“In sculpture, the search for form is unending. If one finds form, it is music. If not, silence. You may not agree, but there is music in everything.”
Do or Die linocut by Ramkinker Baij at the exhibition
With these words (translated from Bengali), kicks off the hand-written note of Bengal’s dearest artist Ramkinker Baij (1906-1980).
From September 13 to November 2, the note will be on display at a rare solo exhibition of over 80 works by the renowned sculptor and painter at Akar Prakar gallery.
The note, on an ageing, thin, long sheet of paper, goes on to tell the reader what Baij thought about form, music and Rabindranath Tagore.
“There is another note which contains his views on eroticism - seeing it as a divine process of creation, and a third note penning his thoughts on Buddha,” says Debdutta Gupta, curator of the show.
The last time a solo exhibition of Baij’s works was held in the city was in 1975.
This show comes at a time when authorities of National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, did not keep their promise of bringing to city the major retrospective of 350 of Baij’s works curated by KS Radhakrishnan last year.
“We decided to do this show to complete the series of solo shows of Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari and Ramkinker, that we started two years back.
The latter two are students of Nandalal,” says Abhijit Lath, director of Akar Prakar.
Although not as big and prestigious, this show has its own charm and dimension.
For example, there are black and white linocuts done in early 1940s by the artist that reflect his protest against the British rule.
Among these, one has a noose hanging around a man’s neck with ‘Do or die, 1942’ written around him. A second has a fearful human face with ‘Vandemataram’ written across a band on the forehead.
Also, there are drawings and layouts of Baij’s important works like Mill Call, Fruit Gatherers and Yakshi of the Yaksha-Yakshi pair at Reserve Bank of India.
“With these, one gets in the thought process of the artist and how he planned his works,” says Gupta.
Though Baij gained recognition as a sculptor, being the first in Bengal to start experimenting with form, texture, material and structure of the sculpture, he was also producing other works, like paintings, linocuts and etchings, Gupta added.
“In 1930s and 40s, if one wanted to make a sculpture, they would choose stone, bronze or wood as the material. But Baij, inspired by artists visiting Santiniketan, went on to use materials like ‘moram’ (stones found on the riverbed), plaster and cement, which were readily found and gave his works a rugged, rural appeal,” says Gupta.
Among the large body of sculptures done by the artist, a few will be shown at the exhibition. These include a terracotta work showing a cat with a fish in its mouth, the famous cement and plasterwork titled ‘On way to Kankalitala’ and a plaster work titled ‘Mother and Child’.
“His works ultimately show how difficult life was for him and of those in his region,” explains Gupta.
The large oil painting, ‘The Lunch’, done on a 29.5x34.75inch canvas is another star attraction at the show.