After the Masters Breaking Step - Walking With
An online exhibition by Kala Bhavana Faculty Members
January 5 - February 5, 2021
Breaking Step - Thoughts on Rhythm
After an institution has lived for a hundred years and has lived well, it falls on the inheritors to reassess their past in the light of their current belongings. Any participant in the theatre of such circumstantial belonging comes to the realization that all that has been passed on to her/him as inheritance is a confluence of some specific circumstances - historical, social and aesthetic.
At the moment of its inception, Santiniketan, by its founder’s vision, coveted to be an international university. It was poised at the crossroads in history, when the country was in the process of transforming into a nation state. The institution grew in innovative opposition to the dominant colonial context, physically away from the focal centre of the metropolitan culture of Calcutta. The art institute Kala Bhavan and the University at large became an exemplar of production and dissemination of knowledge unfettered by any imposition, other than the compulsion to work.
Situations evolve, circumstances change and the memory of the past and its engagement with everyday becomes a shadowy presence, hovering over current experiences and their bindings, compulsions, complexities and contradictions.
Santiniketan, in its glorious foundational years, had a unique path charted out: exploration of the self in cohabitation with the community (albeit, small and nascent at the time). Many great works of art emerged out of this attempt, as part of cohesive community-based initiatives. Among these may be considered, the public sculptures of Santiniketan, the Black House and many other very important edifices on the campus. Also remarkable is the mural movement that started here in the 1930s and continues even into the 21st century.
Current Santiketan could be called an assemblage of the multiple. Its is a multiplicity that weaves in and out of the wider networked world. This circumstance is a testing ground for making sense of diversity. The realm of the ‘many’ (motivations, interests and exploration of art language) is a maze from within which one has to configure a community of senses. That is, at least partially, the pedagogic function of an artist in an institutional setting. The praxis falls in the area of possibilities. ‘After the Masters: Breaking Step - Walking With’ would present itself as part of the exercise of negotiating the multiples.
The indigenous impulses, from within which the place-making in Santiniketan and related ideas and genres evolved in the past, have changed. The current group of artists in the exhibition have a variety of backgrounds and hence carry with them a wide array of technical and thematic inputs. Some of these inputs and impulses are partly or wholly from the Kala Bhavan resources, while the works of many others arise from the stimulus of change that is assimilating in pedagogy and practices today. The continuity-and-change dichotomy, thus, inflects the present Kala Bhavan like many other institutions of long standing.
When this institute was founded, the tenors of teaching were different, there was a direct contact with the life-world and nature. The ambient energy was held in importance over abstract networks. This investment in the ambience continues in the campus-aesthetics, in the practices that attempt to bridge art and craft, link folk and contemporary or combine aesthetic with utilitarian, in the stylistic tools and in the traditional mediums and usages. In the studio pottery, in the tapestry works, in some of the sculptural forms on exhibit, one finds this sense of ‘walking with’ tradition, as it were.
The contemporary circumstance of creativity is also often guided by a fresh algo-rhythm rising out of a new engagement with technology, in evidence generally in India from the last decade of the twentieth century and locally, in the early part of the twenty-first century. This is the flat earth communication matrix, to which many creative personalities have responded. It has impressed upon the world of education and creativity and acted as the primary source of knowledge, displacing many of the tactile resources.
The non-fixity of norms - a sign of multiplicity in the otherwise coded linguistic field - has certain advantages; it allows growth in different directions. Kala Bhavan, fortunately retains and exudes that freedom of spirit, despite a prefixed curriculum and other bindings that have arrived over time. As exemplars, in this exhibition, one can witness the primal innocence of forms employed in wild subject-object punning, the simulated world of photo-derived real, epiphanic ruminations through portraits, as well as more conventional engagements with tools and materials; and within that flurry of material and stylistic effusion, a subjective exploration in a community-based project. The ‘breaking step’ - of performative photography or interactive print work, in the hybridization of sculptural forms where fantasy and reality cohabit, in site specific performances that straddle disciplines or in the photo-derived realism of painterly representations, occurs simultaneously alongside the ‘staying with’. Thus, in tune with the old-world community spirit, the tactile media is enriched by metalwork, textile and glass, but also connected with the new economics of rethinking the specific mediums. While the photo-derived-real and its aesthetics are new to the Santiniketan circumstances, the transformation of the familiar, undertakes often, an investigation of time and space, conceptually defamiliarizing the assumed familiar world.
The different forms and the different temporalties walk with each other in this new Kala Bhavan, representing the multiple, describing the new reality, preparing for the future.
Santinikatan, January, 2021