Contemporary Art Of Bihar: A Concise Account

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Bireswor Bhattacherjee, Senior artist, Kolkata
Bireswor Bhattacherjee, Senior artist, Kolkata
During ‘Sampurna Kranti’ movement, We exhibited paintings related to the oppression of the then Government in the name of emergency.

The writer Sri Bireshwar Bhattacharjee was the chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi, Patna, and Professor at College of Arts and Crafts, Patna, Bihar.

While writing about the contemporary art movement of Bihar I faced the problem as from where I should start. I thought safely I could start from the establishment of School of Arts, Patna in the year 1939. Because, this school was almost a bridge between traditional Patna School of Paintings, better known as Patna Qalam and contemporary art movement of Bihar.

The Patna Qalam which had one time earned its prime population not only in Bihar but almost all over northern India and made a place in the history of company art, gradually declined with the death of Shiv Dayal Lal and Shiv Lal, two great masters of the Qalam. This would not be true to say that there were no more talented artists working in that traditional school but the main reason behind the fall was lack of Patronage. The freedom movement, the growing oppression of the British rule, the economic instability of the Zamindars and Rees, gradually brought misfortune for the painters. So after the decline of Patna Qalam in the early last century, there were no significant art movements in Bihar for some time. In fact, the movement of art started with the School of Art, the present-day College of Art, Patna.

Shri Radha Mohan with the help of some art lovers and artists alike, Shri S.A. Shere, the then curator of the Patna Museum, Shri Nageshwar Prasad, a leading advocate of Patna High Court, Shri Shyamla Nand, Shri J.N. Banerjee, artist and Shri Rajendra Prasad nephew of Shri Radha Mohan Prasad started the Patna School of Arts and Crafts in the year 1939 in Govind Mitra Road, Patna. Somehow they could pull on the Institution under great financial crisis until it was taken over by the State Government of Bihar in 1948. The Govt. School of Arts and Crafts, Patna, of course, had seen some good days under the blessing of great personalities like Dr. Rajendra Prasad (First President of India), Shri Anugrah Narayan Sinha, the then Finance Minister, Acharya Badri Nath Verma, the Then Education Minister, and Shri J.C. Mathur, ICS, the then Education Secretary in the Govt. of Bihar. Shri Mathur’s contribution in the field of Arts and Culture in Bihar has been deeply remembered till these days. From the old Law College building, the Art School was shifted to the White House building in Bandar Bagicha (the place where the present Text Book Publishing Corporation is situated) in the year 1947.

The artists those days working in the field of art were Shri Upendra Maharath, Shri Hari Charan Mehta, Shri Radha Mohan, Shri Damodar Prasad Ambastha, Shri Dinesh Baxi, Shri Shyamla Nand, Shri Bateshwar Nath Srivastava, Shri Nripen Roy, Shri Satya Narayan Mukherjee, Shri Jadu Nath Banerjee, Miss Anita Das, and a few others. The activities of these artists were mainly confined to the Government organized exhibitions. There was hardly one-man show or any joint show or group show. As there is no such evidence available, most probably there were not linked with the contemporary movements of India.

In 1943, the Shilpa Kala Parishad was established in Patna with the initiative of Shri S.J. Mazumdar, ICS, Shri Mantu Sarkar, Shri S.N. Mukherjee, Shri Upendra Maharathi, Shri D.P. Ambastha and some other artists of Bihar. The Shilpa Kala Parishad took up to organize all India art exhibitions, of course not every year. The Patna School of Art also had exhibitions occasionally, but until 1953 the people of Bihar had no experience of creative art. The Shilpa Kala Parishad, Patna with the collaboration of All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society, Delhi organized the first International Art Exhibition in the Wheeler Senate Hall of the Patna University. The exhibition was represented by countries like France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Burma, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Australia, USA, UK, and many other countries. The exhibition drew people from all lanes and corners of Patna and its neighborhoods. It was a new experience for the people and the artists of Bihar. The exhibition left a question mark- Whether art is merely skill of reproducing visual experience or is something beyond that?

