Attend A Kolkata Exhibition Celebrating The Legacy Of Modernist Icon Benode Mukherjee

Benode Behari Mukherjee
Benode Behari MukherjeeVadehra Art Gallery

Benode Behari Mukherjee was a visionary artist who stands tall as a pioneer and prominent figure in the Indian Modernist movement. He was born in Kolkata and lived from 1904 to 1980. With a passion for painting and mural art, Mukherjee honed his skills under the guidance of the renowned Bengal School artist, Nandalal Bose, during his time at Santiniketan. It was there that he embarked on a remarkable artistic journey, merging various influences to create a distinctive style that transcended cultural boundaries.

Even within the creative confines of tradition in Santiniketan, Mukherjee embraced experimentation, fearlessly delving into different mediums and techniques. While his contemporaries clung to tradition, he fearlessly wielded the brush with oil paints, delving into woodcuts, murals, etchings, and collages. His thirst for knowledge extended beyond his homeland, as he eagerly absorbed the wisdom of visiting Japanese artists, mastering the art of calligraphy and Eastern wash techniques. A transformative trip to Japan in 1936 left an indelible mark on Mukherjee, exposing him to the abstract compositions of Tawaraya Sotatsu, which fueled his creative fire.

Mukherjee's artistic voice harmoniously blended elements from diverse artistic realms. The influence of Western modernism resonated within his works, as he fearlessly embraced Cubist non-figurative syntax, skillfully playing with multi-perspectival compositions and the faceting of planes. Yet, his roots remained firmly anchored in Indian art, drawing inspiration from the rich traditions of Rajput and Mughal paintings. The ancient frescoes of Ajanta and Bagh whispered secrets to him, igniting a passion for mural techniques that would shape his artistic trajectory.

His dedication to the art world extended beyond his personal practice. Mukherjee generously shared his knowledge and expertise with aspiring artists as a revered teacher at Kala Bhavan, the prestigious art faculty of Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan. Embracing new horizons, he served as a curator at the Nepal Government Museum in Kathmandu in 1947 and later imparted his wisdom at the Banasthalo Vidyapith School in Rajasthan from 1951 to 1952.

Even in the face of adversity, Mukherjee's passion burned bright. Despite losing his sight in 1958, he returned to his beloved Kala Bhavan, assuming the role of principal. His relentless spirit and unwavering commitment to his craft embodied the resilience of the human spirit, inspiring generations of artists to push the boundaries of artistic expression.

In the year 1997, to commemorate half a century of India’s independence, India’s arguably most renowned art historian and curator R. Siva Kumar curated an exhibition titled Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism. The exhibition was a watershed moment for modernism in Indian art as it brought about a hundred works each of Benode Behari Mukherjee along with those of three of the most talented and accomplished modern Indian artists, namely Nandalal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Ram Kinker Baij, and Benode Behari Mukherjee. The exhibition put the Santiniketan art movement onto the centre stage.

Decades later, R. Siva Kumar has once again curated a milestone exhibition, and this time it puts the spotlight solely on Benode Behari Mukherjee’s oeuvre. Aptly titled Scenes from Santiniketan: Benodebehari's Handscrolls, this month-long exhibition takes art enthusiasts on a captivating journey through the landscapes that shaped the renowned artist's vision.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a recently discovered handscroll painting by Benodebehari Mukherjee. This extraordinary find unveils an artistic vista of the early Santiniketan landscape as depicted by Mukherjee. Stretching an impressive 44.6 feet, this handscroll provides a unique glimpse into the artist's early career and offers a profound understanding of his deep connection with nature.

Two of the handscrolls by Benodebehari Mukherjee
Two of the handscrolls by Benodebehari MukherjeeTelegraph India

"Nobody knew about this scroll. The exhibition revolves around this new discovery that depicts various aspects of the early Santiniketan landscape."

R. Siva Kumar, in an interview with Telegraph India

The discovery of this previously unknown masterpiece, acquired by Gallery Rasa, has ignited excitement and curiosity within the art community.

Handscrolls, a distinctive format originating from East Asia, find their place of honor in this exhibition. Their elongated horizontal canvas allows for the immersive portrayal of landscapes, a concept that was relatively unfamiliar in India until the arrival of European artists during the colonial era. The exhibition highlights the transition, showcasing Mukherjee's remarkable ability to embrace the influence of East Asian handscrolls and seamlessly blend it with his imaginative prowess. All of this distinguishes him as a true visionary.

Art enthusiasts at the exhibition
Art enthusiasts at the exhibition Telegraph India

Benodebehari Mukherjee's artistic journey was intertwined with the serene surroundings of Santiniketan, a place that nurtured his creative spirit. His deep connection with nature, further inspired by his mentor Nandalal Bose, resulted in a remarkable body of work dedicated to capturing the beauty of landscapes.

"A huge part of Mukherjee's works was on nature and landscape. No other artist has devoted himself to painting nature as he had."

R. Siva Kumar, in an interview with Telegraph India

The exhibition not only showcases the awe-inspiring Scenes from Santiniketan handscroll but also offers a broader perspective on Mukherjee's artistic prowess. Visitors can revel in digital reproductions of three full scrolls, including those held by Kala Bhavana and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Fragments of scrolls, self-portraits, pages from his Chinese sketchbook, and a captivating back-lit digital reproduction of Mukherjee's ceiling mural further enhance the immersive experience.

Part of the ceiling mural by Benodebehari Mukherjee
Part of the ceiling mural by Benodebehari MukherjeeTelegraph India
Other masterpieces by Mukherjee on display at the exhibition
Other masterpieces by Mukherjee on display at the exhibitionTelegraph India

As art enthusiasts immerse themselves in the enchanting landscapes of Santiniketan at this exhibition, they bear witness to the artistic brilliance and visionary spirit of Benodebehari Mukherjee. Through his works, they traverse a realm where nature and art converge, offering a glimpse into the profound connection between the artist and the landscapes that inspired him. This exhibition not only sheds light on a previously unknown chapter of Mukherjee's career but also unveils the evolution of landscape art in India, shaped by the amalgamation of diverse artistic influences.

In a world captivated by the artistry of Benodebehari Mukherjee, Scenes from Santiniketan: Benodebehari's Handscrolls stands as a testament to the power of discovery, inviting viewers to embark on a journey of enchantment and artistic transcendence.

Scenes from Santiniketan: Benodebehari's Handscrolls

Venue: Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC)

On view till: June 20

Entry is free and open on all days except Mondays.

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