Ms. Ashrafi S. Bhagat. M.A., M. Phil. Ph. D. is the Associate Professor and Former Head teaching at the Department of Fine Arts, Stella Maris College, (Autonomous) Chennai. She completed her Ph. D. from the Department of Art History and Aesthetics, Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University in the Art of South India with special reference to The Madras School”. In April 2003, Oxford University Press published a book on nationally established Sculptors of Chennai titled “Sculptural Cofigurations: Retrospectve Progressive”. A research paper titled, Lineage of Abstraction within the Madras Art Movement was published in book “The New Art History: Studies in Indian Art” [eds.] Shivaji K. Pannikkar, Parul Mukherjee, Deepty Achar, New Delhi, 2003]. She serves as an art critic for The Hindu, the national newspaper. A monograph on the artist A.P. Santhanaraj was published in by Lalit Kala Akademi New Delhi in June 2006. She was invited by Marg as a Guest Editor for the special issue titled “The Southern Terrain” published in December 2010. She writes on contemporary art scene in various art magazines and journals and exhibition catalogues for artists.
Arts and crafts cover a whole host of activities and hobbies which involve the skills of one's hand. Among other human creations, the art & crafts, though they vary in quality, form an important domain owing to their aesthetic and utilitarian values. They need human excellence, passion and love to be brought forth.
Arts and Crafts were practiced since ancient days, while some of them are modern space innovations. Industrial Revolution and the increasing productivity had decreased the quality of Arts and Crafts. It had even disheartened the people who practiced these skills but for past some decades the scenario of art and crafts has changed as people have got rid of the obsession of machine-made products. Presently handicrafts are being adopted as a vocational media and it is also opted as a leisure pursuit.
In the late 19th century, the Arts and Crafts Movement emerged as, design reform and social movement, motivated by the ideals of William Morris and John Ruskin, who proposed that in pre-industrial societies such as the European Middle Ages, people had achieved fulfillment through the creative process of handicrafts. This was held up in contrast to what was perceived to be the alienating effects of industrial labour. This movement had its due vibrant influence and impact in various parts of the world including India.
The Madras Art Movement, one of the seminal modern art movements in India, emerged in 1960s implicating in its artistic expressions a strong regional character. The Madras School of Arts and Crafts-founded in 1850 by Dr. Alexander Hunter, a surgeon in the British Army-is the first of its kind in Chennai which played a significant role in the Madras Art Movement.
In this backdrop, the present work, A Critical Survey of the Madras Art Movement [1950 to 2000] including the Madras School of Arts and Crafts by Ms. Ashrafi S. Bhagat, Department of Fine Arts, Stella Mari's College, Chennai assumes a great significance. This work throws light on the Madras School of Arts and Crafts, D. P. Chowdary and the curricular reforms, K.C.S. Paniker and a thrust towards modern episteme, the Government College of Arts and Crafts and its crucial role in the Madras Art Movement, Cholamandal Artistic Village, an outline of the Madras Art Movement since sixties till 2000, the Sculpture within the Madras Art Movement and generation of the nineties. As such it is a welcome historical document. I congratulate Ms. Ashrafi S. Bhagat for having put in her hard work and strenuous efforts in portraying the Madras Art Movement in historical perspectives and the contributions made by various scholars and institutions to the development of the discipline arts and crafts in the Chennai region. I also congratulate the Director and the staff members of the Publications Division for their meticulous work in bringing out this landmark book.
I wish to dedicate this volume of the brief survey of the Madras Art Movement including the History of the Madras School of Arts and Crafts to Dr. Edith Tomory, fmm [1905- 1998], Professor Emeritus, Department of Fine Arts, Stella Maris College [Autonomous], Chennai. The publication of this study becomes relevant particularly, as it relates to the Madras School of Arts and Crafts - the first art school founded by Dr. Alexander Hunter, a surgeon in the British army in 1850. This school also served as a model for art schools established later at Calcutta [Kolkata], Bombay [Mumbai], and Lahore. The study foregrounds this institution as an important locus for the emergence of one of the seminal modern art movements in India namely the Madras Art Movement that emerged in 1960s implicating in its artistic expressions a strong regional character. This regional identity today has enhanced the nature and texture of modern Indian art. The school also marks important signpost within art pedagogy as it had at its helm the legendry Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhary whose seminal influence on the artists emerging from this institution was phenomenal. He was followed by the visionary and theorist K.C.S. Paniker who radically changed the character of the curriculum to put it on a trajectory leading to the growth and development of Madras Art Movement in the 60s.
The continuum of art education outside the portals of the colonially established Madras School of Arts and Crafts was visualized by a Hungarian Franciscan missionary namely Dr. Edith To m o r y. She was the pioneer of University art education for women in Madras. In 1948 she established the Fine Arts Department at Stella Maris College [Autonomous] an institution for womens' education founded in 1947 by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. It was her experiences of art education at Paris and other institutions, coupled with her passion and enthusiasm that dynamically enabled her to initiate a study of art history, which she juxtaposed with studio practice to make it a holistic learning experience. A programme of this nature marked it as unique; and to date remains the only department in the University of Madras offering B.V.A. [Four year Bachelor of Visual Arts], M.A., M.. Phil and Ph.D. programmes.
Dr. Edith To m o r y continued to be a force until her retirement in mid 1960s. The University of Madras had conferred on her the Emeritus Professorship and in mid 7(h; she undertook the task of revising her earlier book on art namely Introduction to Fine Arts in India and the West.
