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Upendra Maharathi -  an artist extraordinaire

Upendra Maharathi - an artist extraordinaire

Posted on : 09/01/2015 12:19pm
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For an artist who did not believe in exhibiting his work, the show at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), that opens on September 17, is a spectacular. It surpasses what was done in 1996, when Upendra Maharathi’s work, donated from his personal collection, was first exhibited at NGMA. His daughter, Mahashweta, bequeathed whatever was left of his collection to the gallery. Sculptor and NGMA director general Adwaita Gadanayak has curated a grand collection exhibition in the newly refurbished galleries of the Jaipur House, using an assortment of artwork from the artist’s personal collection and from the formidable vaults of the Patna Museum.


Born in a small village of Odisha in 1908, Maharathi joined the Government College of Art and Craft in 1925. The school helped him imbibe Western and indigenous techniques of art, craft and architecture. His creativity was embedded in the aesthetics of the new, unapologetically nationalist movement in Bengal that supported swadeshi values and recognised the resistive, anti-colonial potential of art. It was led by EB Havell and Abanindranath Tagore, who encouraged their students to revive traditional forms of Indian art. Maharathi’s artistic praxis was also aligned with the constructive aspects of Gandhi’s non-violent politics. Inspired by the panels drawn by Nandalal Bose for the Congress session at Haripura (1938), he volunteered to decorate the temporary township which was set up for the 1940 Congress session at Ramgarh. The thatched mud pavilions, and gates and arches designed by him were accessorised with locally sourced, biodegradable handcrafted art objects and his own artwork.


Appointed as a special designer in the Department of Industries in the government of Bihar, Maharathi established a visceral connection with artisans and worked for the creative intersection of art, craft and design. His advocacy of erased histories of folk designs and crafts on the verge of extinction led to the foundation of the Institute of Industrial Research in Patna in 1956, which was later named after him. It became a haven for hundreds of rural artisans who had fallen off the crafts map.

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