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Indian Art in Words and Images

Parul Dave Mukherji

By Pratima Sheth
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2006, pp. 400, Rs. 1995.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

A lavishly produced book on Indian art, Dictionary of Indian Art & Artists fills up a lacuna within the study of Indian art. Although the entries for contemporary Indian art are informative and exhaustive this book aims to reach back to the past as much as possible within the constraint of a dictionary format and also offers elucidation of technical terms concerning art practice. The ambitious scope of the enterprise is encapsulated by the book jacket that conjures up a collage of images from the past juxtaposed against a typical modernist painting by an abstract artist: a statue of the Sarnath Buddha and an Ajanta Boddhisattva jostle against a Dasavatara Ganjifa and a female figure by Hemendranath Mazumdar.   If one were to browse through the book, the interspersing of the words and images can cast a mesmerizing hold on one’s attention and the high quality of the reproduction cannot help evoking one’s admiration. Containing 1700 entries with 320 visuals in colour and black and white, emphasis on the verbal and the visual appears very balanced and carefully laid out. However, the subtitle which reads more like an afterthought –“including Technical Art Terms” in fact, constitutes an important dimension of the dictionary. For a general reader, the explication of technical terminology pertaining to the visual arts can be of great help in facilitating an easier entry into the works of art through a better understanding of the methods and material employed by the artists.   The very project of compiling a dictionary of Indian art and artists is extremely viable and important. But it appears that the author aspires to move towards two opposite directions: a. to offer basic information about various art traditions, movements, art institutions, artists and technical terms following the logic of the alphabetical order and b. to focus on evolution and context for Indian art bringing in the chronological order. It was intriguing to find two essays, one by Aban Amroliwalla and Radha Kumar titled ‘Glimpses of the Evolution of Indian Art’ and the other by Partha Mitter on ‘Art, Nation and Identity: Colonial India—The First Phase’ which are to act as a prelude to the dictionary. As the dictionary ends, the author places an article by O.P. Agarwal on ‘Preservation of Art Objects’ where one normally expects a conclusion.   It seems that the author imposes on the format of a dictionary that of a book with ...

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