India’s First Art Rebels

It was the '40s and India was on the threshold of Independence. Indians were rejecting all that was Western and embracing swadeshi in art, culture and thinking. Around this time, a group of young artists wanted to study Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh but — under the strong nationalist atmosphere — found little chance to do so. This desire resulted in the formation of the Calcutta Group in 1943 in Calcutta — India's first artist collective. Among the founding members were painter Gopal Ghosh and sculptor Pradosh Dasgupta. Their works, along with that of Dasgupta's student Sarbari Roy Choudhury, will be on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai till October 15. The exhibition is being held in association with Akar Prakar gallery and the Ministry of Culture.

The show titled "A Jubilant Quest for the Chromatic", is a collection of Ghosh's finest works in tempera, pen, ink, pastel and watercolour. The second exhibition, titled "Contours and Volumes", comprises sculptures by Dasgupta and his pupil, Choudhury.

"We wanted to commemorate the work by artists of the Calcutta Group. Incidentally, Ghosh and Dasgupta also studied under the same guru. So, to continue the guru-shishya tradition, we have showcased the work of Choudhury, who studied under Dasgupta," says Reena Lath, who has curated the show along with Abhijit Lath, a fellow member of Akar Prakar. "To tie both exhibitions together, we have included a selection of mixed media that comprises old photographs from the Calcutta Group, pictures of the artists at work, and copies of their study notes and letters," explains Lath.

Ghosh was said to have been responsive to the nuance of every blade of grass, only to depict it perfectly when he worked. While pointing to the paintings of Ajmer Fort and Madurai, drawn in the '30s, Lath says that before forming the Calcutta Group, the artist's work was more realistic. "It was later that he allowed himself to experiment," she says. Through the use of colours such as red, orange and yellow, he painted trees with the leaves of fall, green pastures, a setting sun or scenes from the rural life. Then, the almost-meditative atmosphere is broken by a set of paintings that depict riots in the city, burning with the same colours.

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