The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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City Lights
Artists bare their soul

Taking ruthless stock of oneself in a mirror is one of the most harrowing tasks a human being could be confronted with. It is like looking into one’s soul as every line, fold of flesh, shadow under the eyes, curve of brow and set of the mouth betrays the undertow of feelings and emotions one tries to conceal behind a mask of conformity. For an artist, it becomes even more difficult and challenging to paint her or his own portrait and lay bare her or his soul before the public eye. One has to forcibly suppress one’s vulnerability and create an illusion of having presented a picture of one’s inner self, the self that usually lies hidden from the public gaze.

Where self-portraits are concerned, Rembrandt’s images of self are unsurpassed. We see the artist age before our eyes as the lusty spark imperceptibly turns into a weary old man without any illusions about life. Traditional Indian artists chose to remain anonymous. They rarely signed their works. Therefore, with a few exceptions, they have remained nameless and unsung. This changed in the 19th century with the introduction of European-style academic training in the curricula of our art schools. It was then that the Indian artists first created self-images that they presented as such.

The RPG Group is one of the few corporate houses in Calcutta that can boast a rich collection of works of art gleaned through the 90s. From October 29 to November 3 it is presenting the self-portraits of artists both well-known and young, based in Calcutta and Mumbai, in its huge collection at the Birla Academy of Art & Culture. Many of these were created during art camps hosted by RPG and some were commissioned. The artists have not confined themselves to portraying their own visages but have depicted themselves amidst their environment. Particularly curious are self-portraits executed by artists when they were relatively young. Such is the case of Jogen Chowdhury who did a compelling pencil sketch of himself in 1989. His thatch has greyed but he does not wear that haunted look any longer. Jehangir Sabavala is very precise. There is nothing fuzzy about his lines. Akbar Padamsee appears in a flurry of nervous strokes. M. F. Husain can conjure up himself with a few masterly strokes. Bikash Bhattacharjee is the bhadralok but he is like a figure seen in a dream. Anjolie Ela Menon creates a self we never see in photographs while Arpita Singh reduces herself to a print of her palm.

Paritosh Sen seems to be the only artist with a wonderful sense of humour and he doesn’t mind making himself the butt of his jibes with the brush. Manu Parekh is the only one to use bright colours and bold strokes to mould his own features. It would have been interesting to see how Madhvi Parekh would have defined herself. Both Laxman Shreshtha and Sunil Gawde are abstract artists. The former is the only artist in this collection to actually use a photograph but the latter has not deviated from his style. There is one artist one really misses. One would have loved to see some of Ganesh Pyne’s intriguing self-portraits here. Ever elusive, the artist conceals more than he reveals.

Three years young

Landmark, the anchor store in Emami Shoppers’ City on Lord Sinha Road, turns three on October 31. “In these years, we have established ourselves as a brand in Calcutta, and managed to grow in spite of so many other things happening in the world of retail,” says Gautam Jatia, CEO.

Books remain the core strength of the store, even though its international music collection can match any dedicated music outlet. “We have more than one lakh titles under one roof, including Hindi and Bengali books, which we introduced recently,” says Jatia, marking their maiden participation in the Calcutta Book Fair as a significant event during this past year. “We were exposed to a completely different segment that buys books from College Street and the Book Fair, and we benefited from the experience.”

Landmark is contemplating a second store in Calcutta, “preferably in Salt Lake”. The main focus of the 5,000 to 6,000-sq. ft second store will be books, “with a little bit of music and stationery”. The store, which has introduced a loyalty programme in Chennai in association with Citibank, plans to bring the Citibank Gold Card scheme to Lord Sinha Road in November. Loyalty points on purchase at various outlets can be redeemed only at Landmark.

On Landmark’s third birthday, Anjan Dutta will strike the right note with the launch of his new album Raja Opera, followed by a performance.

Travelling bright

“I have been obsessed with the unknown and the undiscovered facets of natural happenings,” reflects Samit Dey, which perhaps explains the abstractness in his paintings. Fascinated by his work, an NRI had approached Dey to hold an exhibition in Germany. Last month, 23 of his paintings — 14 on gouache, eight on canvas and one vegetable dye on silk — were put up at a week-long exhibition in the Dusseldorf Goethe Institut. The enthusiasm of the viewers, says Dey, was inspiring, with quite a few exhibits finding German buyers.

Having finished his masters in art from Kala Bhavan, Visva-Bharati, Dey won the Charles Wallace India Trust Award, sponsored by the British Council, in 1998. A year later, his first solo exhibition was held at the Spike Island Art Space in Bristol. The 38-year-old branched out into freelance painting, following a two-year stint as an art teacher at South Point High School from 1997. Since then, Dey has participated in several art camps at home and abroad. He was part of the International Art Symposium, organised by the Austrian Art Association, held in Vienna a couple of years ago. Sculpture has also brought him a gold medal for clay modelling at the National Youth Festival, Madurai, in 1991.

Earlier this year, Max Mueller Bhavan had involved him in ‘White Cube’, an innovative Indo-German installation workshop conducted by Thomas Zacharias and Bernt Engelmann. Dey is now packing his paint brushes for a trip to Singapore to attend an art camp.

First wives’ forum

Some wives do have them — understanding husbands. Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, for one, empathised with the travails of Chandana for being a musician’s wife. With so much time spent on the music trail, gone were the family gatherings and the home food, besides the warmth that often binds a nuclear family. “It was in 1996 that I floated the idea of an organisation for musicians’ wives,” says Chakraborty.

After seven years, Jagori has got the taal right – it is busy felicitating artistes of yesteryear, collecting rare music for the archives, organising regular meetings of members… And now, this Sunday, the group is hosting a function at Rabindra Sadan featuring Lopamudra Mitra and Bratati Banerjee.

At one end, Jagori has felicitated veteran musicians Meera Banerjee, Ajoy Sinha Roy, Kalyani Roy and others. At another, it has taken up the cause of a talented young musician, Chaitali Dutta, who lives in the suburbs and could not pay her guru’s fees. When they found her crying at a function, Chandana and Kaushiki (Chakraborty) decided to sponsor her taleem and pay for her transport.

Jagori has nearly 30 members — most of them wives of the who’s who of Indian classical music. There’s Subhalakshmi (Amjad Ali) Khan, Bonnya (Tanmoy) Bose, Alpana (Anindya) Chatterjee, Eileena (Silajit) Mazumdar, Manasi (Tejendra Narayan) Mazumdar, besides popular artistes like Nirmala Mishra and Haimanti Shukla.

According to president Chandana Chakraborty, the contribution of the husbands is immense. “In soirees organised by Jagori, our husbands perform free. Not only that, sometimes they contribute or arrange for donations that help us run the organisation.” The group’s regular recitals are held at Srutinandan on Golf Club Road and at the Sovabazar Rajbari.

Jagori hopes to create a musical choir of the wives that would go professional, some day soon. “Most members like myself, Bonnya or Eileena are performers. So, we decided to put our creativity to good use. And those who cannot sing, can help in other aspects, like administration,” says Chandana.

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