Gandhi as seen through the lens of traditional Indian artists

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West Bengal holds great importance in the life of Mahatma Gandhi as it gave him two of his most famous epithets — ‘Father of the Nation’ (by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose) and ‘Mahatma’ by Rabindranath Tagore.

Gandhi and Tagore shared a beautiful relationship despite their ideological differences. This bonhomie between Mahatma and Gurudev is stunningly captured in an intricate Sanjhi artwork by Shri Vijay Kumar Verma, an award winning artist from Mathura. This Sanjhi art piece, along with many other traditional paintings, will be a part of an exhibition in Kolkata to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The traditional art exhibition on the life and legacy of the Mahatma, curated by Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) is being jointly organised by the Bank with the Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH). The exhibition was inaugurated on July 22, 2019, by renowned artist and member of Rajya Sabha, Shri Jogen Chowdhury. The exhibition will be open for the public from July 22 to August 10, 2019, at the Central Hall of VMH.

The painting exhibition titled ‘Relive the Ideals of the Mahatma through Art’ doesn’t only provide an opportunity to the residents of Kolkata for a rendezvous with the milestone events from the Mahatma’s life but also shares lessons from his life with Indian and foreign tourists, who visit the VMH. Interestingly, the exhibition also features a Pattua painting by Smt. Mamani Chitrakar, an artist from Medinipur, West Bengal, depicting the unfortunate incident of Gandhi being thrown out of a train in South Africa, in the Pattua art form.

The exhibition is the fourth in a series of similar exhibitions organized by Exim Bank around the country to observe the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The first exhibition in the series was held in Delhi and inaugurated on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30th(Martyrs’ Day).  The second exhibition was held on the death of anniversary of Kasturba Gandhi on February 22nd at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. The third exhibition in the series was held at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, coinciding with the anniversary of Dandi March.

The exhibitions have together received more than 8000 visitors who have appreciated the paintings in traditional art forms. An art enthusiast from Sydney, Australia, Mr. Martin Coxell, remarked, “Wonderful tribute to a remarkable man,” after seeing the paintings at Pune. Mr. Nirmal Pandey, a historian from New Delhi, said, “The idea to present 12 different traditional Indian art forms on the theme of Mahatma Gandhi under one room in itself is commendable.” Mr. Naresh Gulati, an Ahmedabad-based art critic commented, “The good thing is that the works are accompanied by a narration highlighting the characteristics of the origin and style of the art forms deployed by the artists of the series, some of which are just mesmerizing for the minutiae and detail.”

The painting exhibition is unique because of the creative process that was involved. Exim Bank had engaged traditional artists from different nooks and corners of the country to develop these paintings, based on various events from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. The exhibition provides a retrospect on some historical events and highlights important lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. The artists representing 12 different traditional art forms [hailing from Dahanu in Maharashtra (for Warli painting), Kotra Sultanabad near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh (for Gond painting), Kamrup in Assam (for North East weaving), Chandanpur in Odisha (for Pattachitra painting), Srinagar in J&K (for  Papier Mache art), Triplicane in Tamil Nadu (for Tanjore painting), Mathura in Uttar Pradesh (for Sanjhi craft), Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal (for Pattua painting), Srikalahasthi in Andhra Pradesh (for Kalamkari painting), Ahmedabad in Gujarat (for Mata-Ni-Pachedi), Bhilwara in Rajasthan (for Phad painting)  and Madhubani in Bihar (for Madhubani painting)] were commissioned for the project, and developed 25 exclusive paintings for Exim Bank.

On the genesis of the idea about the paintings, Mr. Vikramaditya Ugra, General Manager, Exim Bank, said, “We shared the concept about the project and left it to the artists to develop the paintings according to their own interpretation of important events from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. All the paintings have a story to tell and the artists worked on them for over two months. The paintings reflect the vision of the common people of India, who played the most significant role in Gandhi’s journey from a lawyer to the Father of the Nation.”

On the question whether traditional Indian paintings are losing ground to modern paintings and arts across various other mediums, he said, “There is a huge global market for traditional Indian paintings. We need to market them properly. It is Exim Bank’s endeavor to provide a bigger platform to these traditional Indian art forms.”

The exhibitions are non-commercial events and the paintings on display are solely for the purpose of educating the audiences about the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, through various traditional Indian art forms.

Exim Bank believes in promoting all round development of the Indian economy and endeavors to support enterprises and artisans based out of rural areas of the country. Exim Bank has over the years supported artisans under its grassroots initiatives and market advisory services programmes, to secure domestic and export orders for their handicrafts and traditional products.

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