Benode Behari Mukherjee
Spread across both our gallery spaces, this major exhibition curated by R. Siva Kumar features more than 100 artworks from the artist’s estate.
Spanning various periods of the artist’s oeuvre, this exhibition presents Mukherjee through multiple lenses including glimpses of him through his own eyes, presented through a series of self-portraits; a selection of intimate sketches of flora that reveal the significance of minute details in his vocabulary, speaking not only of how he saw the world due to his limited eyesight but focusing on the significance of linear form in his understanding of space; his landscapes, preparatory drawings and paintings, which lend themselves to analysis by anyone wanting to engage with Mukherjee’s unique understanding of space.
Benode Behari Mukherjee is one of the first students of Kala Bhavan at Shantiniketan who transformed the institution into a seminal centre in India. He was involved in exploring the rationale underlying different pictorial conventions finally bringing together the skeins of folk and Indian classical styles, Far Eastern calligraphic painting and early Renaissance conventions with post-cubist idiom.
He was born in Behala, West Bengal in 1904. Benod Behari studied at Brahmacharya Ashram and Kala Bhavan at Santiniketan. Then his visit to Japan made him learn various techniques from the Japanese masters like Sesshu and Sotatsu. He was an art teacher at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan from 1925 to 1949. He became the curator of the Govt. Museum, Nepal in 1949. In1951, he established Banasthali Vidyapith, a women’s educational center in Rajasthan. The very next year he set up an Art Center along with his wife Leela to impart training to both artists and art teachers, Mussourie. After undergoing an eye operation he lost his eyesight in 1956. After two years in 1958, he joined as a professor in the Art Theory Faculty at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. 1973 Biographical film, The Inner Eye, a film directed by Satyajit Ray. 1979 He wrote Chitrakar, a collection of writings in Bengali.
Blindness did not deter Benodebehari from remaining creative. From 1958 to 1972 besides teaching Art History at Kala Bhavana he did paper cuts, drawings, prints and even a mural with some assistance from others. Already a writer on art since the 1940s he now wrote some remarkable texts including a history of the beginnings of modern art education in India, two autobiographical pieces and a few longer meditations on art, literature and their values in different cultures.
The 70s brought him recognition as an artist and writer. He won several honours including the Padma Vibushan, the second highest civilian award, and Rabindra Puraskar a coveted award for literature. He left Santiniketan for good in December 1972, and moved first to Dehra Dun, and then to Delhi where his sculptor daughter Mrinalini Mukherjee had settled. He died in Delhi on 19th November 1980.
By then this intensely thoughtful, and self-effacingly reticent artist was recognized not only as a symbol of indomitable spirit but also as a modern artist to be reckoned with. More importantly a new generation of Indian artist who were revisiting the tradition of figuration and narration in Indian art and its affinities in world art recognized him as a worthy predecessor. And with it he was born once again posthumously.
Artist: Benode Behari Mukherjee
Exhibition: Between Sight and Insight: Glimpses of Benode Behari Mukherjee
Dates and Venue: 19 January to 22 February, Vadehra Art Gallery, D-40 & D-53, Defence Colony, New Delhi.