Putting spotlight on a maverick master

Putting spotlight on a maverick master

Landmark exhibition

Brij Mohan Anand’s art offered a polemical commentary on the political events of the Cold War, the Vietnam War and India’s entry into the nuclear club under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Through a range of powerfully unsettling images on scratchboard with provocative titles and a series of dystopian landscapes, Anand made a scathing condemnation of American imperialism and neo-colonialism,” writes Dr Alka Pande, art historian and independent curator, in the foreword section of the monograph titled Narratives for Indian Modernity: The Aesthetic of Brij Mohan Anand.

Co-authored by Aditi Anand and Dr Grant Pooke, the monograph accompanies an exhibition (curated by Pande), which gives a glimpse into the life of B M Anand, a naturally gifted artist who sketched, drew and painted whatever he observed.

Aditi, a writer and trained lawyer, who was commissioned by the B.M. Anand Foundation (set up to restore, preserve and propagate the work of the late illustrator and painter) in July 2012 to write a book on his life and work, says the first thing that struck her when she saw his work was “how unusual it was”.

“That, along with what I heard about him from his family, made me feel there was a story there – that needed to be told. What followed was an arduous year-long research project during which we painstakingly put together every bit of information we could find on his life and oeuvre. It is this extensive body of research, which has formed the basis of the book and the exhibition,” she tells Metrolife.

However, having no art background, she suggested to the Foundation that they bring on board someone who had the necessary qualifications to write about the artist’s work with authority. And their efforts led them to Pooke, an art historian and academician who was visiting India at that time. And after four years of research and dialogues across two countries and time zones, they successfully co-authored the book.

However, they had their share of challenges as Pooke says they were “working pretty much from a blank slate with very limited previous coverage of the artist”.

Agrees Aditi, and adds, “Yes, it was a huge challenge, since there was no information on the artist available in the public domain. Chapter 1, which is my contribution to the monograph, is principally based on extensive primary and secondary research including testimonials from family, friends and associates, access to documents, photographs and family correspondence, the location of previously overlooked archival sources and records and corroboration of family testimony and information.”

B M Anand was born to an educated and affluent family in Amritsar in 1928. His older brother, Madan Mohan, was shot dead on April 13, 1919 by a troop of British colonial soldiers during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Following the incident, as the authors point out, his family developed a bitter disaffection towards the British and the Congress leadership to support Indian revolutionaries.

The ongoing exhibition features one of his scratchboards, Buddha Bleeds (1962) which shows the “eagle of fascism” driving its claws into the eye-sockets of the “Compassionate Buddha” as the dripping blood arises up in a swirling “conflagration”; while Feudalism and Imperialism (1960) depicts the ghost of imperialism and feudalism, wearing religious garb, opening the skull of a child, taking out his brain and putting in filth instead – thus creating clime for germination of servility and crime.

Also on display is the scratchboard, Stop Burning Asia: The Death Is Shadowing You..., which Anand emailed in format of a New Year greeting card to various heads of states and their embassies in India in 1972 to register his opposition towards the ongoing Cold War.

Along with the scratchboards, the show, which is divided into six sections features his paintings, drawings, anatomical compositions, Red Cross posters/graphics and designs for Upaniyas/novels.

It comprises 80 works and is the first major exhibition of the artist’s practise organised to mark 30 years since his passing. And Pande, who describes Anand as a “hidden treasure” says putting together the show was “extremely challenging but also very
exciting”.

“Unearthing a hidden treasure is always energising, it is like an adrenalin shot. And exposing the ‘hidden’ to the world at large is also a rewarding and fulfilling experience. The nature of the art works reflect a man and an artist who lived life on his own terms, a maverick who was fearless in his expression,” she tells Metrolife.
But why then, despite having such a large and varied body of work, did Anand, who was orphaned at the age of 14, not receive due credit?

Answering, Pooke says that Anand appears not to have been an artist who sought gallery affiliation or the celebrity status achieved by some of his contemporaries. “We might also speculate that an abortive early exhibition in Kashmir in 1947-8 as part of the National Cultural Front in which the artist exhibited some of his nude compositions resulted in censorship and Anand having to flee the country,” adds Pooke, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of Kent, UK.

He further says that “more prosaically perhaps, Anand’s success and popularity as a commercial illustrator for a range of leading publications and journals and his designs for novellas and pulp fiction covers precluded the need to make money as such from the sale of his scratchboards, landscapes, nude compositions and portraits. In this sense he was able to gain the financial autonomy that precluded reliance on the direct sale of work in his lifetime”.

B M Anand died from cardiovascular complications at the age of 56.The exhibition, organised by B M Anand Foundation, is on at the India International Centre, Kamaladevi Complex, Gate No 1, 40, Max Mueller Marg, until May 22.

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