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When art supports Bengali literature

  • Christie’s upcoming New York sale marks 25 years of its presence in India
  • A part of the sale of South Asian modern and contemporary works will benefit The Library of Bengal Literature

‘Untitled (Horse)’ by Jamini Roy.
‘Untitled (Horse)’ by Jamini Roy. (Photo: Christie’s)

It’s an important year for Christie’s, which completes 25 years in India. And as part of its celebrations, it will hold its third auction of South Asian modern and contemporary art in New York next month.

Over the years, Christie’s, which stopped live auctions in India in 2017 after global restructuring, has seen significant highs, including record-setting sales for Indian modernists such as V.S. Gaitonde and F.N. Souza.

The September sale will be notable for a special fund-raiser in which art will come to the aid of regional literature. Of the 105 lots on sale, 22 belong to the Columbia University Press, donated by artists, galleries and collectors to support a new bilingual project called The Library Of Bengali Literature—an edited collection of Bengali texts translated into English, aimed at covering a thousand years. The project is the initiative of Jnanpith Award-winning poet Sankha Ghosh and Columbia university professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who are being assisted by Thibaut d’Hubert, professor of Bengali literature at the University of Chicago.

Sonal Singh, managing director, Christie’s India, says, “The Library of Bengali Literature is very much to promote and preserve Bengali heritage and the selection of artworks has been consciously chosen to represent the rich and diverse modern visual art tradition of Bengal."

The texts range from 15th century Vaishnava devotional poetry to the 1963 absurdist play Ebang Indrajit by Badal Sircar and modern prose by Abu Syeed Ayyub. The items on sale seek to capture the diverse cultural developments in undivided Bengal. There’s Jamini Roy, notable for the influence of Kalighat paintings in his works, but there will also be Haren Das’ woodcut prints, depicting vignettes from rural Bengal, and contemporary pieces by Sarnath Banerjee, Tayeba Begum Lipi and Shumon Ahmed.

The South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art sale will be held on 11 September in New York.

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