In a large space of 10,000 square feet area at Snowball Studios in Worli, 200 paintings by Jogen Chowdhury are on display. This retrospective exhibition presented by Gallery Art Exposure is showcasing select drawings, paintings and archives from 1955 to 2023.
The title reflects our life’s journey; the way we live, feel, react and continue living. It anchors the art of Jogen Chowdhury to the tradition of informed and self-reflexive artistic responses to the human condition. The artist elaborates, “Life brings darkness — sometimes in the form of depression, sadness, crisis and anxiety that represents the shadow — and then there is light in our lives sometimes when we feel happy and cheerful. The title is the opening line from ‘bodh’ (sensation) which functions as a gateway to the curatorial framework of this show.”
Jogen’s paintings cannot be bracketed under one theme, the canvas shows the signs of human angst from his early works, including artworks that cover various topics from political, social crisis, mental health etc.
Jogen being the flag-bearer of mid-twentieth-century Indian modernism, always preferred enigmatic and self-reflective images to explicit, agenda-based articulations. In this exhibition, his artworks are displayed in two large size halls, one has a mix of early and recent works where some old and new works are juxtaposed to how his style has changed.
Drawings of people engaged in daily chores, homes in Bengal back then, and the surroundings that had many trees, huts and small villages — all reflect where young Jogen lived and experienced. “Another section of drawings are imagination that came out through my deep observation of life and situation. Most of my work is paperwork done with pastel, ink, mixed media, etc. The sketches of women were done during our study in art school, they were live sketches of models,” says Jogen who has always been mindful about his work. He has always kept his works carefully right from young age, and even restored some of his oldest artworks.
An artwork titled ‘Bakasur’ shows a monstrous creature looking down with its open teeth at the eyes and probably babies, representative of people in power who eat away people’s rights and exploit the underprivileged. A section of artwork displays a series on human pain and the condition of people who go through migration, war and violence. The human body on canvas becomes the agent of expressing composite trauma that is experienced at all levels. “I have exhibited these drawings in Paris as well, they are hinting at the social crisis,” adds Jogen.
A drawing, ‘Killer of a Pregnant Woman’ grabbed my attention. I learned from Jogen that it was done in the context of the Gujarat riots where a pregnant women were subjected to violence — their wombs cut open, the foetuses taken out and killed. “I have never spoken about this painting. As an artist, I have silently let my art speak,” adds Jogen.
The 1939-born Jogen’s narrative traverses the pre-Partition era to Independent India. He had experienced the aftermath of Partition — displaced in 1948 from a comfortable homeland and a difficult upbringing in a Kolkata refugee settlement — the trauma and social changes he experienced, come across in his work as a sensorial response to the human condition. “It is easy to understand songs but it is not easy to understand a complex art. What you see is not just it, the paintings speak a thousand words in layers and highlight issues that I speak of. My work has evolved a lot because every era has a different impact on an artist’s life, be it social or political,” says Jogen.
The curated works have been selected from the early period to the most recent, says Somak Mitra, Director of Gallery Art Exposure. “Jogen Chowdhury’s brilliance prevails over some extremely dark formative years during the great famine and the Partition of Bengal. Recollections and inspirations from this period are immortalised within his works. He brings seminal historical and socio-political factors to light. The artist has worked for 68 years and these 200 paintings are but a very small glimpse of over 4000 paintings that he has done. It took us a year and a half to put this together and the aim through this retrospective is to share his legacy forward so people can gain a richer understanding of one of the greatest minds we have had the privilege of knowing.”
A book Shadow Lines: Tracing the Journey, a magnum opus publication comprising the lifelong works by Jogen Chowdhury will be launched on November 17 at Art Mumbai.
The exhibition ‘Into the Half Light and Shadow Go I’ at Snowball Studios, Worli, Mumbai is on till November 25, from 11am to 7.30pm
This content was originally published here.