Rabin Mondal: Kingdom of Exile
The Fuller Building, 7 June – 3 September 2016
Kala Ghoda, 20 July – 12 September 2015
Hauz Khas Village, 21 December 2014 – 27 March 2015
Rabin Mondal is like a striding colossus of our times, scorching up the firmament with images that reflect societal malaise and his own inner turmoil. His determination to paint in a market-unfriendly manner is characteristic of his resolve. His canvases provide no safety net for the unwary viewer. Here is a confident artist aware of his self and his role with no fig leaf to offer those seeking beauty in art—not that his work is unbeautiful.
However, the diminutive man, shy and reticent, is an unlikely artist for someone whose subject is so powerful. Despite his apparent fragility, he does not seem rattled by his own daring. His kings and queens and deities, his heads and portraits, scenes from brothels and battlefields, are suggestive of violence and gore, of deep pain and suffering.
Though he had previously exhibited in Mumbai and New Delhi, besides his native Kolkata, he was not too well-known outside because of the discomfort his paintings caused his viewers. To an extent, this has changed in the last decade when DAG organised possibly the largest exhibition of his career in New Delhi. It has also regularly exhibited his paintings in various group and theme shows, including its signature Manifestations series on modern Indian art, and has included them in its selection of showing at art fairs around the world.
A second retrospective, therefore, is unusual.
In times to come, scholars will debate the influences that have shaped Rabin Mondal’s idea of image-making, but already it can be seen that his is a trope associated with primitivism—even though it cannot be viewed through the prism that is applied to Western or even other Indian artists. Some attempt has been made to view his work within the context of his peers. Certainly, some of them pursued art careers with as much fortitude as him.
DAG is privileged to have worked closely with Rabinda in the making of the publication accompanying the retrospective. Scholars to come may not have that advantage, but they will have the extensive body of his art to study. Already, our understanding of his work has grown exponentially. In time—and sooner than we realise—so will his importance.