Artwork of Brij Mohan Anand adds a new chapter in Indian art history after 30 years of his death

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Launch of the infographic
Filmmaker-writer Imtiaz Ali while launching the infographic

Indian art turned a unique chapter in its post-Independence history by bringing to the circuit the vitality of a long-forgotten figure, as the national capital is now hosting a landmark exhibition of maverick Brij Mohan Anand known for an anti-establishment spirit he sustained till his death 30 years ago.

On their first-ever public display, 80 select works of striking variety reveal an unconventional approach by the Punjab-born artist, whose life story and aesthetics were also brought out through a book at the 11-day show’s inauguration that saw experts discussing the vibrancy of BM Anand (1928-86).

‘Narratives for Indian Modernity: The Aesthetic of Brij Mohan Anand’, which is the title of both the exhibition and the book, is the result of an accidental discovery of a massive tranche (1,500-plus) of works from the attic of the self-taught artist’s West Delhi house. While the show being organized by BM Anand Foundation at India International Centre has been curated by art scholar Dr Alka Pande, the 192-page book is co-authored by writer-biographer Aditi Anand and UK-based art historian Dr Grant Pooke.

Panelists of the Round Table
Panelists of the Round Table

Born in an Amritsar family that was radicalized after it lost a pre-teen child in the 1919 Jalianwala massacre carried out by the British army, BM Anand’s art flourished in Leftist views—which is evident at the IIC show that features his artistic practice from paintings, scratchboards, water-colours, drawings, sketches, book-covers and posters. His life as well as aesthetic went on to intersect with some of the foundational events which defined and shaped modern Indian consciousness.

N.K. Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, while launching the book, said the work of BM Anand, who died of cardiovascular complications at the age of 58, reflected his egalitarian ethos. “Budding artists, imagination can take wings from this icon,” he noted. “We need such stellar contributions in the future as well.”

Filmmaker-writer Imtiaz Ali, who inaugurated the May 12-22 exhibition, said BM Anand owned a “great sense of dignity” by laying uncompromising emphasis on the what he wanted to say rather than how. “Even while being a modernist, he stuck to his cultural roots,” noted the 44-year-old director of blockbuster movies such as Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar, Highway and Tamasha.

Earlier, moderating a round-table where Ali also spoke alongside graphic novelist Orijit Sen, parliamentarian Pavan Kumar Varma, and theatre activist Sudhanva Deshpande besides the co-authors of the book, curator Dr Pande said BM Anand’s work featured the rare of combination of being lyrically beautiful and politically strong. “He represented the subaltern and previously marginalized voice of Indian art with creations that are diverse and inter-disciplinary,” the cultural theorist added.

Sen said he found BM Anand to be preoccupied with people around with intensity higher than his peers such as M F Husain and S H Raza. “This is amazing discovery. We have found a new link to modernity in post-Independence India,” he said.

Bureaucrat-turned-Rajya Sabha MP Varma said BM Anand “has given us a glimpse at our own undiscovered narrative”. Amnesia is a consequence of long colonialism, and the artist has erased some of it, he added. “Anand’s nudes betray an uninhibited flow soaked of occidental aesthetics even while he was anti-imperialist.”

Deshpande, who directs plays, acts and writes, said BM Anand deployed a range of styles, yet was slave to none. “There is an in-the-face quality to his work.”

Delhiite writer-biographer Aditi said the book strung together BM Anand’s personal stories in a way linking them to his art. Co-author Dr Pooke, who teaches in University of Kent, said BM Anand’s later, dystopian landscapes adapted motifs from aspects of European Surrealism while his art at large was stoked by anti-capitalist polemic.

BM Foundation’s Neeraj Gulati and the artist’s daughter Kriti Anand also spoke.