Mapping Maharashtra’s visual heritage: New encyclopaedia surveys artists, art centres from 18th century


Born in 1905, Rajaram Balwant Madilgekar trained under his father, who made idols for temples in Kolhapur, Belgaum and Hubli. However, Madilgekar was more interested in realistic portrait sculptures. In 1950, moved by the work of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Madilgekar sought an appointment with the leader in Delhi. Ambedkar met the sculptor but refused a sitting. It was only after Madilgekar showed his sculpture of a seated Buddha that Ambedkar agreed to pose for his bust. Eventually, Madilgekar would make Ambedkar’s sculpture for Siddharth College in Mumbai in 1952.

The anecdote is part of a biographical note on Madilgekar that features in a new encyclopaedia on Maharashtra’s visual art. Edited by Suhas Bahulkar and Deepak Ghare, “Visual Art of Maharashtra: Artists of the Bombay School and Art Institutions (Late 18th to early 21st Century)” seeks to present a comprehensive chronology of the region’s artists and art centres.

The book will be launched on Tuesday at Sir JJ School of Art by Rustom Jejeebhoy, a direct descendant of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy. Published by Pundole Art Gallery, the encyclopaedia is priced at Rs 4,000. Artists Sudhir Patwardhan and Dilip Ranade are the book’s associate editors.

Bahulkar, an artist and former chairperson of the advisory committee of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai, said the book has been six years in the making. In 2013, Bahulkar and Ghare, a printmaker and art critic, had put together “Drishya-kala Khand”, a Marathi encyclopaedia on Maharashtra’s visual art. The English encyclopaedia builds on the Marathi survey, with new research and additions, such as Madilgekar.

A committee of artists and art professors chose the 307 painters and sculptors who feature in the encyclopaedia. All the artists have careers spanning at least 25 years. The earliest artist to feature in the history is Gangaram Chintanam Tambat from the 18th century; the survey ends with artists born in 1960, such as Ravi Mandlik and Kishor Thakur.

With over 900 pages and 321 colour plates, the tome begins with an in-depth preface that traces the development of Maharashtra’s visual art heritage from the prehistoric to the modern times. There is also a section on applied art where the contribution of several cartoonists is noted.

Bahulkar said, “We know so much about the Bengal School but not enough about the artists from what was once the Bombay province. One should know about the past, and decide about the present and the future accordingly.”

The encyclopaedia aims to correct the disproportionate attention that the city of Mumbai and the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) have received in the narrative of India’s art history. The book expands the focus beyond Mumbai to different art production centres, such as Kolhapur and Nashik.

Even Madilgekar, for that matter, was born in a village near Kolhapur but settled in Aurangabad, on a suggestion from Ambedkar that the place lacked sculptors. Within the PAG as well, members such as MF Husain and FN Souza have dominated art discussions, while little is known about the others.

One such artist, included in the encyclopaedia, is GM Hazarnis, a later member of the PAG. With only few details about the artist available in the public domain, the encyclopaedia’s editors and their friends tracked down Hazarnis’ family after reading a tribute on his death anniversary. What emerged was a revealing picture about the forgotten artist and his contribution as a teacher. “During his time, Hazarnis was more popular than Husain,” Bahulkar said.

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