Centenary show slated for August - Will Benode Behari exhibition bypass city of birth?

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  • Published 1.05.06

Benode Behari Mukherjee was born in Behala on February 7, 1904. The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) was scheduled to celebrate his birth centenary with an extensive exhibition of his works in March.

That did not materialise because funds were not forthcoming and there was hardly any time to organise a major show that was to be curated by Vadodara-based artist Gulam Sheikh and Santiniketan-based art historian Shiv Kumar. Now, in all probability, the exhibition will be held in August.

The exhibition will be a representative show of more than 300 works collected from north India, Calcutta, Santiniketan, Vadodara and Najibabad, where the artist had worked.

It is a very ambitious project that has the possibility of travelling outside the country.

The exhibition will travel to Mumbai and Bangalore but it is not certain that it will be held in the city where he was born and where he worked for a good part of his career.

Art lovers here have hardly shown any interest in it, although Jogen Chowdhury says he will write to the ministry concerned and start a signature campaign so that it stops over.

Rajeev Lochan, director, NGMA, is pressing for the exhibition to be held in the city, where he became a household name after Satyajit Ray made a documentary titled Inner Eye on the artist who was once his teacher.

The funds for the project have been slashed by one-third. The original demand was for Rs 26 lakh, a modest sum in this day and time, whereas the grant was as little as Rs 19 lakh. A good part of which ? Rs 10-11 lakh ? would be eaten up by way of insurance premium for the works collected from all over the country, said Gulam Sheikh over the telephone from Vadodara, where he lives.

Thanks to the art boom, insurance premium for the works of major artists has shot up to such an extent that NGMA had to cancel a retrospective of Tyeb Mehta after his canvas fetched a phenomenal price at a recent auction.

The NGMA is also awaiting revalidation of the grant, and Gulam Sheikh says he hopes it will come soon. The good news is that Ambika Soni, minister, tourism and culture, has taken interest in the project.

However, the Benode Behari exhibition will not suffer from lack of funds because private galleries such as Vadhera and Espace will be involved in funding the six to seven major publications that the curators have planned. The catalogue will be substantial.

The contributors are, apart from Shiv Kumar and Gulam Sheikh, K.G. Subramanyan, who has shifted to Vadodara and was trained under Benode Behari, who lost his vision in 1957. Nilima Sheikh and Mrinalini Mukherjee, Benode Behari?s daughter, are helping the organisers. Mrinalini Mukherjee will lend the family collection.

Apart from the main catalogue, there will be collaborative publications on Benode Behari?s neglected murals on an epic scale in Kala Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan, China Bhavan on the Visva-Bharati campus in Santiniketan. These have degenerated to such an extent that they could fade out in the foreseeable future.

Some large-format publications, too, have been planned on his scrolls and landscapes and flowers. Posters and cards of various price range will be on offer. Chitrakar, written by Benode Behari after he went blind, has been translated by K.G. Subramanyan and the book will launched soon.

Shiv Kumar says that museums in Singapore have evinced an interest in the exhibition. The curatorial staff of both the Singapore Art Museum, which is the equivalent of the NGMA, and the Singapore History Museum would like to hold the exhibition.