Review by Sarmistha Maiti
February 01, 2012


Nandalal Bose
December5-24, 2011
Akar Prakar – Kolkata, India

Nandalal Bose (December 3, 1882-April 16, 1966) is regarded as one of the pioneer exponents of the Bengal School of Art, on of the most the dedicated disciple and ardent follower of Abanindranath Tagore who formulated his own identity in the world history of Indian visual arts through his individual language establishing a hallmark in the field of art and aesthetics.  Nandalal Bose had dedicated the major years of his artistic career to Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, but after 1982, which was the birth centenary year of Bose, nobody paid heed to the fact that an individual show of his works should be curated in Kolkata. 1982 was the last time when the city of joy got the opportunity to observe Bose’s works together under the same roof. Art critic and curator Debdutta Gupta, after intense research, presents Bose’s works in the form of postcards that he had written to his family members, friends and associates, at different phases of his life.

Debdutta collected the postcards from different individuals who had received these postcards directly from Bose or may be their family members. Each postcard, which was exhibited in the show, is a personal belonging and hence no commercial association could be absolutely made with the artworks. Bose had written/painted/drawn on these postcards at different moments of his lifetime and now they are precious and immortal belongings.

The show was very carefully designed with a pattern or scheme in mind.  An extraordinary montage of miniature-sized work of art by Bose could be perceived at a single go, which turned out to be a grand experience for art aficionados to revisit history and revive the tradition. Debdutta Gupta categorised the show on the basis of different mediums used by Bose – drawing on postcard and paper, ink and brush, other medium like watercolour, mixed media, wash, calligraphy, printmaking, though primarily the show concentrated on the drawings of Bose that he used to do on postcards to send them to his kin. But eventually one might tend to mistake that drawings on postcards are nothing but scribbles and meaningless/thoughtless strokes that an artist could easily make. Well this would be a completely wrong way of looking at it. If they had not been put together in such a profuse scale on an exhibition platform, it would have never been possible to explain the importance of each postcard executed by the artist. Each work carried equal tedious and thoughtful expression as Bose could be identified in his any other work of art handling various kinds of mediums in larger scales. The same potentiality and diligence get reflected in the postcards as well. And this is the key to understand how and why the curator chose these postcards to express a complete package in showcasing an amalgamation of Bose’s different experimentations with forms, ideas, subjects and mediums of art. Strokes in ink, collage, mixed media/use of chumbu (the cone), and printmaking techniques, etc, – all became part of postcard that Bose freely dealt with without any inhibition or priority for any medium. He loved to execute in every form and medium he would have done on a bigger platform very easily on postcards as well.

The subjects he chose were immediate and close to his life and experience. Probably that is why he wanted to share it with his intimate friends and thus such live postcards came into form. Mundane tales of one’s own soil close to one’s identity which were in a way personal but at the same time holding a universal essence were mainly the expressed subjects of these postcards. A small example would be a postcard that Bose had sent to his son-in-law, Santosh Kumar Bhanja, where he depicted the lives of the local potters in pen and ink showing the detail of the process of burning clay, the outline of the furnace and the expression of the local female folk carrying those pots on their heads. Amazingly in such a miniature scale the description pictorially would be inexhaustible and flawless with every minute detail covered. That was the skill and aesthetic sensibility of Nandalal Bose. Similarly his initiative with any new device that could be used in shaping a new technique/form of art also became a part of his postcard art.

‘Chumbu’ was one such device. Chumbu is a conical shaped device quite alike cone of an ice-cream or the cone used to put mehendi on hands. Bose used this ‘chumbu’ on postcards not just to draw but to create relief drawing giving a 3-dimensional effect on paper base. Mostly he used it to depict mountains, valleys etc and as a mark of signature, he even drew ‘chumbu’ at the end of the postcard so that the reader gets every detail of how the drawing has been executed. Not only ‘chumbu’ but also in ink and brush, Bosehad executed “Taalpatar matli” (a handmade cap made of palm leaves worn by the villagers) in a postcard mentioning that he would bring one back to home when he returned. This reflects his innovative ideas in the pattern of communication that he would always follow whenever he came across something new and interesting and wanted to share it with his near and dear ones. The description in fine strokes of ink made it livelier along with the impulse of imagination that the reader/viewer of the postcard could easily perceive and enjoy. 

One of the most important sections of this exhibition was the watercolour paintings, which Bose had done for Jnandanandini Devi’s ‘Tak duma dum dum’ stories. These original watercolour paintings on paper allowed the viewers of this exhibition to go back to their childhood and turn the pages of the book they had once read as kids. The series in original was outstanding and really an experience for a lifetime. Tak duma dum dum’ water colour on paper and collage on postcard made the whole exhibition more intriguing and led it to a point of convergence that reflected the mindscape of the artist and his passionate dedication even in this miniature scale. Calligraphy on postcard was another innovation that Bose had done uniquely. It was again an unparallel experience for the viewers. In one such postcard, Bose used the seal “Chu-chin-tan” (the Chinese dignitary given to Rabindranath Tagore) on the backside that itself became a simple calligraphic design where a communication was also being generated to the person for whom the postcard was being written. Apart from these experimentations, elements of wit, mock, irony, fables in the colonial and pre-independence situation of India became very subjective of Bose’s drawings on postcards. A whole lot of such postcards were also in display in this exhibition.

A complete research of Nandalal Bose’s works in a miniature scale came forward through these postcards in this exhibition and the curator of the show, Debdutta Gupta must be applauded for this endeavour and effort to work on this subject. The Akar-Prakar team must also be appreciated for the richness of thought for allowing this show to be held in their gallery as a part of the larger cultural experience and a journey for those who would seriously love to carry this tradition forward and spread art in its real essence without biasness of market dynamics.

Drawing on Postcard