An amazing artist – Ramkinkar Baij

Yesterday afternoon I find myself wandering up to the NGMA art gallery premises. The gates have some vibrant posters advertising a retrospective of the works of one Ramkinkar Baij. I’d never heard of him before.

I walk in. If you haven’t been here let me tell you it is a lovely bit of wooded paradise, a serene space and today it looked especially green-lush. The trees that were completely bare early this year in February are hard to identify.

I amble up to the museum,  holding the humbly priced ticket and the small free booklet of the artist and his works the lady at the reception handed me.

It is so silent. I am the only visitor at this hour.

The guards smile and are very courteous and well mannered. They open the door and I am let in. Large black and white photographs of the artist grace the white walls of the long corridor. With wild hair, sparkling eyes, a playful, childlike expression and shirtless.  Hah, a free spirit…

I pause to read a bit about the artist from the writings on the walls. A prodigious talent, he was born in 1906 in Bankura, West Bengal and was one of  the pioneers of the modernist movement in India. He spent decades in Santiniketan, was a recipient of many prestigious awards before passing away in 1980 after a period of illness.  He is renowned for his sculptures and early on had established himself as the first undoubted modern Indian sculptor.

The interior is lit. A very light music with folk undertones is being played. I ignore a narration from a small screen which is also part of the set-up. Everything else is all shut out.  The serene space seems to hold the presence of the artist’s energy.

Here is his ‘Sujata’, one of his larger than life sculptures.  Don’t you just want to stay there awhile…


The first sculpture that I run into at the exhbition is a rather large bust of Rabindranath Tagore – Tagore, as we all know him so well, with the long saintly beard, head bent a little, deep in thought. That description doesn’t do anything for the sculpture though. Here is what happened. I stopped abrupt in my tracks and held my breath. It was as if I had walked in too close to something or somebody very powerful. From intruder I turned to admirer and soon was moving in small semi circles around it. It was rugged, extremely, almost animal like rugged and at the same time extremely sensitive, life like sensitive.  Almost all of this sculptures are like this, extremely rugged.

Here is one of his water colors…

His watercolors are beautiful with crazy strokes and a minimalistic palette. Very dynamic. There is a lot of use of black lines often just to hint the shape of what is there within, in the picture. I especially loved a series called the flowering trees. So warm, and child-like it made me laugh. Sometimes as in the flowering trees one, it is just the essence, the colors, the warmth and the few black lines.  There are a lot of themes revolving mostly around village scenes, women harvesting, petulant cows and calves, buffaloes, people resting, gossiping etc.

The exhibits span two floors and three large rooms in the gallery. From the inner courtyard, a large wide set of stone steps resembling keys of a musical instrument lead to the upper halls and the older part of the gallery. Should visit spaces like these more often, I tell myself as I climb those stone steps beside the rubber tree. I still am the only one here.

More works of art, lots of pencil sketches, impressive studies of animals and some beautiful portraits. I am not much into modern art and hence just skim those. Some of his work is overtly sensual. There are a lot of sculptures and there is this whole series of Yaksh and Yakshi, quite fascinating.

Then I come across yet another sculpture that makes me just halt. This one also results in a huge surge of emotion welling up within me. It is one of Gandhi’s, during the Dandi march – a moment of deep intent and a heaviness of purpose, so magnificently sculpted. For a few timeless moments you are there with Gandhi, reliving that moment. It is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen in stone.

And then I want to see nothing else of any of their usual exhibits.  I want to float in this space for some more time with just those warm colors and the rustic lines. Maybe the intensity was overwhelming too.

Leaving you with a hint of that craziness – from the front and back covers of that booklet


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