Published: 14th April 2018
Mamta Nainy's book about Indian art will tell you everything from cave paintings to modern muse
Most children have had instances of looking at unique art forms without consciously being educated about them. Mamta Nainy's A Brush With Indian Art aims to change that
With World Art Day just a few days behind us, now is as good a time as any to pick up a copy of Mamta Nainy’s book, A Brush With Indian Art. And both the publishers, Puffin Books, and Nainy, who has written about eight books for children, knew that “we wanted to create something that would make Indian art accessible to children, something that young readers would want to bite into.” Hence, the book is a visual experience augmented by facts turned into interesting stories with a side of helpful information segments, giving us a well-rounded package of Indian art, ‘from cave to contemporary paintings’, as the book says. We find ourselves asking Nainy about the importance of art in a school’s curriculum, tribal art and more. Excerpts:
What are the two important eras, in terms of art, that we should know more about?
I’m most inspired by the artists of the Bengal School of Art, primarily by the works of Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij and Rabindranath Tagore. While they had similar concerns and shared issues about the kind of art that was being practised during their time, each one of them has explored these in a distinct style. I also find Kalighat paintings quite amusing. There’s a simplification of form in their paintings which makes the style strong. They are full of quirks and symbolism and give an entertaining view of the society at that time.
First glimpse: The original artworks for the book were sourced from various museums and galleries
Can you elaborate on the current state of Indian art?
Art in India, as around the world, has undergone a marked change that has culminated into what we see today — a unique amalgamation of ideas and sensibilities. There is also an emergence of a new generation of art buyers, corporate patrons, online galleries, alternative venues for exhibiting works and art events such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the India Art Fair in Delhi and more, which are all happy trends.
However, solid institutional support to the visual arts is critical for sustaining the Indian art scene. There need to be more vibrant local art institutions that nurture art practices and promote art awareness and appreciation. Museums, for instance, can be a bridge between art enthusiasts and works of art and can assume a more active role in art education and engagement. Also, there need to be more government-run spaces for budding artists.
Nainy is working on a few picture books for children and co-translating a book on a Hindustani classical music legend with Aniruddha Mukherjee, who is also the illustrator of A Brush with Indian Art
Do you think the history of art is given enough importance in a school's curriculum?
Though there are the usual drawing classes, art isn’t explored as a medium of self-expression and there is a paucity of books on exploration and appreciation of Indian art for young readers. There is a need to liberate the thought process of children by exposing them to the wealth of Indian art and artists and show them how art changes and evolves over time, thereby encouraging them to think up ideas, explore them visually and bring their dreams, imagination and stories to life! Parents and schools should also educate themselves on art and not be too judgemental or critical of children’s work based on their understanding and idea of ‘good art’.
Timeline: It took Nainy almost three years of extensive reading and museum/gallery visits to finish the book
Folk and tribal art forms of India are fast disappearing. What can we do to ensure they are preserved?
We need to instil a love for them in our little ones. Most children have had instances of looking at these unique art forms without consciously being educated about them. So, an exposure to Indian folk and tribal arts, without exoticising them, would be a great way to democratise these art forms.