A bewildering range

ARTISTS FOR A SUSTAINABLE WORLD·exhibition of paintings by various artists·New Delhi· August, 1998

Published: Thursday 15 October 1998

THE people of the Narmada valley will have to wait for some more time for justice Their case at the Supreme Court has been pending for three decades. Besides, Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel has successfully convinced Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that the World Commission on Dam's scheduled visit to India to hold an open session on large dams in South Asia is a "conspiracy" by developed countries to stall development efforts in the Third World. Indians wishing to make a submission for or against the dams will now have to go to South Africa.

Meanwhile, a group of artists from various field have come forward to help. Artists for a Susrainable World is a forum of intellectuals and activists from various fields all over India. They support people's movements and efforts to eke out sustainable community development. The forum recently helped the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) to hold a series of exhibitions of painting donated by various artists.

The exhibition was held in Delhi recently after doing the rounds in Bombay and Pune. The proceeds from the sales of the paintings will go to fund the NBA.

The paintings on display, had nothing to do with the Narmada movement. They were unrelated etchings from the artists' repertoire. The mix ranged from water colours and charcoal on paper to oil on canvas, pencil on paper, ink on paper and ink on wood. There were some entries in acrylic on canvas as well. The subjects too were very varied. In fact, there was no strain that bound the entire collection other than the fact that they were supposed to fund a single cause. And the whole experience left one a little disoriented.

When experienced individually, some of the entries on display were works of intense sensitivity. And the one which left a lasting impression was an untitled etching by Arpana Caur - a reflective piece that evoked the loneliness of urban existence. Her other entries were not much to ponder over. Among the stalwarts was Manu Parekh with a landscape in oil. Sunil Das with his trademark horses were also on display.

Interestingly, the big names were just a handful. The majority were works of amateur painters. This left one wondering whether the exhibition was just a platform for relatively new painters to showcase their ware. Especially, since only a few of the works of professional painters displayed at the exhibition were worth a second glance.

However, there were some exceptions. Paritosh Sen's Children of Narmada caused one to pause and figure out what the innocent faces with their larger than life eyes were trying to say. Set against the backdrop of a brown reminiscent of the black soil of the Narmada Valley it was definitely more representative of the struggle than portraits of a worn out Medha Patkar by a few others. The most striking of the Medha portraits was by Ramannand Bandyopadhyay. But it fetched a pittance, selling for only Rs 3,000, while a louder composition in oil on canvas by Gogi Sarojpal sold for Rs 200,000.

Tucked away in the corner and standing against the wall were two entries that were in stark contrast to the framed lines tagged with fancy prices. Two unpretentious and straight-from-the-heart water colours from the children of the Narmada valley. One, a child's message against smoking and the other, a more thought-provoking work of traditional tribal art. It was the age old mid-day sun surrounded by leaves. Its message was simple. The people of the valley worship nature.

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