In the mid-fifties two artists of Bihar went abroad, Shri D.P. Ambastha to Yugoslavia and Shri B.N. Srivastava to Italy. Shri Srivastava joined his existing post of Professorship at the Art School after his return from abroad. He introduced a new approach to teaching in the Art School and gave some flashes of creative art to the students. Shri D.P. Ambastha took a job outside Bihar after his return from abroad. The artists of Bihar had little opportunity to get enlightened by his experience abroad. Occasionally people from Patna had the opportunity to witness exhibitions from foreign embassies organized by the Shilpa Kala Parishad. But the gap between one exhibition and the other was so wide that it had little effect on the people and artists. It may be felt that some kind of fanaticism for the academic and realistic western art in the artists of Bihar was also a hurdle in the way of the contemporary creative art movement in Bihar.

Lalit Kala Akademi a National Akademi for Visual art was established in 1954 in New Delhi. The Akademi has been organizing National exhibitions of art every year. Until the end of the fifties, there was no participation from Bihar. From mid-sixties, young artists of Bihar started their movement in the field of contemporary visual arts. Exhibitions were organized in Patna as well as in Delhi and Calcutta. It may be mentioned here that the Shilpi Sangh – a registered organization of the ex-students of the Govt.

The School of Art & Craft was established in the year 1959. This Sangh effectively started holding exhibitions of art in Patna and also had annual gatherings to review art activities in Bihar. It had published a few issues of art bulletins. I took my exhibitions to Delhi every year jointly with Hem Chandra Mohanta and Sukumar Chatterjee. Shri Shyam Sharma from Lucknow joined Govt. School of Art & Crafts, in Patna in the year 1966. He opened new vistas with his experimental works in Print-making right from 1966. In October 1069 the ‘BAG’ – (Bihar Artists Group) organized an exhibition in the Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi. The artists were Pandeya Surendra, Umanath Jha, Shyam Sharma, P.Chandra Vinode, Ranjit Kumar Sinha and me. Just after this exhibition I left for Istanbul, Turkey and toured other countries of Europe.

The ‘Triangle’ took its birth in the year 1971. It was not a registered organization but it had its manifold activities in Patna as also outside the state. Shyam Sharma, Ranjit Kr. Sinha and I being its three angles pushed out activities jointly with our students like Ashok Tiwari, Anil Kumar Sinha, Lius Kuzur and Lushai, a student from Laos and others. The Triangle, thus organized exhibitions in Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, and Shantiniketan. An open-air exhibition was organized by the Triangle group on the lawns of Hotel Princess near Dakbanglow in the early seventies. With my experiences from Istanbul, the ‘Triangle’ held floor shows in the name of Neo-Dynamism (New expression of Visual art) in Patna. The shows were widely appreciated by the intellectuals of Patna as also by the people from outside the state. The ‘Triangle Voice’ a mini news bulletin published and printed on inland letters created a sensation all over India. Another approach to make people of Patna aware of the contemporary art movement undertaken by this Triangle was by giving messages on the telephone every morning. But unfortunately, the Triangle broke down with the sudden death of one of its angle Ranjit Kr. Sinha.      

