Cast in time

History

The first retrospective of India's pioneer sculptor Ramkinkar Baij is being held at Mumbai's National Gallery of Modern Art.

Mounting the entire retrospective of Ramkinkar Baij is going to be a nightmare for the curator," painter and art historian KG Subramanyan had once remarked. Subramanyan, a protégé of Baij, who spent his formative years under his guidance at Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, had observed how a large part of the life and work of India's most iconic sculptor remained undocumented save for a 1975 documentary by filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, titled Ramkinkar Baij: A Personality Study. "He didn't keep his works and there was very little archived of his life as an artist," he added.

So even when KS Radhakrishnan, Baij's long-time disciple and a noted sculptor himself, was handed over the responsibility to curate a retrospective on Baij by the Ministry of Culture on the occasion of Baij's birth centenary in 2006, he took five painstaking years to put it together. As many as 350 of his works, including sculptures, paintings, drawings and graphics, covering six decades of his artistic journey, constitute the exhibition that opened yesterday at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai.

Titled "Ramkinkar Baij A Retrospective", it is the first full-fledged retrospective of the artist being held at NGMA. Baij is regarded as one of India's first modernists who set the precedent for modern sculpture in the country, and has created some of the most landmark public sculptures (his sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi and the bust of Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan are considered iconic, as is the Yaksha and Yakshi sculpture outside the Reserve Bank of India, Delhi).

This is also perhaps the first time an exhibition has attempted to contextualise the works as well as the artist. "This retrospective aims to help Indian artists of the generation after Ramkinkar Baij (he died in 1980) see, accept, reject, understand or misunderstand the master creator," says Radhakrishnan. To facilitate this, the exhibition boasts photographs from personal collections capturing Baij at work and at leisure, documentations in the form of letters from his students and his preparatory notes for his monumental sculptures.

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