Songs of Reclamation: The Art of A. Ramachandran, Curated by R Siva Kumar
October 28 - December 31, 2022
Curatorial Note by R Siva Kumar
A Ramachandran belongs to the generation of Indian artists who began their careers in the 1960s and whose art was shaped by India’s post-independence experience.
Ramachandran’s early work focused on the predicament of peripheral men trapped in a life of unfreedom, irrationality and suffering in a world that swore by freedom, rationality and progress. The idea of committed art and the modern world as a place of absurd cruelty and suffering shaped his art from the 1960s to the early 1980s. That made his art an act of emphatic protest articulated on a grand scale, akin to murals, and brought him closer to the Mexican artists—especially Orozco and Siqueiros—than to the Euro-American artistic vanguards.
In the mid-1980s, disenchanted with his endeavour to change hearts through art, Ramachandran decided to begin anew after an encounter with the landscape and life of rural communities around Udaipur. In the marginalized Bhils, who lived a communitarian life in harmony with nature, he saw more freedom and awareness of social ecology. In his recent art, he might appear to be turning away from modernism and making a romantic escape into the pre-modern past. But on closer look, it is not difficult to see that he is reminding us of nature and everything else that made life beautiful and meaningful before we instrumentalized nature and man. Besides reminding us of what has been lost in our pursuit of progress, he is also alerting us to the need for re-enchanting the world. Viewing them at a time when we are staring at the possibility of a sixth extinction, his works assume a special significance for us.
Although he is primarily a painter, Ramachandran is also interested in expressing his vision in as many mediums and ways as possible. It has made him a sculptor, a tireless and brilliant draftsman, and an enthusiastic designer, especially of books for children. This exhibition offers a glimpse into all that.
A Ramachandran was born in Attingal, Kerala, in 1935. Early in his life, he developed an interest in arts, including painting, music and literature. He did an MA in Malayalam Literature and learned Carnatic music for ten years and established himself as a professional singer before he turned to painting. In 1957, he went to Santiniketan to study art under Ramkinkar Baij and came into close contact with Benodebehari Mukherjee and Nandalal Bose. His interactions with these teachers at Santiniketan left a lasting impression on his artistic career.
In 1964, he moved to Delhi and in the following year, he joined Jamia Millia Islamia University as a lecturer in Art Education, which he and his colleagues developed into a full-fledged faculty of art. With his distinctive monumental style and deeply humanist concerns, Ramachandran’s stature as an artist grew with each exhibition. Beginning with the Ten Indian Painters show at MIT and the New Jersey State Museum, USA, in 1966, his works began to be shown internationally. And with his third one-person show in 1967, he was established as one of the most original Indian artists of his generation.
During the seventies, Ramachandran developed into a versatile artist, doing sculpture, prints, writing and books for children, and even designing stamps besides painting tirelessly in the scale of both murals and miniatures. To his credit, he has many books for children, a score of essays on art and a well-researched book on the murals of Kerala.
In 2014, curated by Ranesh Ray, about two thousand drawings and sketches were displayed, covering the entire Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi. On this occasion, a two-volume book, A Ramachandran: Life and Art in Lines, edited by R. Siva Kumar, was released. In 2016, an exhibition of a set of twenty-one coloured drawings titled Earthen Pot: Image Poems was held at the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi. In the same year, a retrospective exhibition of works covering the period from 1964 to 2016, curated by R. Siva Kumar, was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru. In 2017, his large painting titled Homage to the Setting Sun was exhibited at The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA. In 2018 an exhibition of recent paintings & drawings titled The Changing Moods of Lotus Pond and Insignificant Incarnations was held at Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam. In 2019, a selection from the artist’s fifty years of art practice by R. Siva Kumar was exhibited at The National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai. In the same year, an exhibition of recent paintings, sculptures, watercolours and drawings titled “The Mahatma and the Lotus Pond”, curated by R. Siva Kumar, was held at the Durbar Hall, by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, Kochi. In 2021, two exhibitions of Ramachandran’s drawings were held at the Vadehra Art Gallery. The first show in July, titled A Lifetime of Lines, showed a selection of drawings from his early years to the present day. The second exhibition, titled Gandhi: Loneliness of the Great, showed a set of his recent drawings on Gandhi. A major two-part exhibition of his recent oil paintings titled Subaltern Nayika and Lotus Pond was held in 2021 simultaneously at the Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam and the Vadehra Art Gallery.
A much-honoured artist, he received the National Award in 1969 and 1972, the Noma Concours for Picture Book Illustrations in 1978 and 1980, the Parishad Samman from the Sahitya Kala Parshad in 1991, the Gagan-Abani Puraskar from Visva-Bharati in 2000, the Manaviyam Award in 2001 and the Ravi Varma Puraskaram in 2003 from the Government of Kerala. In 2018, the Madhya Pradesh Government awarded him with The Kalidas Samman. He was conferred with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2005, and a Hon. D. Litt. degree from the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, in 2013.
R. Siva Kumar is an eminent art historian, curator and author of over eighteen books. His notable books include The Santiniketan Murals (1995) and Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism (1997), A. Ramachandran: A Retrospective in two volumes (2004), Paintings of Abanindranath Tagore (2008), Rabindra Chitravali, a comprehensive four-volume compilation of Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings (2011) and Enchantment and Engagement: The Murals of K. G. Subramanyan (2015). He has also curated several seminal exhibitions, including Santiniketan: The Making a Contextual Modernism, K. G. Subramanyan: A Retrospective, Benodebehari: A Centenary Retrospective, The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore, which travelled to nine museums across the world and four museums in India, and four major exhibitions of A. Ramachandran, including two retrospectives.
He was awarded the Kesari Puraskaram by the Kerala Lalitakala Akademi in 2010, Manojmohan Basu Smarak Samman by the Paschimbanga Bangla Akademy in 2013, the title Rabindra-Tattwacharaya in 2015, the Life Time Achievement Award of the Paschim Banga Charukala Parishad in 2018, and the Zainul Sammanana by the Dakha University in 2021. After a forty-year teaching career, he has recently retired from Visva-Bharati and continues to live in Santiniketan.
Exhibition date: 28th October - 31st December 2022
Ground floor, First Floor and Fifth Floor Galleries | Emami Art
777 Anandapur | E.M. Bypass
Kolkata 700107 | 033 6623 2300