Jamini Roy’s was an art of quiet resistance that assimilated so seamlessly into the folk and craft traditions of Bengal that it did not cause any discernible ripples among the prevalent artistic mood. All around him, art was being nurtured, questioned, uprooted—it was, after all, a period when nationalist feelings ran high and a search for an indigenous lexicon was paramount—but Jaminida’s ability to look to tradition for a modern approach, though revolutionary, was instinctively natural and organic. It was art that everyone understood and wanted to take home. No wonder Jamini babu became a household name in his native Calcutta and went on to be honoured as one of the pre-eminent National Treasure artists of the country whose art has the greatest acceptance of any known Indian modernist.
Born in Beliatore to a zamindar family, Jamini Roy trained in art at the Government School of Arts and Crafts in Calcutta where Abanindranath Tagore was vice principal, when the influence of the revivalist Bengal School would have been immense. Between his academic training and the orientalist trope, both of which had little appeal for him, he began his career as a portrait painter and, initially, also adhered to the impressionistic style before renouncing it all, beginning in the 1930s, in favour of a vernacular approach to his practice that was to be his marker for all of his career.
Inspiration for this came from the living traditions of Bengal—terracotta and wooden toys in village haats, the Bankura horse, friezes from the terracotta temples of Bishnupur, the scroll painters who painted in the folk tradition, and, of course, the watercolour Kalighat pats that were the mainstay of the patua artists around the Kalighat temple in Calcutta. Drawn to their simplicity and the Santhal way of life, Jamini Roy immersed himself in painting their music and dance traditions, creating endearingly simple images of the mother and child, turning to mythology—both Hindu and Christian—for incidents to recount that held universal appeal.
Despite his amazing popularity, exhibitions on Jamini Roy have been inexplicably rare—an anomaly ‘Living Traditions & the Art of Jamini Roy’ hopes to remove with this intimate exhibition that includes his extensive range of subjects that he would frequently re-visit. ‘His work is built on solid ground, open and without pretense… based on universals of form which are understood by all who know art, whether from the East or the West… the art of Jamini Roy serves the living Bengal,’ wrote Stella Kramrisch, an admirer of his work. Of course, as we now know, the art of Jamini Roy serves the entire living world.