“This collection of photographic portraits is an artistic project of immense value. It is an unparalleled archive, which memorializes Ganesh Pyne, one of the foremost artists of post-independent India. It also foregrounds Veena Bhargava’s sensitivity towards her subject. Her representation of Pyne as a thinking person with a great deal of emotional empathy arouses a rush of nostalgic memories and prompts us to see him as the cultural icon that he is.”
Ella Datta, critic and author, in her essay, “Memorialising Ganesh Pyne: the artist and his laboratory of lines”, in the forthcoming book.
Taking the form of an exhibition and a companion publication for the first time, the entire collection is probably the only available photographic archive of Ganesh Pyne from his earlier days. The photographs were shot by Veena Bhargava in 1984, when Pyne had begun to receive national and international recognition; and later in 2004, when he was a famous artist. Shot with a hand-held camera and a light meter, the archive is a sensitive portfolio of portrait images and an invaluable archive unique to the cultural history of Kolkata. Taken during different phases of Pyne’s life, these include eloquent portraits shot at his Kaviraj Row ancestral residence in central Kolkata; and the building at Cornwallis Street, the location of Mandar Mallick’s studio, where he worked as a part-time illustrator.
Recalling a visit to the Mandar Mallick studio in Cornwallis Street, Bhargava, in her introduction to the publication, writes: “A perfect setting for a secluded alchemist, his private universe of myth and make-believe, fantasy and fable, memories, and imagination. The small room with darkened, flaking walls led through a shuttered door to an open terrace. A heap of abandoned metal pipes and twigs lay neglected, creating a mysterious surreal ambience, in tandem with Pyne’s imagery.”
Veena Bhargava’s journey into the personal world of Ganesh Pyne began in 1984, when she began working as a photography apprentice at Kolkata’s Chitrabani media institute. Critic and author Ella Datta, then a journalist interviewing Pyne for The Illustrated Weekly of India, commissioned Bhargava to work on an accompanying photo feature.
In 2004, Bhargava reinvented her portfolio of Ganesh Pyne’s portraitures by experimenting with photo-collages, which involved using multiple images of the artist, along with appropriations from his work, such as the famous painting, Queen. For Bhargava, this new direction in her photographic documentation of Pyne was, in her own words, “an unknown journey and an adventure”, through which she brought out the spirit and persona that was Ganesh Pyne. The photo-collages stand out as the work of a stage designer or scenographer, reflecting Bhargava’s ability to explore the possibilities of a new medium with great ingenuity and originality.
Veena Bhargava is a professional artist who studied Fine Arts at the Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata; and the Art Students League of New York. She pursued photography at Chitrabani, a media institute in Kolkata. She is the recipient of several awards and honours, including the National Award by the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1986.
Her work is part of several prominent collections in India and abroad, such as The Alkazi Collection, New Delhi; Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Kolkata; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; and Glenbarra Art Museum, Himeji, Japan.
Text and Photo: Akar Prakar, Kolkata
Memorialising Ganesh Paine | Photographs and photo collages by Veena Bhargava will be on view till March 31-2020