If Kolkata is the ‘cultural capital of India’, why is its public art so ridiculous?

#1 Dec 20th, 2017, 21:24
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Deepanjan Ghosh

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Footballer Diego Maradona unveiled a statue in a North Kolkata club last week that shows him holding up the World Cup that Argentina won in 1986 – or at least it was meant to.

Rather than bearing a resemblance to the former Argentinian striker, the 12-foot-tall sculpture looked more like “someone’s gran” or Scottish singer Susan Boyle. Comparisons were made on social media with the “horrifying bust” of Cristiano Ronaldo, which the Portuguese player unveiled in Madeira in March, and memories were dredged up of the long line of public art installations in Kolkata that have been mocked. The episode beggared the question – if Kolkata is indeed the “cultural capital of India”, as is frequently claimed, why do the city’s public art installations cause such embarrassment and invite ridicule?

Not a new problem

To be fair, Kolkata’s public art installations being criticised is not a new phenomenon. The city’s most iconic installation, that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on horseback, faced severe criticism when it was inaugurated in 1969. The statue was the work of Nagesh Yoglekar and is remarkably similar to a colonial-era statue by John Henry Foley of General Sir James Outram. It stood at a prominent location until the state government’s drive to remove colonial symbols and artwork from public view sent it retreating into the grounds of the Victoria Memorial, where it still stands today.

The same drive caused Lord Curzon’s statue in front of the north gate of Victoria Memorial to be replaced by one of Sri Aurobindo. However, while Curzon’s statue was removed, the smaller statuettes surrounding the pedestal were not, leading to a clearly modern and somewhat anorexic-looking Sri Aurobindo being surrounded by chubby, cherubic neo-classical figures.
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#2 Dec 21st, 2017, 00:46
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The earliest media reports about Banerjee wanting to turn Kolkata into London, surfaced soon after the assembly elections of 2011. The Hindu quoted her as saying, “In spite of a much smaller population than ours, Londoners could build such a beautiful city through proper planning.
Gotta be joking. It's an unplanned hotchpotch.


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#3 Dec 21st, 2017, 01:19
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She usually does, doesn't she?
#4 Dec 21st, 2017, 13:28
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Originally Posted by aarosh View Post
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Scroll's inherent bias aside; let me ask a rhetorical question ! What does a kid brother always emulate ?

Dushanbe, Ashgabat, Astana, Baku, Minsk, Phnom Penh ....list goes on. All claim to be cultural and political capitals. In keeping with the solidarity with our comrades, we will produce ghorar-deem-art

Much of the public art in the public square in the FSU, and Iron Curtain was governed by the dogmas of the politburos. With exception to Muscow and Leningrad which had classical czarist era european sensibilities, nd it somehow survived the putsch

I call it India Place tumi call it Marx Engles, I call it Gariahat tumi call it Leela Roy,





As long as Bhodroloks of Cal keep denying Dhormotolla and Circular Garden Reach Road's existence and keep calling it Lenin Sarani and karlMarx sarani, they will never have good public art


Thank Higgs-Boson Jyoti Basu did not succeed in renaming Kolkata Stalinpur, like his heros managed calling St Petersburg Leningrad.....and then they wonder Why Modi happened One set of authoritarians beget another set. Same goods, different bordello
#5 Dec 21st, 2017, 13:37
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Originally Posted by nycank View Post
Dushanbe, Ashgabat, Astana, Baku, Minsk, Phnom Penh ....list goes on. All claim to be cultural and political capitals. In keeping with the solidarity with our comrades, we will produce ghorar-deem-art
Brilliant Sir

but ...


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Originally Posted by nycank View Post
As long as Bhodroloks of Cal keep denying Dhormotolla and Circular Garden Reach Road's existence and keep calling it Lenin Sarani and karlMarx sarani, they will never have good public art
But most of these sculptures are of pre 1977 era ..
#6 Dec 21st, 2017, 13:53
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And perhaps the best of the public installations / art was done before 1977. I have a personal favourite in Debi Prosad Roy Chowdhury. Unfortunately this branch of art is rather weak pan India , most of the sculptures evoke laughter rather than a second look. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._P._Roy_Choudhury
#7 Dec 21st, 2017, 13:57
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I would like to know what people think about the works done by Smt Mira Mukhopadhyay & Sri Somnath Hore which were installed in mid 90s or 80s ..
#8 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:02
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Originally Posted by arupratan ghosh View Post I would like to know what people think about the works done by Smt Mira Mukhopadhyay & Sri Somnath Hore which were installed in mid 90s or 80s ..
Yes, I think very highly of them too , but if I compare , which is so unfair in itself , perhaps Debi Prosad and Ram Kinkar stands taller. May be just me.
#9 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:02
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Originally Posted by arupratan ghosh View Post but ...




