The art of Santiniketan’s Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980): Evoking the rugged poetry of Santal village life – West Bengal

Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980)
Read more in The Telegraph (Calcutta) >>

Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Gopal Ghose, Gobardhan Ash… and now Ramkinkar Baij (1906-1980). The year 2013 may yet prove to be one of rich retrieval of art heritage, some of it marginalized in Bengal’s collective memory.

Although wide recognition did not come to Baij early, he gained the status of a cult figure that ensured a certain mystique around his personality that was almost as compelling as his art. […]

For what his temperament obviously sought was splendid simplicity in images that, quite incidentally, threw up a complex of suggestions. Images that sprang not from grand themes —mythology or millennial prescriptions — but from what he saw around him: nature and the life of the people from villages around Santiniketan, the Santhals, who were guiltlessly unselfconscious about their taut, weather-beaten bodies and daily toil. After all, wasn’t he a disciple of Nandalal Bose?

Both nature and human figures are sensuously evoked through a wealth of versatile lines — close and scribbly or racy, calligraphic, flowing — and breezy, dappled watercolour or ink, reduced to pale, almost accidental, unbidden stains. A much-seen work in thin, grey daubs of ink, called Trees in an early publication, is here along with some watercolour landscapes of minimalist eloquence that can’t fail to touch the viewer. […]

A few linocut prints from the 1940s address big themes such as the Bengal famine — though in microcosm — and the Quit India movement. But Baij was always more than ready to embrace the rugged poetry of village life, the gritty syncopation of its everyday rhythms that yearned to be eternalized. A fine example would be the etching, Mother and Child (picture). Or the paintings that turn daily rituals into intimate cameos and the ordinary into the iconic.

Ramkinkar’s Baij's "Santhal Family" (cement and laterite gravel) at Santiniketan photo © Ludwig Pesch
“Santal Family” (Santiniketan) by Ramkinkar Baij >>

But masterly as they are, it must be conceded that it is primarily the sculptures that earned Baij the status of a guru. With unusual material and a gravelly texture that celebrates the Birbhum terrain with its termite hills and parched, brittle earth, Baij gives to his Santhals a virile, matter-of-fact durability and resilience as they go about the business of life, taking its challenges in their stride, communicating their vulnerability without the slightest trace of sentimental heroism. It’s because Ramkinkar Baij had no ideological point to make, but was an instinctive artist with an insider’s insights. […]

Source: “Brittle earth and virile men” by Rita Datta, The Telegraph (Calcutta), 26 October 2013
Date Visited: 20 June 2020

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Learn more about Jamini Roy >>
View this slideshow and more: National Gallery >>

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