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Pet Sins October 2010

Indian artists take inspiration from Japan

Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a renowned Indian poet, composer and painter, founded the Brahmachary Asrama school at Santiniketan in 1901.1 Through his involvement with the local art scene, he started to perceive a need for young contemporary Indian artists to open themselves to influences from the world.2

A man with a global perspective, Rabindranath traveled to 30 countries on five continents.3 Although he was critical of the Japanese invasion of China when he visited Japan in 1916, it was this visit to Japan that shaped his vision of the direction modern Indian art should take.4 Rabindranath Tagore believed that because Japanese aesthetics was not limited to fine arts but involved in every aspect of life, the Japanese arts scene was stronger than the Indian arts scene. Upon returning home, he conveyed his ideas to young Calcutta artists. 5

Rabindranath was certainly not the only Indian artist of his time with an international perspective. When famed Japanese artist Okakura Tenshin visited India in 1901-1902, Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath, studied Japanese art with him.6 After Okakura returned to Japan, his studentsYokoyama Taikan and Hishida Shunso came to Calcutta, where Abanindranath Tagore continued to study Japanese art from them.7

Abanindranath's student Nandalal Bose, who met Okakura in 1912, was also influenced by the Japanese artist. Okakura's advice to merge tradition with environment and individuality made a deep impression on the young Indian artist who would later head Santiniketan's art school Kala Bhavana in 1919.7 A set of Nandalal's brush and ink works from 1913 show a clear East Asian influence.8

The Kala Bhavana school was open to pan-Asian as well as European influences.9 Benodebehari Mukherjee, one of its first students, had a deep interest in East Asian art. He experimented with East Asian styles and felt an affinity of the Taoist scholar painters of old China.10 Benodebehari later went on to a distinguished academic career.11 For a sample of Benodebehari's work, see Versatile Genius (Frontline Vol 24 Issue 3).

Farhad Hussein, a 2003 Santiniketan graduate and award-winning artist, carries on his predecessors' tradition of fusing different cultural influences. His work is influenced by Bengal's traditional Kalighat paintings as well as Japanese prints, amongst other influences.12

The Spirit of Japan
A lecture delivered by Rabindranath Tagore for the students of the private colleges of Tokyo and the members of the Indo-Japanese Associaton at the Keio Gijuku University.
Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin
A book about the friendship between Bengali poest Rabindranath Tagore and Japanese art historian Okakura Tenshin. They first met in Calcutta in 1902, and although they only saw each other in person on a few subsequent occasions, the two key intellectuals sustained a long friendship.

  1. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p26
  2. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p26
  3. Rabindranath Tagore on Wikipedia
  4. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p26
    Rabindranath Tagore: Sujit K. Bhattacharjee
  5. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p27
  6. Landmarks of Interaction (India Center)
    Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951)
  7. Abanindranath Tagore (CalcuttaWeb)
    Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951)
  8. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p27-28
  9. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p28
  10. Singapore Art Museum, From the Everyday to the Imagined, p32
  11. Benodebehari Mukherjee on Art Alive Gallery
  12. Farhad Hussain on Goa Art Gallery