Prof. B. C. Sanyal, the doyen of Indian Art is, perhaps, the most elderly artist in our country. His life's journey, starting in the beginning of this century, is punctuated by his multifarious achievements and distinctions, as artist, art educationist and art administrator. He is a great humanist and is one of the few who has been honoured with Padma Bhushan.
Born in Dibrugarh (Assam) in 1902, he studied art in Calcutta, worked in Lahore and finally migrated to Delhi in 1947 as a consequence of Partition, discovering all the time a world of strange realities and complex varieties; a world of unbelievable contradictions which he has expressed in his artistic endeavours with a great sense of purpose.
As in Lahore, Prof. Sanyal's presence in Delhi has been a great stimulating factor in the art scene of the Capital right from the beginning. He became instrumental in the formation of the Delhi Silpi Chakra-a group of young artists, mainly refugee migrants, was formed in 1949- which not only provided a fresh art awareness and great enthusiasm for relating the artist's work to the emerging conditions of the life of the people, but also for relating the influence of modern art in their work to 'discover new directions. Not only was the Delhi scene transformed, but the Chakra had its influence in other parts of the country as well.
As is well-known, Prof. Sanyal has continued to play an active and significant role in the art scene of Delhi for the last 50 years, whether it was in the field of education (as Head, Art Department of Delhi Polytechnic, 1953- 60), or promotion of art (as Secretary, Lalit Kala Akademi, 1960-69). All through he endeavoured to raise the status and dignity of the artist in our country.
As for himself, Prof. sanyal continues to follow his impulse for creating works in the spirit of a great search to find solution to the new ways of life in the country and to make them expressive of that urge. His recent works show a remarkably steady and unfaltering hand, whether in sculpture or painting, an industry reflective not only of hand but also of mind.
His works have an appeal for people of every age and of varying perceptions; for, they depict subjects in which men are usually concerned and which are connected with reason and common sense. They possess a flavour of his experience of life.
Prof. Sanyal has, in various phases of his art and modes of expression, not only created a wide impact through his art and personality, but inspired his innumerable students and contemporaries in their pursuit of creative expression.
This present volume, the first of two volumes of his memoirs, gives a deep insight into his personal life experience, his art endeavours and pursuits, in addition to his detailed observations of developments in the field of art and comments on the changing art scene in the country. It is of great historical significance.
The National Gallery of Modern Art takes great pleasure in expressing its sincere thanks to Prof. Sanyal for agreeing to get his 'Memoirs' published under its aegis and wishes him many more years of creative activity.
I thank Mr. Santo Datta, the eminent art critic, for taking up editing and designing the text for publication. Single- handed, he has prepared six appendices and numerous footnotes for relating the text to the life and times of Prof. Sanyal. He is now working on the second volume of Prof. Sanyal's memoirs, which covers the period from 1947 to his life and work in contemporary Indian art.
It was a hot day in Delhi. Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal, then in his mid-fifties, was labouring hard to bring the veiled figure of a woman out of the big, vertical boulder of Dholepur sandstone.
The hammer on the chisel-head, the chisel-point on the unyielding stone, tap-tap-tap .... He must uncover the figure so far hidden within the stone.
The place was a small room in the old St. Stephen's College building where the Art Department of the Government of India was housed. Sanyal was the Head of the Art Department. The year was 1958. Eleven years ago he had left Lahore as a refugee, one of the millions who crossed the border after the Partition.
That was the beginning of his The Vertical Woman, and in the process of carving this fine piece of sculpture, now in the Chandigarh Museum, his past life rushed back to him, in rhythm with the strokes of his hammer, in quick flash-backs.
The title of his reminiscences, The Vertical Woman, is associated with the 'birth' of this veiled, vertical woman. Now in his mid-nineties, a revered presence on the contemporary Indian art scene, Sanyal is looking back to his childhood in Dibrugarh in Assam, where he was born in 1902. From Dibrugarh to Serampore for his college education, and then to Calcutta, where he had his art education at the School of Art in the '20s. And he left Calcutta for Lahore, commissioned to model a plaster portrait of Lala Lajpat Rai, which was to be unveiled at the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress in 1929.
