Review by Sarmistha Maiti
November 15, 2013


In this epoch of gala recession when the crisis has come down to the price of potatoes and onions, how do you then tag art  – well, art was never meant for the common people… art was always for the class and not the mass… without patron no art can survive… what has onions to do with art… art market has seen the worst of recession… art is a small pocket – government has to take care of many other things… gallery owner has started a new business… O!it’s just a phase… BUT still the poor artist is not ready to give up!!!

Even in Kolkata there came a phase when almost 90 percent works were sold from one of the annual shows of the Birla Academy of Art and Culture (displayed across five floors of the gallery – one of the biggest galleries in India) sometime in the middle of the last decade… and this was not a stray incident. Almost every gallery could not believe in the figures of their sale, though the City of Joy never was the prime spot to witness the grandeur and the extravagance of art boom in its real sense. But many unexpected things did happen and many fates and fortunes were also built. Well there is a long silence now. The glitter and glamour has gone off, the craving crowd for cocktails of course don’t come for ‘chai-party’ on the inauguration day, the pseudo-intellectuals have found some other better prospect for Page 3 poses and so on… but seriousness in thought process, innovation in execution and above all origination of ideas in lieu of the contemporary context and the paranoia of the age have not stopped. There are artists in this same city who did not bow down before anything in their perception and presentation of art works, neither then; nor now. Patience and diligence helped them to continue working without giving much heed to market statistics and they continued to exhibit as well.

Few serious curators and a handful of galleries also became a part of this endeavour even in such a period of crisis and they too continue to curate and host shows if not in that frequency and making it go gaga but with a much streamlining in the selection process and presentation making it better and meaningful. “Being Black” – the solo exhibition of AmritahSen being presented by the Ganges Art Gallery, Kolkataand a curatorial venture of ManjariChakravarti (November 16- December 7) is a notable exhibition of our times which is a solid comment on this situation, our state of being, the disguise and transformation on the whole.

For AmritahSen, the anecdote of ‘black’ and its representation through a ‘black cat’ in layers of paper, collage of drawings, paper cutting and assortment of different play items and craft finally taking the form of a complete painting is both simple and complex at the same time. Fifty such works inclusive of paintings, panels and installations symbolize the collective voice for black – the black cat, sometimes as fear, sometimes as gloomy, sometimes as protest and sometimes as evil and many a time that favourite pet of mine – the little black cat which keeps me alive. And as Amritah sketches it through words in several of her panels and paintings “where there is a will/wish, there is a black cat” – the twist of the text makes the metaphor much intriguing and deeper to be interpreted and analysed. The detailing of her works is interesting and to put forward this whole set which she had started in 2010 and brought it out of the box in 2013 is also remarkable to reflect her perseverance.

“Wisdom and the World” – a show curated by eminent Art Critic and Theorist MrinalGhosh and presented by the Theatre group ‘Sudrak’ as a part of their annual event of cultural integrity and exchange is another noteworthy show of this year held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata in the last week of October. Mrinal (da) as he is always regarded in the art world was very cautious and choosy in making his final selections of the art works. Though last year he had taken big names who in fact let him down, this year he chose lesser number of artists but counted on the sincerity of their works and their expression on this particular theme specifically. Both senior artists of the town along with young contemporaries rubbed shoulders to share this platform, but the cream of the cake has been taken away by the younger lot in their 30s and early 40s – Swapan Kumar Mallick, SumanaGhosh, ShantanuMaity and Parag Roy.

As the curator of the show Mrinal (da) has clearly stated, “We ventured to present the show on the theme ‘Wisdom and the World’… to notice the interaction between the two, also to see how the contradiction between the two builds up the form in the context of contemporary social-temporal reality or some universal values.” Most of the senior artists actually followed their traditional path to convey this message mostly through whatever they usually create but for Swapan and Sumana it was like taking a leap from their earlier executions. Swapan presented a combination of nine miniature-sized drawing in pen and ink on acid-free paper as a series put together titled “I’ll still survive – Nirbhaya”. The fine strokes of pen and the minute detailing to create the thematic elucidation of horror, fear, death, tragedy and the posthumous gimmick that continues diluting the cause making it a tonic for public consumption has come out so strongly in Swapan’s art that the balance and contradiction between the world and the wisdom and its broader connotation perfectly fits into it invoking a broader vision. In Sumana’s painting as well this philosophy is strongly derived and the balance of naïve quality and mature proposition come together.

Last but not the least to be mentioned in the Kolkata-scape who still continues to host shows and bring forward some very young talents from the interiors of the districts, rural Bengal and all over India is none other but VikramBachhawat, Director and owner of the Aakriti Art Gallery. Witnessing so muchups and downs in the trade of art, Vikram too has not given up and this year also “GenNext” (the seventh edition) was held at the same time of the year in the beginning of October. The scale of the show has been lessened but not the quality. And the nine finalists selected in this edition were indeed young and innovative in their presentation giving preference to content and eventually developing it into a concept but not the other way round, thus making it meaningful rather than infusing unnecessary confusions in the name of ‘anything and everything is art… all lies in your perception…’

Come on!!! Give it a break and stop such fussy and escapist explanations in the name of art – the City of Joy is trying to revive its true nature to set cultural discourses and of course this set of sincere artists, curators, gallerists and many more who are diligently creating in silence will take art a long way and such created crisis of inflation, market gamble etc won’t make much difference for them. If artists continue to survive with taking the ‘black cat’ not as inhibition but as a part of life… good art will never die.

In ManajariChakravarty’s words, “The disguise and the transformation is complete”.