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Unpacking Jamini Roy: A Private Collection Goes Public

09/02/2016 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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On 29 January, more than 30 years since his death, about 80 paintings and drawings by Jamini Roy, India's first modern master were unveiled at Dhoomimal Gallery in New Delhi. "Carved Contours" is a show that has come out of the treasure chest of the Uma and Ravi Jain estate and presents the best of the legendary artist's works. The exhibition will continue until 10 March.

Dhoomimal Gallery owner Uma Jain remembers a time when artists such as J Swaminathan, FN Souza, Kishen Khanna and MF Husain would arrive for tea with her husband Ravi Jain, often heading over to Wenger's for snacks and impassioned discussions on art.

Watching the drawings and paintings being taken out of son Uday Jain's folders was like watching pages of history being released for the first time.

Another illustrious friend of the family was Jamini Roy. Watching the drawings and paintings being taken out of son Uday Jain's folders was like watching pages of history being released for the first time.

The collection goes back 80 years and, needless to say, is of great vintage value.

The greatest discoveries in the show are the drawings, made on small pieces of paper. Some are finished, others not, but each one resonates, connects with the past. Together, they tell the tale of how this modern master loved drawing with the simple tools of pen and ink. The Christ series, the woman and child, the sculptural scenes of little rural rituals -- each narrative is a nugget of intensity and great vigour. Getting the works framed and displaying them as a grid on a single wall, I believe, testify to the power of design spatialities.

The show has been split into two parts: paintings and drawings. As a curator it has been a delightful exercise of great research and insights that spanned more than two months. It was a journey of discovery to look at the instincts and intuitive reflections that drove Jamini Roy to use the Santhals as his models and create an entire series of the Puranas, the gods and goddesses, the Christ series and the serene yet beautiful alpanas. Roy was a man who believed in portraying the simplicity of his subjects. Yet in transforming the simple bronze-bodied Santhals into Madonnas, Christs, Krishnas and nayikas he was elevating their very presence.

As a curator it has been a delightful exercise of great research and insights that spanned more than two months.

The drawings are deeply intriguing to me because they are so beautifully moist with the irregular and incomplete strokes that set Roy apart for his economy of line and lithe leanings. Even more subtle are his proportions that just fit the frame -- nothing is excess -- and his anatomical depictions of the mother and child, a subject that captivated Roy for many decades. The large-scale Krishna and Balarama and the gopinis and the nayikas are further distinguished by their antiqueness, their exceptional state of preservation, as well as their unbroken provenance with the Jain family.

Today, these works look as if they have come straight from the easel/hands of the artist. Never relined nor subject to restoration, the paintings retain the freshness of the moment they was painted -- the hairs from Roy's brush, the dry lines of his ink drawings, every nuance has been preserved in incredible detail although in some places you can see the wearing and the erosion that comes with the tides of time.

Social consciousness and human spirit

Jamini Roy's work speaks to us about social consciousness and the indomitable human spirit. If we look at his work itself as a whole, there is no illusion, only the simplicity of the images, the power of gesture and poise. If we view it within a social construct and structure, his sensitivity and compassion for the Santhals shines through. Karl Marx would have been so happy to see these drawings -- they celebrate the marginalised, the proletariat.

Roy's way of perceiving social structure and creating gods and goddesses out of the bodies of Santhals is a statement of great humanism.

Roy's way of perceiving social structure and creating gods and goddesses out of the bodies of Santhals is a statement of great humanism. He was creating a subtle statement of social character through metaphoric moorings.

He also gave us a class structure that was neither patriarchal nor matriarchal -- it was balanced. Jamini Roy's women have a sculptural sensuality. They live in the grace of quietude. His drapes have a certain dignity and finesse. He celebrates the textile medium in the thin-bordered Bengal saris and gives us a balance of both gesture and poise.

You can look at the works in this historic collection for hours and never be tired -- you can also recall the eternal words of Karl Marx:

"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."

This show invites us to ponder social consciousness and very subtly states that societies must exist in pluralistic patterns to ensure the harmony that we need to make life worthwhile.

"Carved Contours", an exhibition of works by Jamini Roy, curated by Uma Nair, is showing until 10 March at Dhoomimal Gallery, New Delhi.

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