Rediscover Jogen through Japanese eyes

Jogen Chowdhury’s paintings from the personal collection of Masanori Fukuoka will be displayed at ICCR

More than three decades ago, a Japanese traveller had come to India in search of spiritual nourishment. This was much in keeping with thousands of tourists from that country who have seen India as the destination for their spiritual yearning. Little did Masanori Fukuoka realise that his experience would extend beyond the mysticism that millions of foreign travellers have sought to explore. His travels brought him into contact with people who prompted him to discover the wonders of Indian art. That was the beginning of a new experience of India that culminated in the setting up of the Glenbarra Art Museum in the south of Japan.

Masanori travelled the length and breadth of the country collecting art works that had an abiding influence on his mind and his life in general. His visits to India became more frequent and, on each occasion, he built up a personal collection of contemporary Indian masters – Tayeb Mehta, Laxma Goud, Sakti Barman, Ganesh Pyne and many more. But perhaps the largest collection consisted of the works of Jogen Chowdhury.

Back in the 1980s, Masanori had become a prominent face in the galleries of Kolkata, especially those which had substantial collections of Jogen's work. One of the regular destinations in Kolkata was Chitrakoot Art Gallery which is widely known for housing a large collection of folk, classical and contemporary Indian art. It was here that Masanori turned up to take away the work that Jogen had done since the years he had spent in Paris in the 1960s. He had also dropped into other galleries that had thrived on Jogen's contributions at a time when the art market was at its peak. The result was an overall collection that numbered more than 400 of Jogen's work and hundreds more of other Indian masters that are proudly displayed at Glenbarra, perhaps the largest collection of Indian art abroad. One would have thought that these works had been taken out of the country – never to be seen again. But Masanori confirms that he was more than a collector. He was a connoisseur of Indian art in the real sense. More than 25 years after he set up the Glenbarra Art Museum at Himeji, he has now returned with a selection of around 40 Jogen works to be displayed at the Nandalal Bose Gallery of the ICCR in Kolkata, the Pundole Art Gallery in Mumbai and the Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi. The event in Kolkata this month is a gala rediscovery of the master of lines in a style that is stunningly unique. This has been made possible by the support that Masanori has been receiving over the years and especially on this occasion from Prakash and Sumitra Kerjariwal of Chitrakoot.

Quite predictably, there was an enthusiastic turnout on the opening day despite a retrospective that is now being held at another venue.

The selection at the ICCR (on view till November 27) revels in the distortion of forms and the flights of fantasy predominantly with images of men and women with which the viewer can relate. From the early pastels to the later cross hatch works, they add up to a social concern that is a gripping mixture of caricature and cruel comment. The allegory may often be quite painful as when he creates an imagery of a scandal involving a politician and a woman from Orissa. But the blackened face of the man with the voluptuous figure of the woman has a mocking tone that weaves the comment into the sheer pleasure of observing the treatment. Jogen has been quite prolific with these artistic experiences of pain that many feel are rooted in the trauma of displacement that had compelled him and his family to leave their roots in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh. But the turning point came when he went to Paris for higher studies and discovered an urban awareness that he injected into an extraordinary mixture of traditional images and contemporary ideas. The apparent trivia is an integral part of his artistic consciousness but it is rich in suggestions and draws the viewer inevitably into a long and brooding assessment of works like The Wound, Moonstruck, Couple Life II.

Jogen has visited the museum of contemporary Indian art in Japan and is naturally thrilled by the response to calculated curves and distortions in his depiction of characters that have become his signature. If that was a confirmation of the universal appeal of lines and human images, Masanori has confirmed that the Indo-Japanese artistic bond is here to stay. He was seen interacting with friends in a manner that perhaps suggested that his journey into the artistic soul of India has not ended. Jogen himself has an output of work that covers his college years, the post-Paris impressions (some of which are included in the show), his years as a textile designer in Chennai, a curator at Rashtrapati Bhavan and finally his world at Santiniketan. They embrace the poetry and passion, compassion and concern, anger and affection that have produced a world of unending joy within a form that Jogen has now immortalised.

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