, is currently exhibiting an exhibition Works by Benode Behari Mukherjee curated by Debdutta Gupta in the gallery space (June 14-July 14, 2012). Over hundred works, including some from his student life, makes this collection a rarest one. Sarmistha Maiti reports on the ongoing show.

“It’s time to distill the purest thing and undergo a thorough re-evaluation in the art world…” Reena Lath smiled again greeting the guests that included almost the major established contemporary artists of Bengal in the gala gathering where she was co-hosting the show “Works by Benodebehari Mukherjee” (1904-1980) at her gallery Akar Prakar in Kolkata on June 14, 2012. Within as gap of around four months this gallery came up with another non-commercial show being curated by the same person, Debdutta Gupta. It was postcards by Nandalal Bose then and now it is Benodebehari Mukherjee’s nearly one hundred and eight works including some from his student life which is rarest of the collection. All these works mostly came from personal collections of individuals which both Debdutta and the Laath couple took keen initiative to place them in a chronological journey of Benodebehari’s artistic vision, temperament and work flow so that in the second decade of the 21st century, it could be a rediscovery of the maestro’s aesthetic discourse and a revival of freshness amid the cacophony of the new age art, cutting-edge art and contemporary art. And this was an inevitable reason that even without a cocktail party at the inauguration, the gallery was packed to re-visit Benodebehari Mukherjee art with birds of all feathers from the art world – artists, art lovers, curators, critics, collectors, connoisseurs and historians as well. 

A parallel exponent of Bengal School who did not imbibe the traditional pattern of execution overtly symbolic of mythological description, Benodebehari made it more simplistic with representations of his immediate surroundings. That is why he is marked with modernity in every respect from conception till execution of the work. A boy suffering from poor eyesight at an early age till his going almost blind, Benodebehari in fact hardly got any scope to play with grandeur and magnificence of imagery on the picture plane. Instead the minimalist approach with strokes of pen, brush, ink and water colour was a compulsion in his execution process to deal with his ailing situation and combat his challenge. But that became the greatness of his works evolving into a new language of art form within the Bengal School entitling a new phase in the modern art of India. This particular show brought forward the grand scale and the brilliant range of the artist’s works since childhood, Kala Bhavan phase till the end of his journey in vignettes categorizing his execution stylization in different aesthetic sectors.

As Debdutta Gupta has mentioned in his curatorial note, “Benodebehari worked on different media: tempera, watercolour, oil, woodcut, paper collage, pastel and others. He classified his forms on the basis of carefully constructed horizontal axis, vertical axis, diagonal axis and curvilinear axis.” – This interesting facet of execution has been meticulously researched by the curator to select the works including some really rare pieces from personal collection to give a vivid and lively experience to the viewers without an escape of any of this creative space on the picture plane. If the charming studies of India plant life and the artist’s close affinity and relationship with the nature is depicted in this drawings of the solitary patch of palm trees in the surroundings of Khoai region of Santiniketan where the whole series explores the artist’s solitude and loneliness deep within, the personal postcards drawn and written in various phases of his lifetime depicted the nuances of mundane reality with all his experiments with axis and lines. The postcard series presented in this exhibition marked this quality in rich and right proportions.

The style implied by BenodeBehari Mukherjee was simple but quite ideological. The mundane truths of day-to-day life was also rejuvenated through his artworks and reflection of Santiniketan – its mud huts, palm trees, cow carts and so on were recreated in the finest strokes and lines by the artist to spell a new spirit of life, joy, peace, solemnity and even death. There was an inclination towards darker lines and shades in monochromatic colour scheme mainly black and white by the artist. This had a close connection of Benodebehari losing the light and power of his sight where the colours were gradually getting blurred which were evident on his water colour compositions. The shadow of uncertainty being faced by him penetrated deep within the colourscape of his compositions. In these compositions the pattern followed by his masters and predecessors didn’t match his way of execution because he was on the verge of developing his individual language to express the same kind of emotions and affinity with subjects around him but in a different way.

The imaginary world or the world which he wanted to be in became livelier through soothing finesse that Benodebehari could create through his strokes. One could never ever doubt that the man who was rapidly turning blind was able to create such perfect lines and characteristic details without any hint of hindrance and constraint. The power of the ‘inner vision’ was something Benodebehari was naturally gifted with… but more appropriately it was his diligence and faith in creative energy that allowed him to carry on throughout his career without showing any apparent signs of loss, impairment and despair. The more ‘the silent tension’ in his works increased, the deeper faith and thirst to work more excelled in his life.

Debdutta Gupta categorized the show in the following sections – ‘ink and brush’, ‘calligraphy’, ‘pen and ink landscapes’, ‘pen and ink compositions’, ‘prints’, ‘collage on paper’, ‘tempera on paper’ etc. Each category was not just for the sake of creating a category or to represent a particular style of Benodebehari’s work but more so to follow the trail of a journey through particular pieces of artwork from an enormous range of creation, yet encompassing the spirit of journey. “For me it was a research deep within the layers of Benodebehari’s mindscape that formulated such kinds of artworks on one hand, and on the other to share and propagate this experience among the art aficionados of the City of Joy who are keen to re-evaluate the masters of Indian art in the twenty first century. I wanted the grandness to work and get evaluated in both ways,” cheered Debdutta with is Lalmohan Ganguly (Satyajit Ray’s fictitious character ‘Jatayu’) smile.  And I’m sure Debdutta won’t mind this compliment because these are the types of comparative research he has always been fond of and loved to conduct.

In the beginning I had quoted Reena Lath’s distillation process in the present scenario of art and its various dealings.  When asked that why Akar Prakar is curating such non-commercial/ not for sale shows one after the other, the answer Reena gave was prompt and precise, “Whatever we do now, it’s not going to sale in either ways. All of us are aware of the market condition. We value good art and it’s high time that we as a serious gallery should put forward something worthy and give a grand treat to our audience through those works that are easily not showcased and touched the height of timelessness. Benodebehari’s this series is one such attempt after Nandalal Bose here in Kolkata. And we intend to carry forward more of this kind of shows in the future.”