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Benodebehari Mukherjee (1904 - 1980) - Murals
Centenary Retrospective Exhibition curated by Gulammohammed Sheikh & Siva Kumar
New Delhi: December 30th 2006 - February 11th 2007


Text - R.Sivakumar GM & Nilima Sheikh
Identification of Japan trip photos - Omuka Toshiharu Tsutomu Mizusawa
Design and formatting of CD - Pushkar Nagwekar, Kinjal Vora, Sukhdev Rathod, Sanjoy Kumar Malik
Voice - Indrapramit Roy

In Santiniketan, murals and other public art projects were used to get teachers and students to work together like members of erstwhile guilds, passing on insights and skills through acts of collaboration, as a means for taking art into the everyday life of the community. Although he often pictured himself as a recluse of a kind, Benodebehari showed an early interest in mural painting. He saw in murals, above everything else, an opportunity to work on a scale more ambitious than what folios and scrolls permitted and to present his vision of the world more comprehensively.The first of his more significant murals is a representation of the local landscape he painted on the ceiling of a hostel dormitory in Santiniketan in 1940. In this mural he gathers his experience of the local villages in an encyclopedic manner and unrolls it around a central pond like an intricate web of images that carry us to the four corners of the ceiling constantly shifting perspective and focus to invoke the experience of an itinerant viewer.

His next mural done two years later in Cheena Bhavana is structured like a Japanese screen. It knits together vignettes of campus life cunningly juxtaposed into a gestalt which uses suggestion and innuendo.

While these two murals invite an intimate engagement of viewers his next and most important mural, based on the lives of the Medieval Saint Poets of India, works on an altogether different footing. Painted between 1946 and 1947 (assisted by Jitendra Kumar, Leela Mukherjee, Devaki Nandan Sharma and K.G.Subramanyan) the mural on three walls of the Hindi Bhavana is about eighty feet in length. Spanning the upper half of a room and running across its three walls like a long tracking film shot, it presents a vision of the Indian past as an elaborate pageant. Its teeming figures, with variously poised bodies and gestures achieve a pulsating rhythm by measured shifts in focus, its invocations of history and timelessness, and the many levels of reading and meaning. It is arguably, the most ambitious murals of modern India.

Another fine example of this middle phase of his career is in the two panels at the Vanasthali Vidyapeeth in Rajasthan done in 1950.

Village Life in Birbhum,
mural in egg tempera,
size 2.53 x 6.06 meters, 1940,
Ceiling mural (detail)
Life on the Campus, Cheena
, mural in fresco secco,
total length 5.55 meters, 1942
Life of Medieval Saints, (detail),
mural in fresco buono,
23.07meters height 2.44 meters
Ramanuja (detail), Life of
Medieval Saints, Hindi Bhavana
Kabir (detail),
Life of Medieval Saints
Tulsi Das (detail),
Life of Medieval Saints
Sur Das (detail),
Life of Medieval Saints
Banasthali Vidyapeeth
mural site
Nepalese Festival Procession
mural in Jaipur fresco
each panel approximately
2.36 x 3.29 meters, 1950

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