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Of mortar and maidens


'Dandi March' by Ramkinkar Baij

His most famous sculpture, which stands in the Vishva Bharati University campus in Santiniketan, is of a Santhal family carrying their few possessions with them to a new life. A few yards away another sculpture - Mill Call - depicts a working class family setting out to work as the siren wails. The elements haven't been kind to the sculptures he created more than 70 years ago, but Baij, who drew so deeply from the natural world around him, would probably have preferred this to the climate-controlled interior of a museum. "He didn't bother with things like that, " says K S Radhakrishan, a student of the master who has put together a retrospective on him at Delhi's National Gallery of Modern Art. The show of over 350 works is drawn from various important collections and includes paintings, drawings, graphics and sculptures. One of the highlights is a documentary by the eminent filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak which captures the innovative style of the sculptor through staged conversations.

The exhibition covers about six decades of his artistic journey, which was at its zenith when he arrived at Santiniketan to train under Nandalal Bose. Kinkar, as he was usually called, was one of the first Indian artists to understand the language of modern Western art and use it in his sculpture. Not that he discarded Indian traditions : the famous Yaksha and Yakshini at the entrance of the Reserve Bank of India building in Delhi were inspired by Maurya sculpture.

Often called the father of modern Indian sculpture, Ramkinkar experimented with both form and material. Many of his works, including the slender and graceful Sujata, is made from cement and mortar, material that had never been used before.
His subjects were often people he had met. A series of paintings feature Binodini, a Manipuri princess and a feisty beauty who met him when she was studying sculpture at Viswa Bharati. She was the muse - some say lover - of the artist. "The exact nature of the relationship is not known but she appeared in several of his works, " says Radhakrishnan.

Be it the robust and earthy Santhals or his Buddha, Ramkinkar managed to invest his rough-hewn works with a vibrant sensuality.

The show is on at NGMA, Delhi, till Mar 31. It will then travel to Mumbai & Bengaluru.

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