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"At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom." Pandit Nehru said in his Tryst with Destiny speech on the eve of India's Independence. Even as freedom was celebrated, partition to form West and East Pakistan became inevitable, thereby partitioning people's opinions and views. Progressive minds found various ways of expression such as Art, Modern Art, in particular gained momentum pioneered by the likes of M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza and S.H. Raza who went on to establish the Progressive Artists Group in Bombay. It was meant to break the revivalist nationalism established by the Bengal school of art and to encourage an Indian avant-garde, engaged at an international level.
"Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest: Modern and Contemporary Indian Art From the Collection of Shelley and Donald Rubin,” presented by Oglethorpe University Museum of Art mirrors some sentiments of those times, along with ensuing artists that followed up with visions of their own, reflective of the times and evolving identities, explained the very knowledgeable exhibition curator, Dr. Rebecca Brown. The exhibit at Oglethorpe University Museum of Art showcased between March 15 and May 15 debuts with more than 50 works from 28 of India’s artists.
The collection is focused towards the figural in modern Indian art spread over the course of recent past decades. The figures, vibrant and colorful, offer a glimpse into the vacillating ideals and ideas of the Indian mindset. Diversity, the unique identity of India is evident in the pieces displayed as well as the origins of the artists reaching out across the nation. Dr. Brown explained that the collection was not linear but an eclectic ensemble of various aspects of India, be it social, religious or political, post independence till recent times.
The symbolism in some, for example the "Lady with Lamp" by M.F. Husain are varied in interpretation. "Lady with Lamp" has two women, one nude, painted white, the second, holding an oil lamp. Each part of the lamp, Dr. Brown describes, bears a symbol: An asterisk and a form that is symbolic of fish or number four, on it's side. She raises her index and middle fingers together in a blessing like gesture, common in Christianity. It could also be interpreted as a Hindu or Buddhist 'Mudra', transcending various cultures and religions.
"Man on a Cane Chair", by Paritosh Sen, a self-portrait , hands folded under his chin, gray hair, red kerchief in his pocket, Bengali books, clock and glass of wine on the table, with a Picasso drawing on the wall, capturing the gravity and a comical aspect of himself at the same time, portraying Kolkata's educated elite. A unique representation of a serene and humble Hanuman, deep in mediation, by Ganesh Pyne is captivating.
Kamal Mitra's 'Meditation' , one of the fine pieces in the collection is a meditating figure, sitting on a mat with crossed legs and hands. There is no head in the picture, leaving it open for imagination, while the hands and legs are highlighted with a radiating green, contrasted by the bright saffron robe and the mat.
A riveting work of art, 'Love, Deception and Intrigue', by Nalini Malini is a canvas of interwoven stories, open to so many perceptions. We see a lady swept by the waves of the ocean, an ocean of thoughts perhaps, or her death is near and she has a flashback of her life as she reminisces about the spat she had with her husband( or friend), other images suggesting maybe someone close walked away. A woman with clothes and shaved head suggesting she is a widow, the various gestures and emotions varying from joyous to forlorn, a vulnerability never well hidden in nudeness or otherwise amalgamate into a telling tale of triumphs and trials of this woman.
Works of several artists such as Sakti Burman, Seema Kohli, Arpita Singh, Mahjabin Majumdar, Bari Kumar, Anjolie Ela Menon, Gogi Saroj Pal, kalapathi Ganapathi Subramanyan, to name a few are featured in the collection. Those interested may visit http://museum.oglethorpe.edu/exhib.htm for further information.
Donald Rubin, an alumnus of Oglethorpe, wanted to present his collection at his alma mater. According to Dr. Brown, Donald and Shelley Rubin, avid collectors of Himalayan art intend to display the diverse styles and concepts of Indian life concentrating on the figural work from the last 60 years which they believe is something that speaks to our common humanity while showing us the particular struggles and joys found in India. The Rubins founded the Rubin Museum of Art in New York in 2005.
Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest, walks us through mofussil, urban India, with particular focus on an image, the figural, representing characters, inhabited spaces and the spiritual aspects, narrating stories much more than the image itself. The artworks highlight the multi-layered nuances of artistic change across the twentieth and into the twenty first centuries. The artists and some of their metaphorical imagery is universal in nature and capable of reaching out to a global audience. Abstract, symbolic and a glowing testament to India's modern and contemporary art, the collection reflects the fine aesthetic sensibilities of its curator and the owners.