In Lahore, a different kind of life was awaiting him, full of romance, creativity, adventures and agonizing uncertainties.
At the famous Mayo School of Arts in Lahore, as a teacher he left his stamp on the new generation of young artists in the Punjab. And after he had to leave the School, a victim of the then Principal, Samarendranath Gupta's machinations, the undaunted Sanyal started his own studie-cum-school, the Lahore School of Fine Arts. Shifting over the years from one premises to another, his School became a meeting point of the Lahore elite, the poets, artists, dancers, singers, bureaucrats, theatre persons and leftist intellectuals. It was here Sanyal met his future wife Snehalata, who was actively associated with the Indian People'S Theatre Association. And he had his students around him, who became widely known in later years: Dhanraj Bhagat. Harkishen Lal, Amarnath Sehgal, Pran Nath Mago, Krishen Khanna, Damayanti Batra, just to name a few.
Friendly and open-hearted, armed with a sparkling wit, handsome and well-dressed, a popular teacher and a fine portrait painter and sculptor, Sanyal's art exhibitions in Lahore became much-awaited events, which won admiring attention of the Press. While going through his memoir one wonders whether he knew almost everybody worth knowing. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sajjad Zahir, Roop and Mary Krishna, Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Suhasini Nambiar (Chattopadhyay) and Harindranath Chattopadhyay, Arnrita Sher-Gil, and Norah Richards, who popularised the theatre in the Punjab, and Ajoy Ghose, an unforgettable name in the communist movement in India. And Charles Fabri was his friend. Fabri drove Sanyal across the border just after the Partition.
The Vertical Woman was partly published in instalments in The Patriot during 1989-90. Then the hastily set text did its rounds in the Lalit Kala Akademi. Then I was asked by Mrs Anjali Sen, Director of the National Gallery of Modern Art, to prepare it for publication. I found the text carrying numerous marks of 'editing' by earlier editors. I was tempted to accept the assignment because of the historical importance of the text which covered a span of more than 90 years, written by an artist who is sensitive, adventurous and ceaselessly creative. Working single-handed, I have tried to put the text in its historical perspective through appendices and footnotes. For making it easy reading, I have presented the text in small sections with suitable sub-headings which highlight interesting events, political-cultural environs, or specific periods in the eventful life of the artist, up to the fateful year 1947, when he had to leave Lahore.
Six appendices have been prepared to light up different aspects of his times-particularly the political turmoil that marked his years in Lahore. In Appendix III, I have reproduced news stories from The Statesman of 15 August, 1947, which report the Partition holocaust and also complement what Sanyal saw in Lahore and New Delhi during the pre- and post-Partition riots.
Interested readers will find many surprises in Appendix IV, which presents art reviews published in the Lahore newspapers, including those by Charles Fabri who was then the curator of the Lahore Museum. Even in the boiling political situation in the pre-Partition Lahore, art journalism was very active and appreciative. The appendix also carries three articles, one by a Pakistani columnist with the pseudonym 'Zeno', the other two by Dr. Ajaz Anwar and Anwar All, published in 1986-87 when Sanyal revisited 'his' Lahore.
I have also taken this opportunity to include three letters. Two written by Charles Fabri and one by Mian Mohammad Hussain to Sanyal, after he had migrated to India. The letters are dated October and November 1947. The letters are very touching in their sincerity and deep concern for Sanyal and his family. They appear in Appendix V. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who will remain alive in his poems in this subcontinent, successive partitions notwithstanding, was Sanyal's personal friend. Both of them went through dark times in the history of this subcontinent: Freedom struggle, Second World War and Partition. In Appendix VI, I have given excerpts from V. G. Kiernan's introduction to his translation and selection, Poems of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, just to show why Faiz is loved and revered on both sides of the border. And Kiernan was Sanyal's friend.
