100 years of Champaran
At the newly feted Bihar Museum was an inaugural function that celebrated and held a toast to 100 years of Champaran. This exhibition which shows Gandhi through the eyes of artists was curated by collector and gallery person R N Singh. Not only does it include historic works by modern masters but it also has younger contemporaries.
The Bihar Museum's most important feature is the fact that it has been conceived as a museum. It is not a heritage structure converted into a museum, but a contemporary space specifically designed to house art, archaeological objects and artefacts, and to offer a unique visual experience. Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki's minimalist architecture makes a radical break with the colonialist tradition of museums as heritage spaces.
Champaran is a historic happening in India's civic history. The successful struggle of the erstwhile indigo cultivators of Champaran against European planters introduced to India satyagraha – non-violent civil disobedience as a stratagem of mass politics that Gandhi had experimented with earlier in South Africa. Over the next 30 years, he was to employ satyagraha to galvanise millions into one of history's biggest mass movements against perhaps the greatest imperial power of all time.
Top of the suite was Nandalal Bose's unique fusion of modern and ancient art in the context of modern India's political struggles, providing a unique educational opportunity to delve deeply not only into Gandhi's life and work but also into the life of India itself in the 20th and 21st centuries. When Mohandas Gandhi set out on the Dandi Salt March in 1930 to protest the British ban on making salt, Nandalal created the definitive image of Gandhi on the march in his Dandi March (Bapuji). The simplicity of Nandalal's linocut matched perfectly with the simplicity of Gandhi's call to a simpler life for all Indians as they cast off the oppressive rule of the British.
Ram Kinkar's Gandhi
The second remarkable work was Ramkinkar Baij's Gandhi – with his Dandi and one foot on a skull. Baij the student of Nandlal and India's pioneer amongst modernist sculptors gives us a work informed with a sense of struggle, and a sense of spirit – to look at this work is to be drawn into its own dynamism.
There was also Jamini Roy's painting of Gandhi and Tagore and a rare portrait by KG Subramanyan.
Contemporary characters – Prashant Kalita
Amongst contemporaries, there was Husain's Gandhi as well as a host of other images of the portrait of Gandhi created with fervour and verve. Of magnificent impact and intrigue was Prashant Kalita's abstract rendition. In an interview, Kalita has spoken about the abstract realms that he creates in his works.
"I don't restrict myself to see a dream. Understanding of images are all about real and unreal, dream and drama. My paintings comprise the symbolic representation of all desires, social systems, value systems, power and social classifications as their focal issues in an abstract application. Again, I would express that everything is incomplete in terms of forms and its meaning. Even while I reach a final state of comprehension in my painting, there appears a new horizon. My paintings are for individual reflection, understating and appreciation. That in itself is abstract."