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The house where Jamini Roy lived

The artist’s home in Kolkata is being turned into a museum to reflect his values of simplicity, creativity and universalism

Jamini Roy in his studio. Photos: courtesy DAG
Jamini Roy in his studio. Photos: courtesy DAG

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"My mother would narrate stories of her grandfather and his art. He would often tell her that the studio was his temple,” says Arkamitra Roy, great-granddaughter of Jamini Roy. She believes that the artist—a National Treasure known for his style of folklore modernism—would have been delighted to see his home in Ballygunge Place, Kolkata, converted into a museum. The house where Roy lived with his family from 1949-72, till his passing, has now been acquired by DAG to be converted into the Jamini Roy House Museum, a rare instance of a privately owned single-artist museum.

The project is still in an initial stage and the DAG team hopes to open next year, hopefully in April, around the artist’s birth anniversary. Everything will depend, of course, on the pace and scope of work.

This acquisition marks an important turn in DAG’s journey in the museum space. To take art to more people, the gallery inked India’s first public-private partnership in the arts space with the Drishyakala museum, which started in January 2019. Located within the Red Fort in Delhi, the project was a collaboration between the Archaeological Survey of India and DAG.

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In 2020, DAG set-up Ghare Baire, a museum-exhibition focused on 19th-20th century art from Bengal, in the renovated Currency Building in Kolkata. “Drishyakala was the starting point. However, we are doing the Jamini Roy House Museum on our own and that is the direction DAG is likely to take in the future in the museum space. In the course of the next few years, we plan to open a lot more museums,” says Ashish Anand, CEO and managing director, DAG.

The courtyard in which the artist would often paint
The courtyard in which the artist would often paint

There are numerous examples of single-artist museums across the world—some of the best known being the Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny, France, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico and Munch in Bjørvika, Norway, where Edvard Munch lived and worked. In India, the Amar Nath Sehgal Private Collection, located in Jungpura Extension, Delhi, displays the work and archives of the late artist, who was known for his sculptures and installations. Single-artist museums are different from the rest in their very essence—each part of the space is imbued with memories of an artist, his or her process, way of working. By seeing where iconic paintings or sculptures were created, viewers feel they are taking a piece of the work and a slice of history back with them.

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The Jamini Roy House Museum hopes to achieve that too with its design. DAG is in talks with conservation architects and designers about keeping the original building intact while creating a state-of-the-art museum interface within. The courtyard, the studio where he worked—each space will have its own character. Apart from the programming, which will keep the space dynamic, the museum will have an outreach programme to engage with the community, school and college students. A bookshop and a café are planned too.

“The family has a lot of memories and anecdotes about the space and the artist. We hope to document these over a period of time, even making research-led films with scholars and academicians on the artist, weaving in those stories. The museum is a tribute to Jamini Roy, one of the most loved and collected Indian artists the world over. Visitors from abroad would invariably take away a Jamini Roy work as a memento,” notes Anand.

The artist moved to this house from his modest Baghbazar home in north Kolkata. At the time, the Ballygunge Place neighbourhood, which is now dotted with cafés, galleries and schools, had fields and bungalows owned by the city’s commercial and professional elite. Roy built a single-storeyed structure he and his son, Amiya Roy, had designed. As the family grew, more floors and rooms were added.

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“The ground floor was reserved as a workspace for Jamini and Amiya Roy and there was a separate entrance to the private spaces on the upper floors reserved for the family. The family remembers several niches where he would sit and work—usually on the floor, or a low stool, with a simple plank as a table,” states the DAG note.

Within some of the larger rooms, Roy would display his work on wooden stools of varying heights. One of the rooms, known as the “Christ room”, displayed works from his iconic Christ series.

Illustrious personalities such as former prime minister Indira Gandhi and artist Uday Shankar visited but everyone was treated the same, offered the same wooden stools, with a sheet of paper in place of a cushion.

One of the most significant events in the Roy household was the Bengali New Year celebrations, which coincided with the artist’s birthday. “The house would be full of visitors throughout the day, all dressed in simple Indian attire, with passionate addas accompanied by tea, singara and a special sherbet,” adds the note. Over the years, the family moved out.

Now the 75-year-old house will resound with cheer and energy once more. DAG, which has a fairly large collection of Roy works and archival material, plans to create a mix of spaces where aspects of the artist’s studio and a selection of paintings will be displayed as a permanent collection. There will also be galleries for museum shows of works loaned by other institutions.

Roy’s art, drawn from the people around him, was made for the community. He wanted to democratise art by making it accessible to a wider section of people. So, not only did he keep his works affordable, he also brought the common man of Bengal—the peasant, the craftsperson, the Bauls, the homemakers, the Santhal women—into his paintings. It seems apt that now a museum will help his legacy and the values he espoused—simplicity, universalism and creativity—reach the people not just of Kolkata but around the world.

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