Brief biographical notes on revolutionaries and early communists, who deeply affected Sanyal's awareness of his times, are included in Appendix II. Throughout his memoir, Sanyal often mentioned them.
The selection of Indian artists for decorating the interior of the India House, the office of the Indian High Commissioner in London, made a big splash among the Indian artists in the late '20s and '30s. Sanyal, then a young student of the School of Art in Calcutta, also tried for the commission. Since this part of the history of Indian art is not widely known, I have given in Appendix I the details of the artists who got the commission and how they worked in London.
The artist, with his phenomenal memory, has made many references to art critics, historians, artists, stage actors, singers and writers, from his early days in Calcutta, and his years in Lahore. I have tried to give some information about some of them in footnotes. I only wish I could work on more entries. But then it would have required a team of research-workers.
Before closing, I would like to quote from the news- paper articles published in Lahore. The report in The Statesman datelined Lahore, February 17, 1941: Mrs Skrine, wife of the Hon'ble Mr C. P. Skrine, Resident for the Punjab States, opened at the Regal Building yesterday the third annual exhibition of paintings and sculptures of the Lahore School of Fine Arts .... In her opening address, Mrs Skrine paid a tribute to Mr Sanyal, who she thought was a benefactor to the Punjab in three different ways. Firstly, because he was immortalising many Punjabis in paint, in bronze and in clay. Secondly, his Art School was helping to create a future for art in this province .... The third way in which he was a benefactor .... The pupils of Mr. Sanyal had their [the people's] eyes opened to the beauty of the country .... and they appreciated the drama of the lives of ordinary people.
The next quote is from an article by the Pakistani writer Dr Ajaz Anwar, published in one of the Lahore dailies, when Sanyal revisited Lahore in 1986. Dr. Anwar writes: When I saw him for the last time, he was busy inspecting his sculpture pieces that he had discovered in Lahore Museum. I thought of what I had written once: "Many may have seen Naples and died, but coming to Lahore is reincarnation". With that I bade him goodbye, saying, "Let's meet again and again, and again".
"Like a counterfeit coin", was his reply.
|The Vertical Woman||1-102|
|I. The Interior Decoration of India House, London 1929-32||105|
|II. Revolutionaries & Others||106|
|III. Partition Pains||110|
|IV. Art Journalism in Lahor||111|
|V. Three Letters||119|
|VI. Faiz Ahmad Faiz||121|
The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) takes great pride in presenting the second volume of the Reminiscences of the doyen of Indian art, Padma Bhusan, Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal. The reminiscences of a veteran artist like Sanyal, need not be punctiliously chronological. For they could sometimes lose a natural and lively quality in narration of incidents and happenings connected in different phases of his life. The Reminiscences gives us a close view of his interaction with personalities in the field of art and the life in his times, in India, Europe and the USA, making for informative and enjoyable reading. Sanyal at 97, can be called, "the man of the century'. Affectionately addressed as 'Bhabesh Da' by his friends and admirers, he is a product of the complex network of the socio-economic and cultural milieu in India of the twentieth century-the first half of which saw the last decades of British colonialism.
He has, as is evident from his memoirs of the period after Independence, developed his artistic personality with more confidence and creative freedom in the changing backdrop of the socio-political and cultural scenario, with signs of reaffirming pride in inherited artistic traditions. Sanyal's own artistic journey from the 1920s, from dramatic portraits to today's paintings of hillscapes in a personal style---displaying vision and refinement of execution-is highly significant. The changing trends in visual arts have been sensitively felt and filtered through his aesthetic sensibility in his work during these decades. In his own way, he symbolizes the merging of the traditional and the modern.
