It was in 1954 that MF Husain — one of the six artists who formed the Bombay Progressive Artists Group in 1947 to explore a new idiom in art — was nominated as an eminent artist by the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), Delhi. Incidentally, this was the same year when LKA itself came into being, as an eminent institution established by the government of the newly independent India to propagate its art, within and outside the country.
Husain’s association with the LKA continued till 1995, when he was accorded the National Award at LKA’s first national exhibition. During the course of this long association, many of his works became part of the organisation’s collection.
Not only Husain’s, works by other greats of the art world in India, such as Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kinkar Baij and Ganesh Haloi have also been added to the LKA’s repository in the six decades of its existence on the national scene, no less to mention the works created by many young and upcoming artists of the time. “As of now, the LKA repository has more than 5,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, frescoes and terracota works,” says ML Srivastava, protem chairman of LKA, who has now initiated a project to digitise and archive these works.
Srivastava adds, “As a national organisation, we have to move beyond routine exhibitions and enhance our outreach. In this direction, technology can be a great tool in taking art to the masses, at least to create a basic awareness about art in people.” He says the plan is to digitally archive the entire collection, create digital copies, key in meta data, and upload the entire information on a website, which can be accessed by anyone, and there is a database of the entire collection so that no artwork goes missing.
While talking about the project, which may take at least a year to complete, Srivastava also spoke about the need to “restore and dehumidify” some works that are part of the landmark collection. Currently, all of the LKA’s archival collection is stored at the campus of the National School of Drama (NSD) in the vicinity. But as the NSD is looking at expanding its activities and also since the storage space may not be good enough for the precious artwork, the newly appointed chairman says they will move the entire collection to a safer place, where there is adequate security and no seepage — probably to the Jaipur House building of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), even though this has not been finalised yet.
This may be crucial, considering there were reports in 2003 of Ram Kumar’s Landscape going missing from LKA and being replaced with a fake. Down the years, more paintings were found to be missing — including J Swaminathan’s Tandava, Husain’s Monkey God and KK Hebbar’s Peace. A Comptroller and Auditor-General report of 2011-2013 said 14 works of art were missing from the Akademi.