Four centuries of printmaking in India and the challenges it faces are documented in an exhibition.
Years before the British etched the East,Mumbai-based entrepreneur Bhimjee Parekh saw potential in printing when he purchased Indias first printing press in 1674. The experiment did not succeed. Nevertheless,Parekh became part of the printing history of India. More than a century later,in 1805,India was to produce its first block-printed book,the Bhagavad Gita,and it took another decade for the first illustrated Bengali book,Bharatchandra Rays Oonoodah Mongal that comprised six engravings.
This medium has always played a third fiddle to painting and sculpture. One needs to understand that it was a colonial import,essentially used by the colonial masters for documentation before the arrival of photography, says Paula Sengupta. The academician,writer and artist who did her PhD in printmaking in India,has spent the last year researching further on the subject. The book titled The Printed Picture documents four centuries of printmaking in India through hundreds of frames,some of which are part of an accompanying exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery. To a large extent,the concerns were also technical,getting material and adapting printmaking to the Indian weather, reflects Sengupta,glancing at the works that span from early 1550s to 1990s.
The book establishes that modern-day printing originated in Europe in the 15th century and travelled to India with the colonial masters. The parallel movement in India,in the form of regional schools of art,is also documented. Among others,Sengupta compares Bat-tala reliefs or wooden prints to the Punjab lithographers. Perhaps,by virtue of their medium,the Punjab lithographers have a linear appearance,like outline drawings,as opposed to the heavily patterned and ornamented Bat-tala woodcuts, she notes.
The contributions of individual artists have been acknowledged. Its pointed out that the Bichitra Club,which was established in 1915 by Abanindranath Tagore,undertook to issue reproduction prints of its paintings in an attempt to wean public taste away from the oleographs of Raja Ravi Varma and Bamapada Banerjee and the standard book illustrations of the time. Mukul Dey is acknowledged as one of the first Indians to use the graphic medium as a means of creative expression and Nandalal Bose and his two disciples,Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij,have been credited for emancipating printmaking from elitism. Chittaprosads prints championing the cause of the proletariat are striking,as are Krishna Reddys intaglio plates treated as a sculptural surface.
The research undertaken is also reflected in the rare works that make an appearance one sees early covers of safety matches,depicting episodes from Indian mythology; and the Victoria and Albert Museum collection has been tapped for the images of Mumtaz Dehlavis prints Hawk and Tiger,acknowledged as the first instances of colour lithography to be seen in the indigenous art of the 19th century north India. What completes the journey are interviews with pioneers in printmaking,including Krishna Reddy,Jyoti Bhatt and Anupam Sud. They map the shift in the practice of printmaking, concludes Sengupta.
The exhibition is on till November 3 at Delhi Art Gallery,11,Hauz Khas Village. Contact: 46005300.