One of the most recognised faces of Indian art, Subodh Gupta has played a significant role in putting Bihar on the art map. But the artist from Khagaul, 15 or so kilometres from Patna, rued that the exposure to contemporary art in the state was limited in his growing-up years.
“We have a rich culture to boast of, with Nalanda, Gaya, and an impressive repository of artefact. But with regard to art not, much happened for years,” he said. So, when bureaucrat Anjani Kumar Singh approached him more than a decade ago to discuss the proposal of Bihar Museum in Patna, Gupta recalled his elation.
Closely involved with the progress of the museum, Gupta shared how attention was paid to every detail.
On August 7, India’s first physical Museum Biennale was inaugurated at the museum, two years after a hybrid edition was held in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic.
Patna was adorned with banners at the airport and outside the museum. “The Museum Biennale aspires to shape cultures, foster meaningful discussions, and elevate the museum space into a dynamic realm,” Singh said on Saturday.
Inaugurating the event, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar recalled the challenges: “When we were planning the museum, several people were sceptical and critical but we proved them wrong with this international museum.”
Sharing plans for the future, Nitish said a 1.5 km underground tunnel will connect Bihar Museum with Patna Museum.
Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav stated, “We are working with people from different communities to save our diversity and history but there are some others bent on destroying it. There can be no prosperity or development without peace.”
In attendance were prominent gallerists and artists from across India — Bose Krishnamachari, Sudarshan Shetty, G R Iranna and Jayasri Burman, among others — as well as those from the field of folk and traditional art. “It is wonderful that we have a place like this in Bihar. It offers so many possibilities to artists from the region as well as the public,” said Baua Devi, a Madhubani artist who received a Padma Shri in 2017. She had travelled to Patna for the opening of the biennale.
Delhi-based Paresh Maity, who was part of one of the central exhibitions at the event — titled ‘Together We Art’, based on the theme of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ that brings together artists from G20 countries — said: “This is a great initiative…. We have such variety of art being produced in India but no biennales or triennales except the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.”
Titled ‘Light of Faith’, Maity’s 5×15 feet canvas in the showcase focuses on unity and togetherness.
The museum, spread over an area of 13.9 acres, boasts of artefact dating from the Harappan civilisation to the renowned Didarganj Yakshi stone statue from the 3rd century, miniature art and contemporary works by artists such as Nalini Malani and Iranna. The biennale extends to works from diverse locations. If Nepal Art Council’s exhibit titled ‘Nepal: Where the Gods Reside’ focuses on Nepal as an abode of deities, Russia is presenting an immersive showcase titled ‘Mystic Universe’.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, meanwhile, is paying tribute to the tradition of Tanjore art through the exhibition ‘Three Dimensions of Divinity — Thanjavur Art Revealed’, and the Salar Jung Museum from Hyderabad sharing the culture of Telangana through ‘Modern Indian Painting’.
Knowledge partner Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, meanwhile, will organise interactive sessions through the four-month duration of the biennale, besides showcasing Shetty’s 2007 mixed media installation ‘Taj Mahal’ and Gupta’s 2006 installation of a rickshaw with utensils titled ‘Cheap Rice’.
Alka Pande, chief curator and artistic producer of Bihar Museum Biennale, noted that the curatorial framework aims at making the museum engaging. “Museums, once thought of as places of antiquity where visitors merely stand before lifeless, fossilized objects with little engagement, have evolved significantly,” Pande said. “Personally, my perspective has been transformed through my involvement with the Museum Biennale and my exploration of the deeper meaning behind museum collections. I now see museums as extraordinary platforms — true laboratories of ideas.”
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The visitor experience they offer “goes far beyond passive observation”, Pande said.
Vijay Yadav, who works at a textile store in Patna, echoed her sentiment. He had taken the day off to bring his teenage daughters to the museum to be part of the festivities that accompanied the inauguration of the Museum Biennale. “Many artists from across the world are here. My daughters really like visiting this museum and one of them wants to become an artist,” he said. “I did not want them to miss this grand event.”
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Now based in Gurgaon, Gupta was not present at the opening but hopes to engage with art and his audience when he visits the biennale next month. “It has so many families coming from nearby villages to engage with art,” he said.
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd