Friday, Feb 28, 2020 | Last Update : 08:30 AM IST

Standing on the shoulder of two giants

Published : Oct 17, 2016, 10:04 pm IST
Updated : Oct 17, 2016, 10:04 pm IST

For art historian R. Siva Kumar, artists perceive history differently, and every artist has a unique relationship to the past.

Rabindranath with his  students at Santiniketan
 Rabindranath with his students at Santiniketan

For art historian R. Siva Kumar, artists perceive history differently, and every artist has a unique relationship to the past. In an upcoming lecture in the city, titled Abanindranath and Rabindranath Tagore: A creative Dialogue, he will be establishing the relationship between two most important artists from Bengal in the last century — “Abanindranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore. The nephew and uncle duo energised the artistic and literary scene of the country in the early 20th century, and founded the renowned institute of Santiniketan,” says Prof. Siva Kumar, where he currently teaches.

“Although there is very little correspondence between the two artists, one can closely study their work and establish a creative dialogue that took place between them,” he says.

According to Kumar, every artist relates to their time and the past. “Past fives identity, and present gives a sense of reality,” he explains. He further adds, “For Abanindranath, the past was the immediate colonial and Mughal periods, whereas for Rabindranath, the past was from Kalidasa, whose historical narrative was broken and hence his work is an attempt to bridge that gap.”

Skill, he says, could sometimes be a bit of a constraint for artists. Although it is as important, there are times when artists must follow and break the rules at the same time, he adds. “Abanindranath, who was essentially a painter took to writing and Rabindranath, who was a writer took to painting to explore new medium and consequently their artistic freedom,” he says.

Kumar, who originally hails from Kerela, took an early interest in art and decided to join an art school. “I wanted to be an artist and eventually became an art historian. In those days, one would either go to Baroda or Santiniketan to study art. I got through the later. Soon after completing my studies at Shantiniketan, I got a job as a professor and I decided to stay back,” he explains.

Comparing two artists can often give a better glimpse into their creative process, he says. “In the West, scholars have studied Picasso and Matisse and how they responded to each other’s work through a creative dialogue. Another interesting instance is the creative conversation among Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Artists often pay homage and critique each other through their work,” he points out.

Speaking on whether the two artists had any influence on the Bombay Progressives he says, “One of the important things one should remember is that two were men who worked under colonial rule, and an anti-colonial thrust was central to their outlook. Whereas the progressive artists belonged to post-colonial India and they were eager to be a part of an international modernism,” he elaborates.

According to the professor, although the contemporary Indian art world has become a lot more vibrant and lively, it’s the history of the past, which is still in troubled waters. “Barring a few, scholars are not working on the history of the Indian art,” he laments. In a world, which he calls “neo-colonial”, Kumar argues that artists today can learn a lot from the previous artists especially the Tagores, although the impact might not be apparent. “Historical insight has no immediate use, like a certain scientific discovery. But it gives us a better understanding of our past and revisiting it may help us to see things in a newer light. Artists like Abanindranath and Rabindranath responded to the colonial powers, they resisted in their own way. It will be interesting to see how the contemporary artists resist the neo colonial world. If one wants, one can find a link. But that’ll depend on the artists. Historians can only speak in retrospective,” he concludes.

On October 19, 6 pm, At Piramal Tower, B Wing, Ground Floor, Peninsula Corporate Park G.K.Marg, Lower Parel