Ramkinker Baij – NGMA tribute to iconic sculptor

New Delhi: Two towering `Yaksha` `Yakshini` statues at the entrance of Reserve Bank of India building representing the mythical guardians of wealth may be seen and admired by visitors but very few are aware that their creator Ramkinker Baij is also the first figure of modern Indian sculpture.

"Ramkinker Baij – a retrospective" that is currently on at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) here features a mammoth collection of over 350 works sculptures, watercolours, lithograph prints and etchings as well as rare photographs of the artist.

Sculptor K S Radhakrishnan who was also a student of Baij has curated the exhibition over a period of four years with guidance from contemporary artists K G Subramanyan and A Ramachandran who have been associated with Baij. "I have divided this retrospective into different subcategories to look at various points in the artist`s life," says Radhakrishnan.

These include works previously scattered works and those which have moved into collections of top collectors.  "I discovered not just visual but also anecdotal inputs, rare photos in possession of former students, colleagues and friends. There is also dialogues, conversations and reminiscences written mostly in Bengali. Based on these a new picture of Kinkar Da emerged," says the curator.

Baij, studied in Kala Bhavana, the art school at Santiniketan under the patronage of Rabindranath Tagore and later became a faculty member there  and along with Nandalal and Benodebehari Mukherjee played an decisive role in making Santiniketan the most important centre for modern art in pre- independant India.

Apart from the Yaksha- Yakshini figures outside RBI building, there is also a relief work on a panel Goddess Saraswati at the Modern School here which was done by Ramkimker Baij during his six month visit in 1932-22.

Baij, says the curator rebelled against himself continuously and renewed himself constantly. "Beginning in the early 30s he began to fill the campus of Santiniketan with sculptures which were innovative in subject matter and personal in style. He was able to be spontaneous as well as thoughtful at the same time," says Radhakrishnan.

Baij`s works at the Viswa Bharti campus include the famous sculpture of a Santhal family walking to work carrying their meagre possessions as also the `Mill Call` which showcases a working class family setting off for work.

Baij`s sculptural experiments were daring and he used never before used materials for art like cement and it is said that he used to paint on gunny bag cloth and often there were layers of paintings on one canvas. He is, therefore, known as the first figure of modern Indian sculpture.

Ramkinker Baij was also an intense chronicler of his surroundings, says Radhakrishnan. "His innumerable portraits of animals prove his love for the life of the significant as well as the insignificant," he says. Radhakrishnan has displayed Baij`s works based on the dominant themes.

Works from 1930s and 40s, considered as his most active period is followed by an account of his works from 1950s. One room contains oil paintings by the artist from the 1960s. and another depicts the preparatory sketches and sculptures involved in the making of Yaksha-Yakshi. Full blown portraits as well as paintings of animals are also on display.

"This retrospective aims to  be a context in which the post 1980s generation of Indian artists see, accept, reject,  understand or misunderstand the creator, the artist, the man, Ramkinkar Baij," says Radhakrishnan.

The NGMA has also brought out publications. "Ramkinkar Baij" by R Siva Kumar, in collaboration with the Delhi Art Gallery, " My days with Ramkinkar" translated by Bhaswati Ghosh originally authored by Somendranath Bandhapadhyaya brought out in collaboration with Niyogi Books, "Ramkinkar`s Yaksha  Yakshi" by K S Radhakrishnan brought out by the Musui Art Foundation and supported by Aakar Prakar and Navya Gallery, "Ramkinkar Straight from Life" by Johnny M L by the Musui Art Foundation.

This is the ninth retrospective exhibition organised by the NGMA as part of an endeavour to showcase the lifetime achievements of artists whose contributions in the field of art are outstanding. "This year NGMA has organised the retrospective exhibition of prominent modern artist – K K Hebbar and now of Ramkinkar Baij," says Rajeev Lochan, Director, NGMA.