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  • 8/3/2019 From Tri Van Drum to Baroda and Back



    Shivaji K Panikkar

    "the tragic is a category which remains a possibility wherever the attempt is made to live within and

    transcend a society. (1)

    "the gap between aspiration and achievement will be a permanent feature of human life, so that tragedywill be permanently relevant to the human experience. (2)

    The (Art) Historian and Radical Movement:

    Undoubtedly, the most critically engaged and contextually grounded of the writings on Indian RadicalPainters and Sculptors Association, including those published in Malayalam periodicals is the article byAshish Rajadhyaksha in Contemporary Art in Baroda.(3) Noting that by the mid-1980s the BarodaFaculty had achieved renown as Indias premier art institution, he points out that the art community inBaroda in the 80s was diverse. Though initially set-up by the pioneer art teachers N.S. Bendre andShankho Chowdhury on modernist lines followed by K.G. Subramanian who stressed on craftsmanly skill

    development and art in relation to community had been in the helm of artistic pedagogy through the1960s and 70s; the art community in the 1980s had grown in the context of a changed artistic pedagogyand practice that stressed narrative intent and pictured locale led, among others, by GulammohammedSheikh. (4)

    Through the 1980s the Faculty drew students from all over the country and from abroad. The institutionas an art teaching and art producing location also interacted on an ideological plane with the art and theart communities at Santiniketan, Bombay and Delhi, sharing common concerns and participation.Although a few students from Kerala had been present in the Baroda Fine Arts campus through 1960sand 70s, it is noteworthy that that the artists who attempted to transform the agenda of the institution inBaroda arrived from Kerala in the late 1970s and early 80s, a point that Rajadhyaksha also makes.(5) Fewamong them who had grouped themselves under the name Indian Radical Painters and SculptorsAssociation, and functioned between 1985-89. Short-lived, and tragic in certain sense, these artists in factdid mark-out a significant difference in perspective within the existing art making and viewer-shippractices.

    Since then, particularly after the group split-up, there has been considerable doubt about its historicalrelevance. The reason for such uneasiness possibly lies in the fact that the ideological structure in whichthis movement was imagined was radically different from the kind of purely episodic movements like theProgressives, or the trend of narrative-figuration that emerged from Baroda in the 1980s. Some have hadreservations about calling their interventions in the art world a movement; and for some theirintervention appears to have been trivial, even a destructive or nihilistic aberration. I think it is incorrectto reach these conclusions, precisely because even now, the against-the-grains activities that the group

    attempted to initiate still offer the possibilities of subverting the elite practices of artists and art-making inthe context of modern India, and has redefined its purpose, particularly with regard to art institutions.Seen within its widest application, the group embodied a move to radically question systemic art practices.I feel that we need to read the effort of the Radical Collective not in terms of its location in a sequence ofa periodized art history, but rather in the broader canvas of Indian history itself. And, if one wants tojudge in our time the value of such a kind of initiative, whatever our reading of its problematicformulations or its so called anarchist trajectory, it has given from the beginning a certain consistency toan engagement of the artist with the political realm, and a particular legitimacy to its political convictions.

    Three Art Manifestoes:

    From the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, the art scene in Baroda shifted swiftly - one need to only consider

    the arguments put forward in the three important art manifestos/exhibition catalogue essays(6) thataccompanied three major art expositions/art events. The first document is the 1890 Manifesto written by

  • 8/3/2019 From Tri Van Drum to Baroda and Back


    J. Swaminathan in 1963, the second, the Place for People exhibition catalogue essay written by GeetaKapur in 1981, and the third is Questions and Dialogue Manifesto/exhibition catalogue essay of theIndian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association written by Anita Dube in 1987. These threedocuments however did not essentially originate from within the art institution at Baroda; but in morethan one way represented three distinct moments in Baroda as well as in Indias art history and

    exemplified the shifts that under-grided the art developments of these location.It is important to recognize that the three documents were written in a heroic mode, as interventionalstrategies, and distinctly engaged with avant-garde intentions that represented the particular concernsrelevant to their respective historical times. Although the 1890 manifesto is located within the artdevelopments of post-independent Indian art scene in general, the latter two had specifically and largelyevolved within the context of the art scene in Baroda (although Place for People exhibition drew artistsfrom Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta). The Question and Dialogue exhibition importantly comprised ofartists hailing exclusively from Kerala. Despite the regional/local aspect(s) of these documents, what is ofmost significance is that they articulated aspirations about and an imagination of a national space.

