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Arts/Society Arpana Caur (The Magic Makers)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The Magic

Arpana Caur’s extensive folk and tribal art collection gives a closer look into her special regard for the folk arts of India, their influence on her own self-expression, and some of the challenges affecting their appreciation and evolution in our times. The Magic Makers catalogues this eminent artist’s treasure. Excerpts:

First picture

Left: Summer reading. Bastar. Brass.
The lady, one from affluent class, is whiling away summer by reading, with a fan in the other hand. Her rich and heavy jewellery and style of costuming, as well as her habit of reading link her with society’s upper strata. Her elongated figure, style of sari worn down the knee-length and round face, coiffure, ears etc, truly define the anatomical dimensions of Bastar metal casts.

Right Owl: eyes fixed at its prey. India, 20th century. Beaten metal

Second picture
Left: Terror beyond gender and faith. Midnapur, Bengal, contemporary. The scroll portrays the disastrous face of terror under which gender, faith, frontiers and even race get diluted. Artist has depicted the rein of terror of Osama bin Laden and his influence on his followers in this scroll

Right: An old Jew in patched clothes. Prague, contemporary. Cast and dressed most realistically, the puppet represents an old Jew draped in patched clothes. A towering cap, long black robe, and cloth-belts, all reveal an ethnic character. An otherwise rich community, with all their businesses destroyed and many of them rendered homeless, Jews suffered great set-back during the Second World War

Last picture
Construction of Sri Harmandar Sahib, Punjab, contemporary. Glass. The painting represents the construction of Sri Harmandar Sahib at Amritsar in Punjab. Stone carvers, masons andother labourers apart, on the temple’s right side are Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Garuda engaged in the construction work. Inside the royal tent is seated Sikhs’ fifth Guru Sri Arjun Dev with Baba Buddhaji and other senior Sikhs and a number of new entrants into the faith, some with Europeanised appearance. Opposite the royal tent is an open red tent where some Sikhs are cooking langar.

A live tradition, vibrant and deep rooted in people’s blood, folk art reveals a massive variety of form and theme. Her 10-12 thousand-year-old creative culture and a wide-spread art geography apart, India has hundreds of ethnic groups scattered from north to south and east to west, each with its own art form representing its taste, needs, aspirations, aims, joys, sorrows and struggles. Regional peculiarities, nature around and a different pattern of day-today life apart, their art reveals each group’s ethnic distinction and creative talent. Not in the ‘word’, these primitive peoples discovered in the ‘form’ their diction which gave expression to their joy, jubilation and intrinsic warmth and announced their rejection of violence, eroticism and ugly.

In the form they discovered the ultimate means to discourse with each other and with the ‘drive’. Skills education, or training hasn’t been their tool. Their legends, myths, or convictions weren’t born of texts or were the dictates of authority. They discovered all that their art sought to represent within them, in their blood that retained it across ages, almost as it was transfused into it, with its vigour and freshness which the murky narrow cells of authority often defiled, or at the most sought to gild.

What imparts distinction to their art is their massive imagination, a passion to embellish, and an inborn ability to give to a routine form symbolic dimensions, and to things scattered around, status of art imagery — all that transformed into artists, not just individuals but communities in their entirety, generations after generations.

In a world every minute seeking means to distort and destroy they have kept along their own tenor singing to their own tunes, dancing to their crude lines, raw colours and incoherent motifs, a world that breathed purity, harmony, respect and concern for life. They created everything with passion treating it with a strong personal touch and sensitiveness but in what they created always revealed a strange stoicism.

This width spanning the land from this corner to that, the time across millenniums, multi-dimensionality of cultures and conflicting perceptions might hardly be contained within the four walls of a building. Obviously, neither the Arpana Fine Arts Museum, nor any, might be seen as housing all forms of folk art. It is, however, creditable that the Museum has an excellent collection representing most of the major forms and traditions of folk art.

Unbelievably, the collection is the outcome of a single person’s endeavour, or perhaps craze. Herself an artist with admirers world over,. Arpana Caur has a passion for form, antique of ethnic, and a divine eye to discover its power and underlying meaning. In ordinary thrown-away pieces of tin soldered together, or iron waste heated and beaten, and given a form — something like a tribal rearing a bird, or another, transporting a sick animal, her sensitive eye would see a message, an obligation of life to mutually sustain, a thread tying together the worlds of man and nature. Hers is an artist’s eye knowing well which form has a tale to tell and which not.

She would sometime select a work even when unfinished — raw wood-cut images of Jagannatha-Trio, or an unfinished acrylic painting of a dog by a Gond artist when he has yet to finish it, for she perceives in its raw form the beauty and exoticism, and far greater power to inspire the viewers’ imagination, that it would not have when finished. It is, indeed, this extraordinary perception which makes the collection at Arpana Fine Arts Museum so special.

It is not difficult to identify a folk form but it is far difficult to define what precisely folk art is. Sometimes folk art is seen as the art of tribes, primitive people, ethnic groups, or the art from huts and remote hamlets, and at other times as an art by family tradition.

Better than in anything else, the form and distinction of folk art might be discovered in its contrast to imperial and priestly art.

While measured anatomy, accuracy of features and rational modeling – a kind of surrealism, besides magnificence and stylistic refinement, dominated the latter, these features have hardly been the concerns of the former.

Folk art seeks to represent types, not individuals, and activities, not stilled likeness.

No doubt some non-tribal folk paintings — Madhubani, Bengal, Paithan — sometimes reveal hierarchical order or social status of the represented figures, as also motifs associated with diving icon features, and a human figure, male or female, sans perception of age — young, old or adolescent, that represents in folk art a man or woman. It is sensitive but not sensuous. Rather it shuns sensuousness and voluptuous modeling, and more vehemently, nudenes and all forms of obscenity. The folk artist creates forms from within the rituals, myths and legends, by which he adorns, or rather sanctities, daily living — things that matter in life.

Thus, summarily, unadulterated by extraneous influences the folk art represents the purest form of creativity. Reason, the tool of science and to some extent of skill-involving classical art, is not its tool. Here spontaneity inspired by joy or even sorrow or by anything around, substitutes the reason. It does not use even speculative imagination that breeds metaphysics. It uses instead the creative faculty of mind — art imagination, for which Coleridge, the known 19th century Romantic poet of England, used the term ‘esem-plastic imagination’ — the faculty that assimilates and creates.

The folk art reveals its boldest form. This imagination would jot together motifs and forms, such as the sun and the moon, not having simultaneous presence, or a bizarre form, such as donkey with trees as its horns, or a tree with bees as its leaves, and create a world beyond an average man’s perception.



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