For any magazine to have survived 75 long years is a huge achievement. Even more so, when it is a niche magazine like Marg devoted to art.
The magazine takes a holistic view of art embracing architecture, photography, sociology, heritage, textiles and archaeology, latest developments in research, besides reviews of exhibitions, photography, books, cinema and what have you.
And at this juncture, when the media is desperately trying to keep itself oxygenated, Marg Sanskrit for pathway has taken the bold decision to set off in a new direction by presenting a streamlined look (it has shrunk) with an austere cover that is a far cry from the feast for the eyes that it was in its original avatar.
The cover art in white, blue and red showing a bovine hitching a ride is a play on the limitations of technology and how counterproductive it may prove. From its very inception in October 1946, Marg’s stress was on looking forward, yet keeping the past in sight.
In the editorial of the first issue, Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004), the magazine’s founder-editor, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi as he was, wrote he sought “…a true synthesis between the lasting values of our past heritage and finest impulses of the new modern civilisation…” JRD Tata’s patronage made its publication possible.
The pandemic struck when the Marg team was planning its transformation and it was a challenge for the magazine to be alive to the paroxysmal situation.
Thus Rizio B Yohannan, CEO and publisher, writes in Volume 72, Issue 1, September 2020, that the new Marg is “…an interactive space where artistic sensibility, cultural knowledge and multiple energies congregate to envision and realise an ecology of courage.”
In its breadth of vision, the magazine is comparable to Rupam, the internationally acclaimed Indian art journal published between January 1920 and October 1930. Its founder-editor was OC Gangoly (1881-1974). It enjoyed such a formidable reputation internationally (a note in Volume 2, No 1 says its captions are both in French and English for readers in Europe.
Each article will have a short summary in French), it would be difficult to come close to it. Art historian Asok K Das, a frequent contributor, says, “Anand was interested in both contemporary and classical art and architecture. The quarterly dealt with themes and covered various cities, regions and cultures. He invited leading writers from India and abroad, and they contributed seminal essays the likes of which are hard to come by. When Pratapaditya Pal was editor he published remarkable special issues and invited Susan S Bean, Philip Davies and Jeremiah P Losty and even Siddhartha Ghosh, among others, to contribute. Marg’s coverage of medieval, modern and folk art remains unmatched.”
In Marg was crystallised the Nehruvian zeitgeist. Anand, along with a group of visionaries, founded Marg (Modern Architectural Research Group). To Anand, architecture was the mother of all arts. Both Le Corbusier and Charles Correa were associated with the magazine whose early issues set forth the agenda for architecture in India.
Among its contributing editors were leading architects, including Minnette de Silva, the first Sri Lankan woman to be trained as an architect. Others were connoisseurs and art historians like Karl Khandalvala and Calcutta intellectuals Shahid Suhrawardy, Nihar Ranjan Ray and Bishnu Dey.
The new version has on its editorial advisory board architect Rahul Mehrotra and Sadanand Menon among others. The virus has cast its long shadow on the contents.
The main sub-heading is unsurprisingly ‘At the Core: Crisis and Continuity’. Quite in keeping with our turbulent times, the opening piece, ‘Reimagining Practice’, features the likes of Alok Vaid-Menon, who is a trans mixed-media artist based in New York, and Intekhab Ahmad, a fourth generation rafooghar (he darns and mends textiles). Zoom and webinars are the lifeline of ‘Self-Portraiture in the Times of Covid-19’.
The other titles are self-explanatory: ‘Garo Architecture: Fusion of Form and Function’, ‘Sketching in the Shadow’ (by cartoonist EP Unny), and ‘Women Architects in India: Dreaming through Design’. Santiniketan is conjured in ‘Precepts from India’s Early Art Educators’. The last article is a throwback to Marg’s inception and its roots in architecture.
Another contributor, historian Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, writes, “Marg published books on specific themes often about a city, and not just its architecture or history, but its food, its markets, handicrafts and people. Chapters by different authors resulted in a rounded picture of places like Allahabad, Lucknow and Murshidabad. The high standard of production and the quality of the illustrations led to books that were treasured for their appearance as well as their content. Certainly Marg was well known outside India as a reliable source of well-presented information.”
The stripped-down aesthetics of the new magazine may appeal to young people facing a world that has little to offer. Minimal is the new normal.
In its breadth of vision, the magazine is comparable to Rupam, the internationally acclaimed Indian art journal