a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Baroda – Saturday lectures and ‘the experience of the normal world’


Depicting death
KG Subramanyan Artist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

It was also at that time when some of my work also, without my intending to do so, tried to come as a reaction to what was happening, especially those series of terracottas I did in the beginning, in 1971 during the war with Bangladesh or East Pakistan, and where there was a lot of suffering, and also the general ill effects of war. In terms of the development of course, how the whole immediate developed, it was not as a sort of a thing that I planned to do this and this is the theme. The whole thing started, I started working in terracotta at that time, from using terracotta to making toys for the fair, fine arts fair that we had. So I used to sort of get a sort of a thin layer of terracotta layer which I used to sort of use as a sort of rolling pin to make, and clothed it like skin on an armature of terracotta I used to make, and then I suddenly realised that that has great possibilities. So I used to make animals of that kind, and then I found that there was a kind of quality in clay that when you work it out, it is like you are working with your own skin, and then when it gets burnt, then it even becomes more closer to skin in terms of the warps and the cuts and things of that kind. Then suddenly we had the big flood here in Baroda, and then all of us got up to do something for relief. We went round and see the outskirts of Baroda where a lot of people were sort of washed ashore. There were dead, there were dead bodies everywhere. Then suddenly it occurred to me that I can do something to represent this through terracotta. So I did a few things and one of them is fairly common, it’s called Sunrise over Tarsali. Tarsali is a village not very far away, showing so many bodies lying, bloated bodies lying down, and with a sort of a sunflower-like sun on the top. And very soon after the Bangladesh, these things started, then when the Bangla - the Tarsali, when the Tarsali flood took place, the papers carried photographs of all these bloated bodies and the damage that had occurred in the villages and they wanted to show that the chief minister of Gujarat was aware of it and he was looking around for a photograph, and the photograph they found was of a laughing chief minister. They put it on one corner and they put all this scene below and it came in one of the papers. So that led me on to the theme of how people kill each other but there are laughing generals. There are generals who think that it is their achievement that they have killed so many, and it was at that time the reports of the Vietnam war were coming and they were always sort of talking about the head count, how many people did they kill in Vietnam and things of that kind. So those series of terracottas I did had some reference to this, but technically, it grew from my handling of the terracotta medium to build a toy, then it went further. After that I have done various things with it showing how terracotta, you can sort of get a feel of the body much better, the lushness of the body as well as the suffering that comes through body movements. Later in the day when I had moved to Santiniketan I did a series of terracottas, and the theme for it came from certain photographs I saw on a railway station after a big train tragedy. I mean there was a big train smash I think near Bina or somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, and a lot of people lost their lives and they didn’t know who they were, so they had stickers or photographs there with deformed faces and things of that kind on it, and saying that if you can recognise anybody. That gave me the idea of how, what you call a face has so many little bumps and slits and things of that kind, so maybe in terracotta I can do something. So I did, tried to do a thing called the birth and death of a smile kind of a thing, but it didn’t work too well because a mouth itself doesn’t make the face, you have to have other things. Then later on I started doing these various things, a stricken sort of a face and how, I showed a thing that people were peeling out or there is a moulting of person and things like that, and did a series of things with animals, that is a fish fossil kind of a transposition. But all that came initially from seeing those photographs on that railway station. So really, it was not a sort of a planned programme. I mean it came just like that.

KG Subramanyan (1924-2016) was an Indian artist. A graduate of the renowned art college of Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, Subramanyan was both a theoretician and an art historian whose writings formed the basis for the study of contemporary Indian art. His own work, which broke down the barrier between artist and artisan, was executed in a wide range of media and drew upon myth and tradition for its inspiration.

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: 6 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: 2008

Date story went live: 10 September 2010