    The three manifestos are exemplary also in addressing the problematic of the implied collective aspiration

    for social space. However, these art movements, with the exception of the Radical collective, were hardlyinvested in any original avant-garde agenda with regard to the production-dissemination of art, and largelyaddressed only aspects of style-language or thematic innovation, not indicating a direction towardsmaking art a vital practice within the socio-politico system.

    From the early 1920s, the internationalist option in art making was sought as an alternative to, and as acritique of the Revivalist art movement. The trend saw its peak of enthusiasm and broadening offrontiers in the decade of 1950s in all the metropolises as well as in the newly established art school atBaroda. (7) One of the main issues that arose was the doubt about the validity and relevance of followingalien European modernist art styles.(8) It was so, since indigenous ideology raised questions aboutwestern orientation as being derivative, and provoked doubts about authenticity and questions of nationalcultural identity.

    The manifesto of the group 1890 declares a frontal rejection of western values in art, both ofrealism/naturalism as well as the formalist-modern internationalism. It furthermore rejects Raja RaviVarma as well as Bengal Revivalism.(9) As a polemicist writer, Swaminathan set-out an indigenistideological position, voicing a political resistance from the premise of a third world nation against theimperialist affluent West. However, the alternative that was sought privileged certain autonomy for artistsand art and declared that art for us, is not born out of a preoccupation with the human condition. we do

    not sing of man, nor are his messiahs. the function of art is not to interpret and annotate, comprehendand guide It further asserts that a work of art is neither representational nor abstract, figurative or

    non-figurative. it is unique and significant unto itself, palpable in its reality and generating its own life.(10) Placing the work of art on an elevated space above and asserting that creative process has its own

    volition and genesis, which does not conform to anticipation by man,(11) Swaminathan evokes the

    transcendentalan ideological premise aptly illustrating more than anything else his own individualsolipsistic search. At best, 1890 exhibition lent a platform for the young Baroda artists who come under itto make an entry into the art scene.(12)

    The art development in Baroda, however, through the late 1960s and 1970s displays a completelydifferent direction unlike the autonomy polemic and transcendental assertion of the 1890 manifesto. Itgrew predominantly preoccupied with figuration, history and representation of locale in particular. Suchtrends are manifest in journals such as Vrischik,(13) the exhibition catalogue New Contemporaries (1978)(14) and paintings of Bhupen Khakhar and Gulammohammed Sheikh. It is in the exhibition cataloguePlace for People that these new concerns were most powerfully articulated. Here, one is confronted withan argument that calls attention to a partisan position in relation to figurative narration in art and thepossibilities of searching for history within narrative traditions.

  • 8/3/2019 From Tri Van Drum to Baroda and Back


    The Place for People catalogue essay pointedly rejects the autonomy argument in general, keeps themodern western figuration in its heart and evokes legitimacy from the pre-modern Indian figurativetradition, and it is more than obvious that this avant-garde was a critical rejection of the transcendentalaesthetics proposed by the 1890 catalogue. It is also made evident that the designation of radicalism isdeployed against the Greenbergian formalist avant-garde and the term is defined as the most advanced

    view of change along democratic lines, for to let people come back into the pictures and tell their storiesmust indeed merit the name of radicalism. (15) Further, radicalism has been equated with a kind ofsocial art having objective partisanship with the dispossessed subjects and confirming the possibility

    of praxis. (16)

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