His art was rooted in the soil of Bengal of Santineketan,where he spent more than 50 years of his life,and of Bankura village,where as a child,Ramkinkar Baij would observe artisans mould idols of deities. The young Baij would study the process from a distance and head home to make similar terracotta reliefs. He was spontaneous yet thoughtful, says artist KS Radhakrishnan,who has spent the last four years working on a retrospective of one of Indias foremost modernist sculptors.
The ongoing exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) documents Baijs work from one of his earliest sculptures at the Visva Bharati campus,Santhal Family that depicts a Santhal family moving house with their possessions to his acclaimed cement portrait of Rabindranath Tagore that was completed a year before Tagores demise in 1941. The exhibition celebrates the work of the genius, says Radhakrishnan,who has refrained from a chronological approach. So,if one section is dedicated to oils,in another,the focus is on the famine that Baij painted and his sculpture of Gandhi. One views India through the eyes of Baij from the dam in Kharagpur to the blue expanse at the Konark beach.
Radhakrishnan joined Santiniketan years after Baij retired,in 1974,but he remembers the master at work. Observing him was a lesson,one neednt be taught by him, he states. Around the same time,Baij worked on Sacrifice,depicting three men dragging a sacrificial goat with a human head for Kali Puja. It represented his concern for the masses,the rituals and his surroundings. He depicted the common man who did not otherwise find place in mainstream art, says Radhakrishnan.
Baijs subjects were the people he met,including an Indonesian girl who was visiting Visva Bharati. A series of paintings have his student and muse,Binodini. One doesnt know what relation the two shared; she appeared in several of his works,often nude, says Radhakrishnan. Hailing from a princely family of Manipur,when asked why didnt she marry Baij,Binodini had replied,He was a good artist but that does not necessarily mean he was a good husband.
One also gets a glimpse into the making of several of Baijs works. A set of drawings in pen and sculptures in plaster of Paris lead to the monumental Yaksha and Yakshi,that stand outside the Reserve Bank of India in Delhi. Ramkinkar wanted them to be removed and work on them. I dont know what would he have done, says Radhakrishnan,noting that for Baij,the experience of making art mattered. He did not care much about their value. During rains,to prevent water to drip from the roof,he used his oils, he adds.
The task of tracing Baijs work was tiresome but satisfying. I knew about the works but had to trace the collectors, says Radhakrishnan,who had to travel from Pune to Chennai to bring together the collection. Back in Santiniketan,some of Baijs sculptures are in a dismal condition. Union Culture Minister Kumari Seljas announcement that funds have been released to cast the works in bronze brings some hope.
The exhibition is on at National Gallery of Modern Art till March 31.