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Rarely-seen Jamini Roy paintings on show

An exhibition of Jamini Roy’s paintings organised by the Rajya Charukala Parshad to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of the artist who had turned to folk art in his search for the essence of form opened at Gaganendra Pradarshashala on Saturday evening. The Parshad like most cultural institutions of this state is riven by politics and has a huge and valuable collection of paintings by Bengal artists which has been neglected for years.

About two months ago, Jogen Chowdhury and Shuvaprasanna had taken over the reins of the organisation, which, till recently was headed by Samir Aich, who has fallen out of favour. Hence both artists in their inaugural speech emphasised the haste with which the exhibition was held. Chowdhury said it was organised in 10 days. Amit Mitra, the state finance minister, was supposed to inaugurate the exhibition. In his absence litterateur Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay did the honours.

Chowdhury said the Parshad had 272 Jamini Roy paintings in its collection of which only 35 were being exhibited. These were collected over the past 25 to 30 years but only one exhibition has been held so far at ICCR. He stressed the importance of taking good care of the 1,250 paintings in the Parshad’s collection, which have, till now, been neglected. Chowdhury expressed his wish to publish a book on the introverted artist and hold a seminar on him as well.

About four years ago, Intach had prepared an inventory of the paintings in the Parshad’s holding and a condition assessment of these as well. Its verdict was that 100-odd paintings were in need of restoration.

Atri Bhattacharya, state culture secretary, said he too wished to publish a book on the artist but more than that he wanted to upload all 272 Jamini Roy paintings on the Parshad’s website. A quick look at the website (it is only a single page) shows that an important medium of painting has been confidently misspelt throughout. Bhattacharya also expressed the wish to bring out a set of high-quality prints of the versatile artist’s paintings from various periods of his career. That was the only affordable way ordinary people could acquire his works and frame them.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay too felt that prints should be made available as originals were beyond the reach of ordinary Bengalis. He said Jamini Roy’s paintings were immediately recognisable and they smelt of earth.

The exhibition has besides Jamini Roy’s trademark folk art-inspired paintings, many works from his early period as well. He painted many Impressionist pastiches then. Some of the drawings are unsigned as the artist viewed art as a communal activity, the way it had been among folk artists. Two of the captions caught one’s eye. Christ’s mother is mentioned as “Merry” and the seated woman is captioned “Upabaistha” with an extra “a”. The exhibition continues till April 29.