However, the movement of Art in Bihar did not stop. Regular exhibitions in a group or by individuals like Bireshwar Bhattacharjee, Shyam Sharma, Vinod Singh, Rajat Kumar Ghosh, Bijoy Chandra Prasad, Sadanand Sinha, Pramode Kumar, Rajendra Prasad Gupta were being held. Two women amateur painters Mrs. Kumum Sharma and Dr. Sudha Khetan also joined us. Besides activities in Patna, these artists regularly participated in almost all important All India Art Exhibitions outside the state including the National Exhibition of Art. During ‘Sampurna Kranti’ movement of Lok Nayak Jayprakash Narayan, me and Shri Shyam Sharma along with a group of own students, Pramod Kumar, Anil Kumar Sinha, Arun Kumar, Bijaychand and others exhibited paintings related to oppression of the then Government in the name of emergency on the prominent road comers causing traffic jam. A huge crowd gathered every day. The Government seized our paintings. The ‘Dinman’ a popular Hindi daily gave well coverage to this movement, printed one of the paintings on its cover page. After a long spell, the Shilpa Kala Parishad with its full routine of activities appeared on the scene in the year 1979. Since then the Parishad has been organizing art exhibitions, seminars, etc, in and outside the state of Bihar.

It may be asserted that Patna by eighties achieved a position to be marked as one of the important art centers of India. It deserves to be mentioned that young artists like Milan Kumar Das, Rajat Kumar Ghosh, Anil Kumar Bihari, Sanjeev Sinha, Dr. Sudha Khaitan, Pramod Kumar, Ajoy Choudhary, Shambhavi, Zamar Jalil, Archana Sinha, and few others have brought prestige to the State of Bihar by winning awards outside the state in all India level competitions.

Some new groups in the name of ‘Aab’, ‘Women Artist Association’, ‘Prachi’, Rhythm’ and others were formed and held exhibitions in and outside of the State. Of course, most of them were short lined. It is a matter of extreme pride for us that Bihar has Six National Akademi Award winners – Gupta Ishwar Chandra, Rajat Kumar Ghosh, Bireswar Bhattacharjee, Shyam Sharma, Milan Das & Sanjeev Sinha. Ram Narayan Pandeya got honorable mention in the National Art Exhibition. Over and above Shri Radha Mohan, founder principal of the Government College of Arts & Crafts, Patna was honored as Fellow by the National Lalit Kala Akademi.

By the end of the eighties and at the beginning of nineties some young artists made a commendable contribution worth mentioning among them are Ashok Kumar, Moitreyee Ghosh, Manju Prasad, Sanjay Ojha, Rajiv Ranjan, Amresh Kumar, Umesh Kumar, Tribhuban Kumar, Rawinder Das, Bipin Kumar, Narendra Pal, and Prerna Jha.

During the eighties, for about three or four years Visual Art in Bihar got Government patronage with the initiative of the then Culture minister Shri Arjun Vikram Shah and the Joint Secretary Shri Navin Kumar, IAS. All India Exhibitions and painter’s camp were held, youth festivals were organized. Some artists got financial support for holding exhibitions and surveys of folk arts of Bihar. Bihar State Lalit Kala Akademi was established with Shri Mahesh Prasad Sinha as Chairman and Shri Jai Narayan Singh as Vice-Chairman. In the beginning, there were some activities of Akademi in collaboration with Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Calcutta but after two or three years due to the paucity of funds, it could do very little.

The college of Arts, Patna that produced quite a number of artists gradually gone down as its teachers retired one after another and never vacant posts were filled in. Prof. Shyam Sharma retired last at the beginning of 1999. The Art College is anyhow pulling its classes by some ad-hoc teachers who were appointed for six months. But in spite of the above setbacks, the young artists were relentlessly engaged in their creative activities and holding group shows or solo shows in and outside the State. ‘Prabhav’ a group of some senior artists of Bihar like Anil Bihari, Milan Das, Shyam Sharma, Shikha Sinha, and Bireswar Bhattacharjee is running an Institution of visual arts for creative art activities with children and youth. It held several exhibitions in and outside the State including a show at Jahangir Art Gallery, Bombay in last May 2002.

The present exhibition is an effort to give a panorama of the art trends prevailing In Bihar. The members of the Rhythm group deserves praise for this effort.                            

Note: Shri Bireswar Bhattacharjee had written this article around 2010, on an art exhibition organized by Rhythm Group, which gives us a piece of detail information on the contemporary art movement in Bihar. Profile picture credit: Rawindra Das

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