Indian Art, An Overview
By Gayatri Sinha
Rs 1,995; Pages: 238
This is an ambitious tome. To give an ‘overview’ of Indian art of the last century is not only a daunting task. It could have been disastrous, especially in a single volume, and one that is as easy on the wrist as is this one. It could merely have thrown up to the eye some shiny nuggets by the holy cows securely ensconced in the pantheon of Indian art.
Fortunately, and astutely, Sinha has chosen and briefed her contributors well. Though an aerial survey, one also gets a more intimate aperçu into both individual artists and groups. Modernity in Indian art is the motor impulse here. But one man’s ‘revivalism’ may be another’s modernity. So, what we have here are multiple modernities. If the much-vaunted Progressive Artists Group of Bombay (Husain, Souza, Bakre, Gade, Ara, Raza) is credited by some to have ushered in the vanguard of modernity in the late ’40s—on the gusts blowing in from post-war Europe—West Bengal artists like Somnath Hore and Chittaprasad were no less ‘modern’ in their depiction of the social realities of their time, their sensibilities honed by the devastating famine of 1942.
Here, there’s no one High Table of Art. Nor is modernity the Last Best Thing. From Jyotindra Jain’s insights into Kalighat pats through A. Ramachandran’s comments on Raja Ravi Varma’s marketing genius, to Rupika Chawla’s foray beyond the mythicising of Amrita Sher-Gil, Santo Datta and R. Sivakumar’s reappraisals of The Bengal School and Santiniketan respectively, the spirit of modernity imbues them all. Equally illuminating are the essays on the last three decades of art, most particularly the last one when artists went beyond the frame, into installation and more. A must-read for those interested in contemporary art as its Cinderellas—art from south India, sculpture, printmaking—have been included.