Tagore’s art school set to turn 100
Kala Bhavan of VisvaBharati, the art school in Santiniketan founded by Rabindranath Tagore, is set to turn 100. The seminal institute will start its year-long centenary celebrations with an art walk and exhibition on November 29.
“The centenary celebration will see the second edition of International Kala Mela (art fair), organised by the New Delhibased Lalit Kala Academy, taking place in Santiniketan in February 2019. Besides, an exhibition of iconic works of the Santiniketan school of art will be held at New Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) from the collections of Kala Bhavan and NGMA in the second half of 2019,” said Goutam Das, principal of Kala Bhavan.
Another exhibition of the works of contemporary students and teachers and famous alumni will travel to Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata. A series of national and international workshops will be held at the university town of Santiniketan through 2019.
Kala Bhavan is part of VisvaBharati, the central university that has the Prime Minister as the chancellor. Although art historians have not been able to determine the exact date of Kala Bhavan’s foundation for want of authoritative documentary evidence, 1919 is considered the year when the fine arts school started its journey. Kala Bhavan had such stalwarts as Nandalal Bose, Asit Kumar Haldar and Surendranath Kar as teachers during its early years and later the likes of Jogen Chowdhury.
The school is credited with introducing in India an all-inclusive visual culture, combining various forms of fine arts with crafts and blending realism with abstraction.
“Kala Bhavan’s influence on India’s modern visual art scene was more than that of the Bengal school of the early 20th century Progressive school (of Mumbai) in the post-Independence area,” said R Siva Kumar, a celebrated art historian and former principal of Kala Bhavan.
Kumar said rulers and the high-and-mighty dominated as the subjects in the visual arts of India over the past few centuries – be it Mughal and Rajput court paintings or European portraits – while the Kolkata-based Bengal school, which is credited with bringing modernism in Indian art in the early 20th century, turned to history and mythology for subjects. “Santiniketan turned to the immediate life around the artist – the space and the people around. So, we got paintings of farmers at work and sculptures of Santal labourers,” said Kumar, now a visiting professor at University of Carleton in Canada.
Other than paper and canvas, its stalwarts painted on walls and exteriors of buildings, sculpted in the midst of fields and created large murals. The school also developed its own architectural style. Students were encouraged to explore nature and collaborate with local craftsmen.
The school departed from the tradition of teaching students to be specialists and instead taught various forms to each individual – painting, sculpture, designing, architecture, murals and crafts – in a bid to develop versatility.
According to Ratan Parimoo, who headed the department of art history and aesthetics at M S University, Baroda, the foundation of Kala Bhavan consolidated the progresses of the Kolkata-based Bengal school led by Abanindranath Tagore and then expanded the horizon.
“The Santiniketan school is distinct... Santiniketan, while institutionalising India’s traditional roots, assimilated the arts of different parts of the world,” said Parimoo, an art historians.