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Gandhi as seen through the lens of traditional Indian artists

by Suman Gupta

Exhibition ‘Relive the ideals of the Mahatma through Art’

Ms. Tarjani Vakil, Former CMD of EXIM Bank inaugurates the “Relive the ideals of the Mahatma through Art” Exhibition at Mani Bhavan, Mumbai, in the presence of Mr. David Rasquinha, Managing Director, EXIM Bank (extreme right second row), Ms. Usha Thakkar, President, Mani Bhavan and Mr. Vikramaditya Ugra, General Manager, EXIM Bank (extreme left) amongst others.

Mumbai, September, 2019: It was from Mumbai that Mahatma Gandhi had initiated some of the most important movements for India’s independence. Between 1917 and 1934, whenever Mahatma Gandhi was in the city, he lived in Mani Bhavan. This iconic place, which is reminiscent of the great man and his philosophy, is hosting a traditional painting exhibition, curated by the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank), on the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. The exhibition was inaugurated today by Ms. Tarjani Vakil, former CMD of Exim Bank and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, in the presence of Mrs. Usha Thakkar, President, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrhalaya and Mr. David Rasquinha, Managing Director, Exim Bank.

One of the recurring motifs used by artists, whose paintings are on display at the exhibition during September 13-15, 2019, is the charkha. Interestingly, it was in Maharashtra’s Yerwada jail that Mahatma Gandhi had taken up spinning and over the course of time, his charkha became a symbol for simplicity and empowerment. Mahatma Gandhi with his charka have been showcased in Mathura’s Sanjhi art, Kashmiri Papier Mache and North-Eastern silk embroidery, amongst the 25 paintings which are on display at the exhibition.

These paintings by artisans from different parts of the country were commissioned by the Exim Bank in its bid to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The exhibition is open for general public during the visiting hours of Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum, 19 Laburnum Road, Gamdevi, from September 13-15, 2019.

The painting exhibition provides an opportunity to the residents of Mumbai for a rendezvous with the milestone events from the Mahatma’s life and also shares lessons from his life with Indian and foreign tourists, who visited the Mani Bhavan. Interestingly, the exhibition also features a Warli painting from Maharashtra by Shri Sandesh Rajad, who has created the imagery of Prabhat Pheri, in his own artistic interpretation.

Mr. David Rasquinha, Managing Director, EXIM Bank lights the lamp at the inaugural ceremony of the “Relive the ideals of the Mahatma through Art” Exhibition at Mani Bhavan in the presence of Ms. Tarjani Vakil, Former CMD of EXIM Bank (extreme right) and other guests

This year as the entire nation celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Exim Bank has organized a series of exhibitions of traditional Indian paintings on the life and legacy of the Mahatma. The first exhibition in the series was held in Delhi and inaugurated on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30th (Martyrs’ Day).  The second exhibition was held on the death of anniversary of Kasturba Gandhi on February 22nd at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. The third exhibition in the series was held at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, coinciding with the anniversary of Dandi March. The fourth exhibition was held at Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial in July 2019, followed by Viswa-Bharati University, Santiniketan in August 2019, coinciding with India’s Independence Day. The exhibitions had more than 20,000 visitors who appreciated the paintings by the traditional artists.

An art enthusiast from Sydney, Australia, Mr. Martin Coxell, remarked, “Wonderful tribute to a remarkable man,” after seeing the paintings at Pune. Mr. Nirmal Pandey, a historian from New Delhi, said, “The idea to present 12 different traditional Indian art forms on the theme of Mahatma Gandhi under one room in itself is commendable.” Mr. Naresh Gulati, Ahmedabad-based art critic commends, “The good thing is that the works are accompanied by a narration highlighting the characteristics of the origin and style of the art forms deployed by the artists of the series, some of which are just mesmerizing for the minutiae and detail. The patrons Exim Bank deserve a word of praise for commissioning or supporting the imaginative show.”

The painting exhibition is unique because of the creative process that was involved. Exim Bank had engaged traditional artists from different nooks and corners of the country to develop these paintings, based on various events from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. Titled ‘Relive the Ideals of the Mahatma through Art,’ the exhibition provides a retrospect on some historical events and highlights important lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. The artists representing 12 different traditional art forms from Dahanu in Maharashtra (for Warli painting), Kotra Sultanabad near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh (for Gond painting), Kamrup in Assam (for North East weaving), Chandanpur in Odisha (for Pattachitra painting), Srinagar in J&K (for  Papier Mache art), Triplicane in Tamil Nadu (for Tanjore painting), Mathura in Uttar Pradesh (for Sanjhi craft), Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal (for Pattua painting), Srikalahasthi in Andhra Pradesh (for Kalamkari painting), Ahmedabad in Gujarat (for Mata-Ni-Pachedi) and Bhilwara in Rajasthan (for Phad painting)  and Madhubani in Bihar (for Madhubani painting) were commissioned for the project, and developed 25 exclusive paintings for Exim Bank.

On the genesis of the idea about the paintings, Mr. David Rasquinha, Managing Director, Exim Bank, said, “We shared the concept about the project and left it to the artists to develop the paintings according to their own interpretation of important events from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. All the paintings have a story to tell and the artists worked on them for over two months. The paintings reflect the vision of the common people of India, who played the most significant role in Gandhi’s journey from a lawyer to the Father of the Nation.”

(L to R) – Ms. Usha Thakkar, President, Mani Bhavan and Ms. Tarjani Vakil, Former CMD of EXIM Bank in the centre flanked by Mr. David Rasquinha, Managing Director, EXIM Bank, (extreme left), Mr. Vikramaditya Ugra, General Manager, EXIM Bank (extreme right) and the artistes whose works were displayed during the inauguration of “Relive the ideals of the Mahatma through Art” Exhibition at Mani Bhavan, Mumbai.

On the question whether traditional Indian paintings are losing ground to modern paintings and arts across various other mediums, he said, “There is a huge global market for traditional Indian paintings. We need to market them properly. It is Exim Bank’s effort to provide a bigger platform to these traditional Indian art forms.”

The exhibition of the traditional paintings will travel across various centers in India and overseas, including London. The exhibitions will be non-commercial events and the paintings on display will be solely for the purpose of educating the audiences about the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, through various traditional Indian art forms.

Exim Bank believes in promoting all round development of the Indian economy and endeavours to support enterprises and artisans based out of rural areas of the country. Exim Bank has over the years supported artisans under its grassroots initiatives and market advisory services programmes, to secure domestic and export orders for their handicrafts and traditional products.

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