Natural man

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By Suneet Chopra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The exhibition on the theme of Man and Nature at the National Gallery of Modern Art tries on one hand to present a comprehensive picture of the Bengal School -- the 3 Tagores: Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath, Nandlal Bose, Benode Bihari Mukherjee and Ram Kinkar Baij. On the other, it presents a picture of man and nature in interaction.

What strikes one is how close the psyche of our artists is to nature, especially those, who like Ram Kinker, belong to the rural masses. For this son of a barber and a masseuse, a forest without people in it is a wilderness. To exclude man from nature is as much a form of plunder as is the destruction of the environment for profit.

The naturalness of man's presence in the environment comes out sharply in Seascape, where a fisherman and boat on the beach break the monotony of the ocean expanse. It is the same with his Lotus Pond, where a sylvan setting is given its essential life by the presence of the three young village girls. What is interesting is the way in which man's relation to his fellow man as master and exploiter is depicted as degrading nature itself. This is brought out in two works: 'The Harvester' in which we see workers in the fields while a landlord supervises operations from under an umbrella and 'Famine', which reflects the degradation that results from an unequal distribution of resources.

The need is to preserve nature from those exploiters who style themselves its protectors. This comes out in Benode Bihari Mukherjee's corpulent 'Tree Lover' or in Nandlal Bose's 'Sangamitra Carrying the Sapling of the Bodhi Tree'. But this clear perception is marred by a stilted concept of conservation seen in the scattering of animal pictures and conventional landscapes.

Writer Suneet Chopra is a freelance art critic

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