His memoirs are a typical story of an Indian artist during the 40s, recounting the urgent need for survival of the artist and his search for peace in his life and work. Sanyal seems to have faced life with courage, maintaining a keen perhaps, he saw himself, the way he did, in his self- portraits rendered with an inimitable sense of humour and wit. He talks of the heartaches and despairs he suffered during his migration from Lahore to Delhi. There are incidents and stories of how the young Sanyal was always in search of "heads" for survival as a sculptor, and how he gradually became a part of the nascent art world of the 40s in the capital. He has many Significant things to remember about the art scene of Delhi, as the Founder-Chairman of the Delhi Silpi Chakra (949); as Head of the Art Department, Delhi Polytechnic 0953- 60); and as the Secretary, Lalit Kala Akademi 0960-69). Sanyal in various forms of art and modes of expression during the last 50 years, has not only left a deep imprint of his art and personality, but has inspired many of his students and contemporaries in the pursuit of their creative expression. A known humanitarian, he is in touch with the 'common man', the subject of some of his most important works, both in sculpture and in painting.
In recognition of his contributions to Indian art, Sanyal has recently, been bestowed in July, 1999, with the Shankaradeva Award by the Government of Assam. The Reminiscences has been ably and painstakingly edited by the eminent art critic, Santo Datta. He has put together laborious footnotes to bring out interesting points and events and introduce these to the readers. Many appendices including personal letters written to Sanyal have been reproduced. Santo Datta has collected documents which might prove valuable to future researchers. A huge mass of material has been made readable and photographs have been used to illustrate the life and times of the artist. We are grateful to him for his valuable research and effort in editing the memoirs.
The second volume of The Vertical Woman: Reminiscences of B. C. Sanyal covers the period from 1947 to the present.
While going through the 800-page manuscript and shaping it for the press, this editor was amazed by the author's feverish urge to record almost everything that he could remember as something Significant, or something tender and lovable, during the long stretch of time. That he was in a hurry was evident from his use of all kinds of paper, of different formats and colours, ranging from note- sheets to foolscap papers, that is, any paper he could lay his hands on. And he used all kinds of pen and ink, depending on their immediate availability.
Long years of teaching, sculpting, painting, journeying in India and abroad and working as art administrator- memories of all these seem to have rushed him to his desk. For Sanyal, it was an intermittent high fever of reminiscences. Readers who expect strictly chronological 'documentation' will do injustice to the veteran artist. Yet, his Reminiscences is a document. To this we come back later.
In his memoirs, the artist has used many words, Russian, Czech, Roumanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian and German, ete. which naturally rubbed off on him during his travels. I could not check their spellings. But I have checked and corrected spellings of most of the place names and those of the rivers and mountains all over Europe, America, Africa, China and Japan where he made his numerous journeys. Even after that I might have left many errors and editing lapses, which I regret.
As I did with the first volume of his Reminiscences, so have I tried to cover some of the numerous references he made to famous people, events and artists in the footnotes and appendices of this volume. I wish I had the time and facilities for preparing more notes for the readers' benefit. For instance, Sanyal made passing references to the revolt in Hungary, or to the Suez crisis when he was on his way back to India. Short notes could have helped the readers to relate the Reminiscences to the critical period the international situation was then passing through.
During his visit to the Soviet Land and East European countries, Sanyal often questioned the artists about the raison d'etre of Socialist Realism. On this he had discussions with the artists of eastern Europe. At some point of editing, I decided to prepare a whole appendix on Socialist Realism, giving extracts of policy statements emanating from official sources and opinions of artists and ideologues of other countries, even including some passages from Mao Tse-Tung's talks at the Yenan Forum on Art and literature', 1942. For the young generation now the question may not be as agonising as it was for us in the 'Forties and 'Fifties. But this would have prohibitively increased the number of pages. Instead, what I did was a brief footnote on Renato Guttoso, one of the finest exponents of Socialist Realism, whom Sanyal mentioned admiringly.
Similarly, I covered Bela Bartok, Ossip Zadkine, Hassan Shaheed Suhrawardy and Frank Lloyd Wright in footnotes for making some points clear to the readers. On his visit to New York, Sanyal viewed Frank Lloyd Wright's many- splendoured Guggenheim Museum as an inverted 'wedding cake'. He was right. In a footnote on Wright, I quoted Peter Blake, the historian and critic of architecture, pointing out how the design of the Guggenheim Museum had failed both in function and objective.
