Works on display at MAP
Works on display at MAP

Outsiders looking in: MAP showcases the modernist metal marvels of Mukherjee and Baghel

Their sculptures are reflections on the impact of modernism on the cultural identity of post-independence India.

Spotlights are to art what song is to the Rhinestone Cowboy. The Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, has got the lighting right for the work of Meera Mukherjee and Jaidev Baghel’s joint posthumous exhibition Outside In. The spotlight, however, falls on their illuminated metallic epiphanies. Both artists have used metal casting to reinterpret their personal ecosystems: they are outsiders looking in. MAP has included a single textile piece exclusively by Meera: a first. Her other pieces were made in collaboration with women and children she worked with for the project. The manner in which two artists from different periods interpret the context of modernism and cultural identity is an experience unified by the contradiction of contrast

Meera Mukherjee (1923-1998) and Jaidev Baghel (1949-2014) came from different backgrounds but were united by the beauty and challenge of metal. Baghel, an indigenous artist had moved away from an inherited rural metal casting practice to express himself through innovative personalisation. After spending years gaining a formal art education, Mukherjee began to trace the metal casting traditions of India, while expressing her modernist approaches in her work.

Their sculptures are reflections on the impact of modernism on the cultural identity of post-independence India. “In the 1950s, the thrust of the government was to foster and preserve indigenous crafts by instituting bodies like the All India Handloom and Handicraft Board and regional crafts councils under the Ministry of Commerce. They interfered with the self-sufficiency of the rural craftsman which affected artists and artisans,” explains curator Kuzhali Jaganathan.

For Bastar, where dhokra (non-ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax technique) art originated, this exhibition marks a moment in time, when the form has become commercially rewarding. “This new mobility gave Baghel exposure to the art world and its possibilities. Mukherjee travelled across India understanding the medium through traditional artists. It helped her to experiment and express her emotions,” adds Arnika Ahldag, Head of Exhibitions, MAP.

Both artists who lived and worked in a newly free India echo its legacies. Vandevi Panch Mookhi by Baghel depicts an angry five faced goddess emerging from the branches of a tree. “Baghel born in a Ghadwa family, often called his works ‘modern’, perhaps a reflection of the influences that formed his distinctive depictions. He drastically shifted from typical dhokra casting as a response to the state’s exploitation of natural resources,” says Jaganathan. Alongside this piece is Mukherjee’s He Who Saw portraying a deity.

Different folks, different strokes, but their mettle is visible as social and personal translations of artistic and social change.

The New Indian Express