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In Search of Aesthetic Divinity

Debasish Chakrabarty

Edited by Anna L. Dallapiccola
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 216, Rs. 2495.00


Any discussion of traditional art forms in India would not be complete or possible without stepping into the realms of the narrative painting tradition. Indian Painting: The Lesser-Known Traditions edited by Anna L. Dallapiccola presents a bouquet of twelve incisive essays elaborating on these lesser known traditions of India. The key word in the title, perhaps, is ‘tradition’ as no scholarship has ever positioned these so called ‘folk’ traditions as ‘schools’, and yet reading through these articles one is convinced that these traditions are more deeply entrenched and more consistent in their stylistic continuity than many ‘schools’ or ‘movements’ of painting.   The depth and continuity of these ‘traditions’ is borne out by the range of issues and time line of expression that some of these works cover. The narrative tradition, the earliest reference to which is found in Patanjali’s Mahabhasya (2 BCE), in spite of being on the wane in modern times, is also seen embracing change and challenges. From the innovative Bin-Laden Patas by the Bengal patuas to the skills shown in innovative pandal decoration with narrative painting forms by local artists during the Durga Puja in Bengal—the artists and the narrative traditions are still eking out a livelihood with the market’s patronage. The articles in this book celebrate the spirit of this tradition. There are two structural elements running parallel through all the essays—a move from the particular to the general and the thematic unity/continuity of the narrative tradition. All the articles deal with specific painters or paintings, and expand the canvas to the traditional form itself. All the traditional art forms discussed narrate stories, either the traditional mythical narratives or a’ la Roland Barthes’s definition, participating in the graphic rendition of the modern mythopoeic imagination.   The expert movement from the individual to the genre is best showcased by Jyotindra Jain’s ‘Crossing Borders: Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists in India’. Jain begins with Jivya Shome Mhashe’s incisive Warli creations questioning and probing the impact of political and technological choices on the rural reality of India. While discussing the Madhubani creations of Ganga Devi, Jain also comments on the impact of what he calls the ‘museum effect’ on these traditional forms of expression. Sonabai‘s multimedia and Khemraj’s clay relief works are perhaps the more accessible impacts of the ‘museum effect’. However, the brilliant Jangarh Singh Shyam’s tragic and untimely ...

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