But most of these sculptures are of pre 1977 era ..
My point exactly Them boys in Mujaffar Bhavan needed inspiration and ideas. All powers, be they colonial, or ideological surrogates of Oder-Chairmen do two things in the socio-cultural space - Erase the identity. Renaming streets and places are easiest and the very first step. Installing statues of their leaders is the next best thing ! And second, transplant literature.
#10 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:15
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Would also add that there was an essay by Syed Mujtaba Ali where he searched for the reasons behind why Indians paint better than they sculpt. In his own indomitable style he concluded that we are too lazy to keep carving away at a block of stone , we would much rather dab paints on canvass.
#11 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:28
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Originally Posted by iamsomnath View Post Would also add that there was an essay by Syed Mujtaba Ali where he searched for the reasons behind why Indians paint better than they sculpt. In his own indomitable style he concluded that we are too lazy to keep carving away at a block of stone , we would much rather dab paints on canvass.
Could be ! Actually, between 1911 to 1980s, India always had problems getting metals for statutes and sculptures too. Sculpting with metal is not easy, and in deshland, not cheap either.

But this is where elitism creeps in....traditional craftsmen are not artists ? "Dada! artists hab to bhi poor and struggling..." This mythology was rather popular in WB when I was growing up Every Pujo, and gosh there were so many - Every Goddess had one, and only one guy - Bishkarma - the engineer got one in Hijli, had idol makers. They innovated in some ways and kept to traditions in many other ways...

Whatif.....Idols were never bisarjaned ? Some were preserved in parts of the city ?
#12 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:35
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Originally Posted by nycank View Post All powers, be they colonial, or ideological surrogates of Oder-Chairmen do two things in the socio-cultural space - Erase the identity. Renaming streets and places are easiest and the very first step. Installing statues of their leaders is the next best thing !
Yes, I completely agree. This is something that's true worldwide.

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Originally Posted by nycank View Post And second, transplant literature.
However, we did get brilliant works by leftist novelists / film makers in Calcutta, but ironically those too belong to pre '77 era. Nothing much after that ( Ray was not a leftist & nothing much from him too in 80s & early 90s ) . Yes I do believe, regimentation destroys the soul of creativity. But on the other hand I must say fortunately in Bengal we haven't seen anything as bad as it was with Milan Kundera.
#13 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:40
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Brilliant works indeed, Arup.

What did you mean exactly, Nycank by "transplant literature" ?
#14 Dec 21st, 2017, 14:57
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If Kolkata is the ‘cultural capital of India’, why is its public art so ridiculous?

Surely, statues are more cast than sculpted, and I find it hard to believe that India doesn't have those skills? Is not Tata quite, err, big in metal? And what about all that scrap in ships on that beach?

But those who have to chip away at the item from which the mould is made? Hmmm... Mahabalipuram is full of people who can do it in stone.

That just leaves... The artist/designers... ......
#15 Dec 21st, 2017, 15:08
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Originally Posted by theyyamdancer View Post What did you mean exactly, Nycank by "transplant literature" ?


I really don't want to drift offtopic...but would love to drag it into the sandlot

You cannot look at transplant literature without considering sub-latern framework of Jacques Derrida's De la grammatologie. But to keep it plebeian rather than proletarians; when the minds of the young, the oral mythologies and traditions are replaced by alien metaphors and cultural narratives that have no connection to their daily lives.




Problems of discussing literary art as opposed to visual and spatial design, is that it involves in-context examination of situatedness of the society and culture in daily life. If I drift into "transplant literature" It will come out looking like a criticism of bengal(i) and Left; which it would not ! because there is a structural difference between critique and criticism. One woman's critique is another man' criticism. The jholawali syndrome!

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