A Wake Up Call: Print isn’t Dead!

The first-ever International Print Biennale in Delhi proves printmaking is no static tool manipulated to create a variety based on age-old techniques, says Subhra Mazumdar

In an attempt to familiarise people with the basics of printmaking, the Lalit Kala Akademi – India’s National Academy of Art – organised an International Print Biennale for the first time in Delhi. A pioneering venture of the Akademi, the month-long biennale, which ended in the last week of April, was held jointly at the Lalit Kala galleries and the National Gallery of Modern Art. Featuring artworks by over a hundred emerging and established printmakers from across the world, the one of a kind event organised two exhibitions, various workshops and seminars to promote the forgotten art of printmaking. The mega programme with its ambitious layout, a brainchild of C.S. Krishna Setty, former Lalit Kala administrator and a prominent printmaker himself, was made viewer friendly by its astute categorization of the exhibits into four major segments. While an open competitive section formed the bulk of the display, and consisted of selected entries from among the many works that had been sent in for display, the ‘Pioneer’ section of the display comprised iconic works of Indian masters whose names are legendary in their chosen fields. The ‘Invitee’ segment evoked much discussion among practising artists as it comprised the works of the well-known practitioners of our times. The international component consisting of entries from 17 nations, included exhibits from Poland, Lithuania, USA, UK, among others, comprising nations where the practice of printmaking is marked by historic continuity. This categorization of exhibits made for a complete viewer experience for not only was one privy to the final exhibit on the walls, but through a historical perspective added alongside, in the works of masters such as Jyoti Bhatt, Haren Das, Chittoprosad, among others. The viewer was exposed to the artistic talents of a distinguished collective. Such representational perspective allowed the novice, and uninitiated as well as the veteran to find something of their choice from among the works. More importantly, the event allowed viewers to see the newer approaches to composition techniques as works ranged from crowded to sparse and yet each one of them showed finesse of execution as also works that were handpicked from the best period of the exhibitor’s professional career as a printmaker. Among the newer introductions was a work of polymer etching, creating a sculpture-like edition of milk packets, giving the show its quota of experimental liberalism in the bargain. While the two extremes of the show, namely the pioneers and the competitors formed the backbone of the biennale, it was the current practices of printmaking as seen in the works of contemporary masters that proved worthwhile for both students and collectors. It brought to the fore the fact that printmaking is no static tool manipulated to create a variety based on age-old techniques. What they fielded by their participation is the fact that printmaking is not the image on the wall. It is also the discourse that it generated and therefore, the need to be globally linked through this medium.

It was thus the initiative of the Steering Committee of this Biennale – leading practitioners of our time – who must be given the credit of bringing the current platform into the public gaze. Of note are the works of Anupam Sud, Paula Sengupta, Anandamoy Banerjee and Dattatreya Apte, to name a few. Their work is highly original and their venture to make the art disseminate as widely as possible alongside, through the holding of seminars and publications, gave the event a highly rounded approach to the entire event. The Lalit Kala Akademi, on its part thereafter played a yeoman role in bringing the idea into fruition, making it a collective of the best Indian and current western trends in the field. Of the foreign exhibits that drew interest was the clutch of posters dating back to the student unrest in Paris in 1968. They conveyed the expression of a collective as none of the posters were signed when originally made so as to highlight the sensibilities of the powerless majority who had taken to the streets to clamour for freedom. On the other hand, the experimental variety seen in the competitive section laid the basis for a lot of public commentary as every viewer had his own set of pickings from among the lot and their artist makers were often obliged to narrate the thought process behind their creations. This process of interaction on a direct basis added a sense of immediacy and closeness, making the exhibition live up to the Lalit Kala Akademi’s motto of bringing India’s cultural roots to a larger and more receptive audience. The integral worth of the art helped to lay a broader base of public participation in the artistic process. One similar yet slightly off track approach to printmaking was the experimental work done by the students of Ksala Bhavana, Santiniketan (MFA category), on the documenting of shadow play and printmaking. Their findings were more than flat images of a certain point in time and recorded the shadowy outcomes that followed through variations of space and time and the play of light in these images, wherein the group had taken their own images as case studies. The novel approach to the theme lent energy to printmaking beyond the realm of the etched and the engraved. The finale of the event was marked by the release of a detailed catalogue of the event, containing images and details of all the exhibits on view. A seminar on printmaking was held simultaneously as part of the closing ceremony. Speaking on the event, the Commissioner of the event, veteran printmaker Anupam Sud remarked: “Since the International Print Biennale hosted by Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, was discontinued after 2010, a forum of international standards for the exhibition of prints, discussions on printmaking, and opportunities for workshop and exchange have been negligible. This welcome initiative of the Lalit Kala Akademi is expected to provide a great philip to the practice and patronage of printmaking in India.” While no dates were announced about the next show, corridors of the institution were abuzz with talks and ideas to be incorporated into subsequent show two years later, proving thereby that this event is on the way to being engraved and etched into a cherished legacy of the institution.

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