Within DAG’s gallery at The Claridges, New Delhi, a beautifully etched scene from the Ramayana comes into view. Even though it is a black-and-white linocut, it manages to convey the lush vibrance of the forest that Rama and Lakshmana enter into with Vishwamitra, while King Dasharatha falls to the ground in sorrow to see them go. What makes this work even more exquisite to behold is the fact that it has been created by Chittaprosad. Known for his brutal visual chronicling of the suffering during the 1943-44 Bengal famine and scathing political works, hIs Ramayana series offers a different facet to his practice, even though the works remain as detailed and nuanced as ever.
This is part of the ongoing show, The World Will Go On, on view both in an online format and the physical space. It features 88 lots and 127 works of art from the pre-modern to the modern period, ranging from an untitled work by M.F. Husain about Hanuman setting Lanka on fire, Diwali by Nandalal Bose and an untitled (Bandwallas) by Krishen Khanna. There are also works by M.V. Dhurandhar, Walter Langhammer, Jehangir Sabavala, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and Jeram Patel.
It’s an interesting choice of title, a forward-looking one, perhaps, to dispel the gloom of the present times. “Everyone has gone through a tough year, facing setbacks, losses and suffering. However, the world does continue, in spite of everything, whether it is the act of living itself or the universal laws of nature,” says Kishore Singh, head of exhibitions and publications, DAG. “We need to embrace that and count our blessings.”
For the team, it has been a “delightful process” putting the works together for the show. “For instance, it was quite wonderful seeing the story develop in Chittaprosad’s series,” he says. The Ramayana series was conceived as a complete project of 17 artworks, but to the best of the team’s knowledge, it was never completed. However, in the works that exist, the storyline has been developed in great detail, be it the killing of Jatayu or even the invocation to Saraswati.
“Mid-career onwards, one saw Chittaprosad transition towards a world of and for children,” elaborates Singh. Even in his famine series or the political works, one saw a deeply embedded concern for children, often showing them coming to the city to work as labour. In the 1950s, after moving to Mumbai, he formed a puppetry group called ‘Khela Ghar’, where he would use excerpts from Ramayana and re-enact them with puppets. “Chittaprosad started the series at that point. It has very strong folk art references. And he played with black-and-white to draw out the nuances of the characters. This was something very dear to him,” says Singh about the fragile linocuts on paper.
The World Will Go On seeks to delve into the wisdom of the past and contextualise it in view of the present. There are works with a hybrid vocabulary, drawing on both European and Indian influences. The show also features early realist painters like Aroomoogam Pillay and Bengal school masters such as Kshitindranath Majumdar, Sanat Chatterjee and Ramgopal Vijaivargiya.
“The sacred and the secular are harmoniously balanced in recognition and gratitude of all that the world offers us,” mentions the curatorial note. The exhibition has been divided into six sections based on the periods and styles of the artists, and these range from epic tales from the Ramayana, the sacred feminine through the ages, the art of living through seasons, harvests, still life and cityscapes, romancing the gods, a celebration of colour and sacred iconography.
“Langhammer’s work or Krishen Khanna’s Bandwallahs have an interesting interplay. They might not be directly connected with a celebration but have a lot of positive energy,” explains Singh. “Then there is the idea of colour as emotion, healing and strength. Works by S.H. Raza, Biren De, Sohan Qadri are an example of this. They might be abstract but are pulsating with life.” Some of the works are in public view for the first time such as watercolours by Amalnath Chakladhar, two works by Natvar Bhavsar and a work by Gogi Saroj Pal. “There is also an extremely rare work by Jeram Patel. We usually see his burnt wood pieces, but this one is full of colour,” adds Singh.
The World Will Go On can be viewed at The Claridges, New Delhi, or in the online viewing room till 12 November, 2020.