| Beauty in raw nature: One of Shyam Kanu Borthakurís paintings showcased at Ganges Art Gallery in Calcutta last month |
Assam artist Shyam Kanu Borthakur had made Calcutta his home, but his inspiration lay in the hills and jungles of his home state. Borthakur was known for his powerful depictions of the elephants, boars and rhinoceroses. He died in Calcutta after a prolonged illness on January 31. In tribute, Calcutta-based Ganges Art Gallery held an exhibition of his works last month.
Borthakur was born at Naharkatiya in Assam in 1954. He graduated from Dibrugarh University in 1976 and got a diploma in the fine arts from the Indian College of Arts and Draftsmanship. He later studied fine arts at the College of Visual Arts, Calcutta, under the tutelage of Shuvaprasanna. The world of animals was the fountainhead of his art.
He was particularly good at creating drawings of wild animals in all their fury as a symbol of the untamed powers of nature which civilisation has alienated us from. Thus his bulls are huge snorting and hulking forms with humps as large as a mountain. He managed to catch them when they are charging at their enemies full tilt with blazing eyes and horns lowered. There is a dynamism in his drawings, which makes even the smaller animals, like the wild boar, look fierce.
Borthakur created a series of sculptures, both big and small, of wild boars and goats using bronze. In one instance, he has used wood and leather. The goats with horns larger than their heads and stomachs have a sparkle in their eyes. Like the bulls, some of them are aggressive and ready to butt anybody with their horns.
In contrast, his elephants are docile and quiet in spite of their mammoth dimensions. They are like shadows in the forest, but are immediately identifiable because of their gigantic forms. Sometimes the calves are accompanied by their mothers although they are quite independent minded, often straying from the safety of the maternal embrace, albeit with the trunk. His forest-dwelling human beings have sharp features and bright feral eyes.
The artist did many satirical drawings, although he is better known for his animals. His steaming kettles, like fat ladies, and lugubrious boars are delightful caricatures. It is wonderful how an artist could look at both sides of the picture. As an environmentalist, he had done a series on cellphones and how these gadgets impede human contact and communication besides polluting the environment.
Borthakur had held many exhibitions both in Calcutta and Guwahati and other cities all over India. His works are a part of the collections of individuals, corporate houses and institutions like Lalit Kala Akademi.