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Adda@Maya: Kala Bhavana Chronicles

Adda@Maya: Kala Bhavana Chronicles

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Rishi Burua, Parag Roy and Partha Dasgupta at Adda@Maya

Adda@Maya is a recurring cultural gathering held at Maya Art Space in Kolkata, bringing together artists and enthusiasts. The 134th session marked the beginning of the new year, featuring a discussion led by distinguished guests Rishi Barua, Parag Roy, and Partha Dasgupta, all alumni of Kala Bhavana, the renowned center for Visual Art practice and research in India.

Adda@Maya, the Wednesday adda session at Kolkata’s Maya Art Space, welcomed the new year with its 134th session. The guests trio, Rishi Barua, Parag Roy, and Partha Dasgupta, are all from the field of fine arts and alumni of Kala Bhavana, the distinguished centre for practice and research on Visual Art in India and a conjugated department of Visva Bharati, the central university, located at Shantiniketan. 

Partha Dasgupta, in his role as the moderator, set the tone of the adda. He remembers Kala Bhavana since his post-graduate days which is much later than when Rishi and Parag studied there in the eighties. Professionally though, he came to know both of them at Kolkata’s Lalit Kala Academi, a government institution to focus on visual arts. 

Parag started his journey by talking about illustrious teachers like Somnath Hore, Dinkar Koushik, Sanat Kar, Sankha Chadhury, Jogen Choudhury, K G Subramanyan ( Mani da ) who were not only great people to learn from but also the doyens of Indian art. “Despite their stature of being artists par excellence they used to have a very simple approach towards life. For example, there was no staff room, and their meeting place used to be Mama’s canteen under the tree with Nakul, the boy with running errands, serving tea, food etc. ” said Parag, ” and we were fortunate to have seen renowned artists from other parts of the country like Tayyab Mehta, Sudhir Patwardhan, Krishna Reddy, to name a few, as visiting faculty or fellow to Kala Bhavana. 

Rishi Barua displaying old photographs while talking to Parag Roy
Rishi Barua displaying old photographs while talking to Parag Roy

Rishi of course joined the institute as a teacher after completing his study at the institute where he enrolled himself in 1980. His mother Kiran Barua, born in 1924 and educated mostly at the Gauripur estate of Assam, had also joined the art school when it was at the peak of its glory under the stewardship of Nandalal Bose. In a way, therefore, his connection to Kala Bhavana has spread over more than five decades. He recollected his first day at the hostel which almost coincided with the sudden demise of artist Ramkinkar Baij, who he knew as a child while accompanying her mother. 

Rishi Barua displaying the old photographs

Both Rishi and Parag reminiscenced the older days at the Kala Bhavana when the environment was very different in terms of the student-teacher relationship and an easy-going campus life which used to be a 24-hour’ learning experience. 

Though there were illustrious teachers, who, over a period of time took Kala Bhavana to greater heights, the main architect of this art institution was none other than Rabindranath Tagore himself. It was his conviction and thoughts about setting up such an institution that would give shape to the culture-specific modernism in British India to practice various forms of art. In this respect, as Parag remarked, Kala Bhavana shared a lot of commonness with the objectives of Bauhaus, the German art school founded by architect Walter Gropius in 1919, the same year when Kala Bhavana came into being.  

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Rishi Barua displaying pics of his younger days

Rishi remembered Nandan Mela, the annual art exhibition and fair of the Kala Bhavana, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. During the 70s / 80s, the mela used to be a smaller affair with both the students and teachers participating in the two-day event with great elan. It was an exhibition of artifacts crafted by the Kala Bhavana community and works of great artists could be picked up at a throwaway price. “With the entry of art studios and dealers from the mid-nineties, the event became not only bigger in size but also too much commercialised”, quipped Rishi. 

Three of us : Rishi Barua, Parag Roy and Partha Dasgupta
Three of us : Rishi Barua, Parag Roy and Partha Dasgupta

The adda session concluded with Rishi taking the audience through a pictorial journey of the Kala Bhavana campus life since the decade of 30s and a short audio-visual on his mother’s life. These photographs are invaluable treasures and are all from Rishi’s private collection which he so tenderly preserved over the years out of sheer love for his alma mater.

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