Unravelling Different Styles

Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
In Indian contemporary art one of the most complex things to understand is the relationship between folk traditions in art and modern ones. This question came up recently when I saw Nayanaa V Kanodias exhibition of paintings at Sridharani Gallery in Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi.

The imagery she uses is naive, childlike, but not folk. Her art shows extremely complex composition, the use of repetitive elements to create an optical effect and sophisticated use of colour. So, we see a perfectly modern aesthetic approach draped in childlike simplicity. It is this modern aesthetic that distinguishes the contemporary artists from his folk counterparts.

The same sort of distinctiveness is evident in the art of Jamini Roy. While the artist was fond of calling himself a traditional Bengal scroll-painter or Patua; his art was far from that. In fact, a seasoned eye can easily detect the cylindrical French style of drawing in his stylistically folk works that gifts them with a rounded three-dimensionality which the flat works of traditional patuas do not possess.

This should be much more in evidence in the Bengal artists show at the Taj Mahal Hotel in the capital (November 5-6), where different degrees of folk influence can be seen in different artists. The exhibition will then be taken to Mumbai (Taj Krishna Hotel, November 24-25), Colombo (Taj Hotel, January 3-4) and Dubai.

It may be the superficial acceptance of a visual image whose execution is very different, as in Jogen Choudhurys cross-hatch drawings, or in Paritosh Sens masterly blend of the scroll-painter with Picasso, or the general ambience of the work of Shuva Prasanna, Lalu Prasad Shaw or Paresh Maity. One thing, however, emerges very clearly: Contemporary art and folk art are very different things.

Indeed, this does not mean that folk artists cannot turn into contemporary ones. They can. But then they must be judged in contemporary terms and by contemporary standards. This is not so easy as it sounds. I remember artist Arpana Caur, who is very modern indeed, telling me her first show in Sweden was in an ethnographic museum. Clearly it is very difficult, even in the global village of today, for the viewer not to get so distracted by appearances that he or she fails to catch the essence. This must be guarded against. Viewers must not merely enjoy works, they must also be able to assess the efforts that have gone into them.