“Debashish Banerji's study of Abanindranath is a significant addition to existing scholarship. Departing from the received tradition of looking at Abanindranath as an artist shackled by his commitments to nationalism he recognizes the complexity cross-cultural encounters bring to the colonial world and locates Abanindranath squarely within this new space of intersubjectivity, dialogue, and mutual transformation. Deftly combining theoretical insights with a wealth of historical and familial facts he demonstrates how Abanindranath through his simultaneous engagements with the pre-modern communitarian and the colonial modern brings in not only an alternate modernism but also intuits the postmodern itself.”
—R Siva Kumar
The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore provides a revisionary critique of the art of Abanindranath Tagore, the founder of the national school of Indian painting, popularly known as the Bengal School of Art. The book categorically argues that the art of Abanindranath, which developed during the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th-20th centuries, was not merely a normalization of national or oriental principle, but was a hermeneutic negotiation between modernity and community. It establishes that his form of art—embedded in communitarian practices like kirtan, alpona, pet-naming, syncretism, and storytelling through oral allegories—sought a social identity within the inter-subjective context of locality, regionality, nationality, and trans-nationality.
The author presents Abanindranath as a creative agent who, through his art, conducted a critical engagement with post-Enlightenment modernity and regional subalternity. He sought the transcendence or individual autonomy on one hand and communitarian inter-subjectivity on the other, which became the underlying principles of the postcolonial legacy of his art. The author theorizes this modernity and communitarian inter-subjectivity as the alternate nationalism which theoretically offers a reversal of the mainstream evaluation of Abanindranath's art.
This book is well-illustrated with many of Abanindranath's creations. It will be an invaluable reference material for students, researchers, and academics from various subject areas such as arts and humanities, sociology, and cultural studies. It will be precious for artists, art collectors, connoisseurs, museums, and art galleries.
Chapter 5: Practices of Community and the Alternate Nation
Abanindranath took to making portraits of friends and family members from an early (Pre-Havell) stage of his art practice. These portraits were done mostly in oil pastels and, particularly in their early part of the late 19th century phase, seem to have concentrated on a density of surface effect, with texture and chiaroscuro combining to heighten an impression of character. This is the one practice of Abanindranath which retained till a late stage a semblance of photo illusionism, so as to keep his engagement with “classical” European aesthetic values active. His portraits of the young Rabindranath (Plate 5.1) and the ageing Debendranath made in 1894 are still available. The Debendranath painting shows ...