The mastery of KG Subramanyan, whose birth centenary falls this year : The Tribune India

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The mastery of KG Subramanyan, whose birth centenary falls this year

The mastery of KG Subramanyan, whose birth centenary falls this year

February 15, 1924 – June 29, 2016

Monica Arora

KG Subramanyan was born in rural Kerala in pre-Partition India in 1924. A student of economics, he was an active participant in the Independence movement and that resulted in his expulsion from college and even imprisonment. No wonder then that he was a vociferous influence in carving the artistic ecosphere that came to define Independent India.

Cats and Humans, 2007. Courtesy:

Emami Art

Manida, as he was known by friends and students, continued his education at Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, from where he graduated in 1948. The association continued as he was being mentored by stalwarts such as Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij. From here, Subramanyan went on to teach at the MS University in Baroda and returned to Santiniketan as a professor in 1980.

Illustration for ‘Robby’, a children’s book written and illustrated by the artist. First published in 1972 by the Graphic Art Dept, MS University, Baroda; reissued in 2008, 2019, by Seagull Books.

Owing to his versatile artistic journey from his early years to adulthood and teaching career, KG Subramanyam evolved as a thinker, writer, poet and translator. Commemorating the centenary of the prolific artist, Emami Art, in collaboration with Seagull Books and Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, has organised an exhibition, ‘One Hundred Years and Counting: Re-Scripting KG Subramanyan’, in Kolkata.

Rhino, 1962.

Made for the Fine Arts Fair between 1962/1963 and 1979; Documentation of

the toys by Indrapramit Roy.

Courtesy: Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda

The show, curated by cultural theologist Nancy Adjania, encompasses more than 70 years of his artistic practice. On display are around 200 works, including early paintings from the 1950s, gouache and reverse paintings on acrylic, interesting and unique toys that he made between 1962 and 1979, especially for the fine arts fair held at MS University, along with handcrafted mock-ups for kids’ books.

On one wall can be spotted preparatory sketches for murals; flanking these are awe-inspiring pen works on paper. Then there are postcard-sized drawings that mark his sojourns to China during the 1980s.

Spanning a range of mediums — paintings, sketches, murals, sculptures, prints, hand drawings, set designs and toys — KG has been a seminal voice in the post-Independence cultural tapestry. Reflecting cubist influences, his bold usage of colour and exploration of the female form render his creations extremely powerful, often bordering on the sensual, erotic and romantic. He drew inspiration from mythology and tradition and created an eclectic body of work featured in over 50 solo exhibitions. The artist was awarded the Padma Vibhushan as well as Lalit Kala Akademi’s National Award. In 2012, he was accorded the Medallion of Honourable Mention at the Sao Paulo Biennale in Brazil.

KG Subramanyam passed away at the ripe old age of 92 in Baroda, where he lived with his daughter.

As the show’s curator Nancy Adjania articulates, “The centenary of an artist as wide-ranging in his concerns and expressions as KG Subramanyan offers us an opportunity to reflect on the less evident aspects of his oeuvre that may have eluded sustained critical attention. It becomes vital to revisit the practice of an artist-activist like him, who taught us to address the past as a critical agent, rather than as a puppet of stifling traditions. Through this exhibition, we will be looking at what is universally regarded as his political work, such as his powerful terracottas commemorating the 1971 Bangladesh war and the biting critique of the 1975-1977 Emergency in his children’s book, ‘The Talking Face’.”

“While presenting Subramanyan’s memorable reverse paintings on acrylic, marker pen on paper and intimate postcard-size drawings, we will also be focusing on his work process through a considerable amount of archival material. For instance, the display of mock-ups of his children’s book, ‘When Hanu Becomes Hanuman’, as well as his preparatory sketches for the murals with textual and visual marginalia that reveal his affinity for the Gandhian notion of an idealised village,” she adds.

The research-based exhibition acquires a retrospective scale owing to the carefully chosen curations, and an overview of the artist’s personality and philosophies that attempt to understand him in a holistic manner. His versatility is reflected in his oeuvre that is a fine blend of innovation and tradition.

The exhibition is on till June 21.


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