Sanyal is on a sad flight of nostalgia when he remembers Delhi Shilpi Chakra's evenings at its premises in Shankar Market: Best of all were the fraternal evenings, in an informal atmosphere, of poets, painters, dancers, musicians and intellectuals of different hues .... It was a treat to see the architect Habib Rahman's pantomime of Martha Graham and Sailoz Mukherjee enacting Van Gogh" Iust like his studio-cum-school in the pre-Partition Lahore' Few readers know what contributions architect Habib Rahman made to the skyline of the Capital. This has been covered in a footnote. I wish I could do more As I said above, the personal memoir of an artist, even when it is not strictly chronological, leads us to the vital issues and problems that made up the changing art world of his times. The Reminiscences leads us to a long period of rapid, sometimes radical, changes in the socio-political and cultural climate in India. His personal memories and experiences also contribute to the 'documentation' of the period gone by. His viewpoint is that of an artist working for his survival and a niche in the history of modern Indian art. There were many like him in India and abroad, representative of their times.
Sanyal has given the readers ring-side seats to view and ponder on the big scandal that burst upon the Indian art scene when the First Triennale-India was held in the Capital in 1968. He described the high drama act by act. Sm Indira Gandhi was then the Prime Minister of India. While regretting the surfacing of the new breed of art sharks, Sanyal notes with a deep sense of loss and sadness how he lost his unconventional self-portrait The Last Moghul to such a shark. He says that between him "and other sharks in the art market my 'cats' and other pictorials missed their niche in my studio for ever".
About the controversies over the role of progressive and committed artists raging in the 'Eighties, he made some references. To bring the contentions nearer to the readers, I have quoted extensively from Krishna Chaitanya (the late K.K. air) in footnotes.
The three appendices at the end of the volume include Sanyal's 'First Amrita Sher-Gil Memorial Lecture' of 1980; two different versions of the 'genesis' of Delhi Shilpi Chakra; some personal letters written to Sanyal by Lady Ranu Mukherjee, Dr Hermann Goetz, Sm Haimanti Chakrabarty and Dr. Mulk Raj Anand; an article on Sanyal's art by the late jaya Appaswamy, and extracts from "Gallery Twenty-Six Artists' Forum," 1977 pamphlet. In his introductory piece to the pamphlet Sanyal gives a touching description of the life of a refugee artist in the post- Partition Capital "26 Gole Market, now Gallery 26, has an abiding association with my personal life, ... It is here I began by accepting a few pupils and painting and sculpting despite all handicaps. The squalor of a market place, the stench from the neighbouring fish and poultry shops, the operational noise of the next door tailor-master's sewing machine, the non-stop tick-tick orchestration of the typewriter training school, the din of the ever flowing traffic below-all added up to the milieu and atmosphere which I felt was congenial to a destitute refugee artist". However, over the decades he won recognition for his contributions to art, art teaching and art administration, and honours have been showered on him, both national and international.
It is his instinctive sense of humour and his rare capacity to laugh at himself in the most bizarre circumstances that have seen Sanyal, sane and sound, through the vicissitudes of fortune.
|The Vertical Woman||1-161|
|I. Shilpi Chakra: Some Reminiscences|
|II. Letters: Lady Ranu Mukherjee|
|Dr. Hermman Goetz, Smt. Haimanti Chakraborty|
|Dr. Mulk Raj Anand|
|III. First Amrita Sher-Gil Memorial|
|Lecture by BC sanyal 1980|
|BC Sanyal by Jaya Appaswamy|
|Gallery Twenty-Six Artists Forum (excerpts)|
Item Code: NAO582 Author: Santo Datta Cover: Paperback Edition: 1999 Publisher: National Gallery of Modern Art Language: English Size: 9.5 inch x 5.5 inch Pages: 308 (13 B/W Illustrations) Other Details: Weight of the Book: 1.0 Kg
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