Intimacy, sensuousness, tactile sensibility are some distinct features of Sarbari Roy Choudhury’s (1933-2012) work,” explains art historian R Siva Kumar, as the exhibition titled Sculptures by Sarbari Roy Choudhury, launches at Delhi’s Akar Prakar Gallery. Kumar who has studied the artist’s work in-depth and also brought out a book, Sensibility Objectified: The Sculptures of Sarbari Roy Choudhury, offers a critical insight into his art.
Tell us about Sarbari Roy Choudhury’s legacy.
He was one of the foremost sculptors of the post-Ramkinkar generation in India. When his contemporaries moved away from figurative sculpture towards the non-figurative, he employed the old modelling tradition, but with a totally modern sensibility and unusual subtlety.
It is well-known that the artist was greatly inspired by music. Could you recollect his engagement with the musicians?
His love for music was legendary. He had a very large collection of classical Indian music and spent a great part of his time listening and playing it for others. He also had deep friendships with many Indian music stalwarts. They sat for him, and he commemorated them and their music in his portraits. One of his most remarkable portraits was that of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, done at one go, posthumously from memory and inspired by the master’s music. The urgency of that moment and the reverberations of the lucid sonorousness of Khan saheb’s taans have mingled in this portrait.
How did music influence his art?
Music not only affects us but also transforms the musician. At the moment of creation, he or she is not the same person but a momentarily transformed personality. Even if they are only heads [busts]. This momentary transformation is captured in many Sarbari portraits. His engagement with music gave him a heightened sense of rhythm, which seems to have added to the interplay and smooth transitions of rhythmic movements noticeable in the modelling of his figures.
In your book you talk about the ‘fictionality of his female forms’. Could you elaborate on this?
Fictionality operates at two levels. Traditionally, spatial illusions and distortions have been a feature of painting, not of sculpture. But some modern sculptors occasionally used it for suggestive and affective purposes. Sarbari often used similar distortions to give his small-scale sculptures, expressiveness and monumentality. These are also fictional because his female figures are imagined bodies.
Tell us about Sarbari Roy Choudhuri’s personality.
His approach to art and life was more intuitive than analytical, relaxed than rigorous, and idiosyncratic but somewhat ceremonious.