I was not her direct student, but her ominous presence within the department had held me in awe. After my post- graduation, I was offered the opportunity to assist her in the publication of the revised edition titled History of Fine Arts in India and the West . This text today serves as a valuable survey art history book for many introductory courses in fine arts throughout the country. My association with her 10 this project of revision was researching text and contributing line drawings. But it proved to be a pedagogy of distinct nature. Her passion, dedication, love and enthusiasm for art was contagious and I was infected by it coming under its spell. A woman of vision, she looked futuristically ahead dedicatedly pushing her mission of imparting art education to young women in a conservative and orthodox Chennai milieu.
Today her vision has taken wings, as we fly high on the foundation laid by her. The Department since has grown in strength with value added programs in M.A., M. Phil and Ph.D.
Dr. Edith Tomory has left behind a monumental legacy, and it remains our endeavour to pursue it with greater vigour and zeal to make it an achievement oriented extraordinary department affiliated to the University of Madras.
Orientalism played a critical role in the identification and production of India's tradition, devalued under conditions of colonial modernity. This tradition was constructed and re-defined by the colonizers to suit their agenda of creating power structures of knowledge for hegemonic rule. Creating pressures within the episteme, the Indian intellectual had to vacillate between pulls of tradition and attraction towards modernity. Further the modernization of social, political and economic institutions brought an awareness that both tradition and modernity has to strike a balance of happy blend within Indian conditions. Thus the British Raj that concluded in 1947 nevertheless established political independence for the Indian nation. But the impact of Westernization consequent to hegemonic pedagogy particularly in the arts and cultural politics had created a state of perpetual tension on Indian artists between the use of academic naturalism and 'decorative Indian art' tradition. This academic naturalism/realism consequent to colonial intervention creating the new notion of the real be in high artists like Ravi Varma or the bazaar artists of the Company School, nevertheless created a crisis for the Indian artists. The homogenization of Indian art as 'decorative' was a colonial construct, which also informed the nationalist framing of Indian culture. The "decorative style" was used as an artistic weapon to establish mark of Indian-ness which acquired legitimacy opening up space within national aesthetic discourse to form resistance against European academic naturalism and establish superiority by virtue of its tradition.
The colonizers had homogenized India's vast and varied tradition into a narrative of transition from medieval to modern (medieval was feudal and modern was capitalistic and progressive] contextualizing modernity as indexical of and the primary habitus of Europe! And for hundred years we have attempted to turn our gaze away from this chimera of universal modernity and clear up a space where we might become creators of our own. Recent writings have been more sensitive to the modern as a polemical and ideological category in Indian cultural practice, placing the modern in postcolonial India against the broader canvas of the formulations of the third world identities? In the third world paradigm, post-modernity itself is an anachronism, for modernization is still a very attractive and viable option, particularly as a vehicle of economic liberation. The concept of modernity in India therefore produces a framework that is multi layered and complex. Despite gaining political independence, the cultural hegemony of the west has continued via the discourse of modernism. Although India as a new independent nation had gained a voice in international assemblies and orgal1lzations they were as Geeta Kapur notes, firmly 'excluded from modernism'.
The desire to construct an aesthetic form that was modern and national and yet different from west was shown in the Bengal School of art that was a visceral reaction to the artistic corollary of British Imperialism namely Company Art in early twentieth century. Bengal played a seminal role in reshaping the continuum of a sense of self and identity that the colonizers had violently ruptured. These efforts generated an institutional space for the modern professional artist in India distinct from traditional craftsmen, adjunct to which art exhibitions and prints created a public educated in aesthetic norms. This construction of a modernized aesthetic space was juxtaposed with an ideological program that would create a distinct Indian art. This valorized attempts to construct the notion of Indianness by the Bengal School was a short- lived phenomena to develop an art that would be modern and simultaneously recognizably Indian.
Search for Authenticity
The late 50s witnessed an artistic crisis across the country. The crisis I am referring to is the vexed question of authenticity and the search for identity within the post-colonial experience, whose precondition in art circuits was based on widely accepted internationalism. The crisis urged artists across the country to rethink -arid redefine their ideology, which would neither be a return to older Revivalist style, themes or content, nor blind following of internationalism. An appropriately worked out artistic strategy in resisting these was in the making, which would largely displace these and replace it with the authenticity of Indian character and sensibility.
Against this emergent trend, the beginning decade of 60s also brought urgency for self-search through different tract. In this respect in the South, the Madras Group attempted intensive soul searching to become nationally visible on one hand and on the other to establish its own distinct identity as an independent regional movement. This regionalist tendency within the modern idiom became particularly pronounced in the artists of the Southern region in terms of drawing on folk and tribal arts. The contingent situation in the South during the regime of K.C.S. Paniker, who besides initiating the agenda focused on the search for rethinking and re-presenting local folk and tribal art forms, was also looking into the problematic of artists continuing their profession of painting or sculpture after graduating from the art institution.
The intense experimentations that were bodied forth from within the Art Iinstitution in Chennai beginning with Paniker and Dhanapal to Ram Gopal, Munuswamy and Santhanaraj in a mixed artistic language that was both figurative and abstract led to an emergence of a heterogeneous group. Initiating a trajectory primarily for technical experimentations with diverse media and support, these exploratory tracts logically pushed towards incorporating new artistic vocabulary from local or native sources, developing and evolving to configure into an art movement designated as the Madras Art Movement. The relevance of the group is that within the regional framework it defined its character projecting a countenance of marked specificity.
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