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Fitting it all in


Benode Bihari Mukherjee (Part 2)
Gulammohammed Sheikh Artist
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And then further to that it is the blind poet called Surdas, and with a little young boy leading him, ending finally in the image of guru Govan Singh, the  Sikh guru, and a landscape of Bengal with a little pond in front. Well, in a way it invokes the memories or something of what we call Ajanta, what we have talked about Ajanta. It is all physical. They are all human characters, you know, which emerge out of the wall, and it is that physicality it takes on, but it is entirely, it’s a language. In a way it combines ideas from both Indian tradition as well as Far Eastern tradition, but also it includes elements, you know, which come from, as I said, Gothic, or from perhaps pre-Renaissance and it puts together everything in a kind of a single unit, and it’s a kind of an epic. I was greatly moved by that, so when an invitation came to curate an exhibition, we thought that I think we should focus on something, and in fact we made a copy of the mural digitally. Digital technology was helpful now because we could join all the photos together, which was not possible earlier because with black and white or colour photographs, to photograph it in, you know, and then join it together was very, very difficult. And we actually enlarged it, not to exact scale, but quite close to the scale, and we put it up on three walls of the National Gallery of Modern Art. Well, the artist’s daughter, Mrinalini or Dillu as we call her, she is a good friend of ours and she had the maximum collection of the work, and we selected quite a few. We means my co-curator, Siva Kumar, Professor R Siva Kumar. He is kind of a... now, not only a scholar but almost an authority on Bengal and the art of Bengal. He has worked on Abanindranath, on Nandalal and others, plus he has published on Ramkinkar and others. So, together we worked, we travelled to all the places where Benode Bihari had worked, like Banasthali in Rajasthan, we went to meet those who had known him personally. We recorded that. We got Satyajit Ray’s film and we put it up there. We even enacted the whole mural in black and white, but all the photographs taken earlier when that mural was in good condition. That was the ceiling mural, and we put it up at the same level. So, all of it came together and we managed to publish about five monographs on that, including, and one CD. I think that this is where I felt that if one were to have an exhibition of an artist of that, of his stature, any for that matter, if one were to do that, this is the minimum that one should be doing. And luckily, with some external help, some galleries came forward and we were able to publish a large monograph, and also a special monograph on his mural.

With wonderful folding plates.


It’s about 10 foot long, isn’t it?

Yah, it is 10 foot long. Yes, we have been able to do that. So one feels with sort of, you know, a sense of, you know, it is a, you know, it’s not just doing an exhibition, but it is something like a kind of a lifetime project you know, that you are interested in, and it is the work of an artist one felt was not sufficiently recognised alone. So, I think it was a good experience.

You gave quite a lot of your life to it. You gave probably almost a year in all.

More than a year. Two, more than two years.

But no, because you did paint as well.

I did continue to do my work, but it was something which required that much time. It was not entirely of our own making. We could have done it within a year, but it was a bureaucratic delay on the part of the government that sort of, you know, made it difficult for us. But we managed to steer clear of that, and then eventually we made it. Unfortunately, the exhibition didn’t travel, despite the fact that it was all there. It could have travelled to Bombay where the gallery was available. The National Gallery had its own wing in Bombay, and Victoria Memorial Hall in Calcutta was willing to even, not support but finance it. But that again, the bureaucracy did not approve of its travelling, so that sure did not travel and it was dismantled eventually. But I am glad that we have these publications.

Gulammohammed Sheikh is an Indian painter, writer and art critic who has been a major figure in the Indian art world for half a century. His artistic career is closely associated with the renowned MS University of Baroda in Gujarat where after gaining his Master's degree, Sheikh went on to teach in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and where he was appointed Professor of Painting in 1982.

Listeners: Timothy Hyman

Timothy Hyman is a graduate of Slade School of Fine Art, London, in which he has also taught. In 1980 and 1982, he was Visiting Professor in Baroda, India. Timothy Hyman has curated many significant art exhibitions and has published articles and monographs on both European and Indian artists.

Duration: 5 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2008

Date story went live: 18 November 2010