Monday, March 7, 2016

A curated walk Through the works of Dashrath Patel with Sadanad Menon

It was the occassion of Chennai Photo Biennale and one of the talks was by Sdanand on the works of the famed Dashrath Patel, the man famously behind the NID. Sadanand is a treasure trove of information on arts and artists for our times, for he has lived through the times of artists and seen them work at close quarters. He has seen the rise of Indian Modernism and has followed its development closely from its very early stages. He is home to so much wonderful archival artistic material and very safely so, for no one else can care for them better.

Sadanand has been closely associated with Dashrath, who was also involved with the  conception and creation of the Spaces. It showed in the number of stories Sadanand had to say about each and every photo of Dashrath, that he walked us thru in the course of his presentation. The presentation had some 100 pics painstakingly gleaned from a collection of 10,000 that has been digitised from a total volume of an whopping  1,20,000 pictures.

Dashrath studied in the Chennai fine arts college under the tutelage of Devi Prasad Roy Chaudri, who had  headed the institute for almost 30 years. It is gladdening to note chennai has had a rooted connection to this artist, some thing to be proud of . ' He was the first assistant to his teacher Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury in the execution of the two iconic sculptures along the Marina Beach – “Triumph of Labour” and the Gandhi statue. For these, Dashrath created the plaster-of-Paris maquettes in various shapes and sizes before the famous bronzes were eventually cast. Fifty years later, he was thrilled to be invited to create a sculpture at the junction along the IT corridor near Tidel Park, on the theme of fire. The 35-feet tall coloured plumes in reinforced concrete will remain his visible signature on the city.(

'Fire' sculpture in RCC at Tidel Park Jn

he did his masters at Bhulabai desai inst, Mumbai , where he was contemporaries with the likes of MF Hussain, Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta. Bhulabai was an attorney and had famously defended the INA soldiers and  had assisted in the defence of Bhagat Singh.

While talking of the Bombay artists Sadanand just can't pass without mentioning the anecdote of the travails of the Bomabay artists to sell their works and how Bhulabai would invite a monied business man and show him around the works of these artists in a bid to sell and the camaraderie among the artists.

And then talking of Dashrath's journey comes an anecdote i have heard quite a few times from Sadanand himself, the story of Dashrath Patel's first encounter with, Henri Cartier-Bresson:

"He was really interested in seeking," Patel points out, "Taking photographs was secondary. His main interest was in seeing. He was interested in everything around him and in knowing what people were doing... When I exhibited at the Galerie Barbizon, Cartier-Bresson had come to see. Afterwards he put his camera in my hand and said, 'Can you shoot a frame for me?' At that time I hated the camera. All I wanted was to draw at the time. I said, 'I don't do photography. Why should I?' He said, 'You are clear in your drawing, but I also want to know what you see with another tool.' So I clicked a shot and forgot about it. Couple of weeks later he invited me home for a meal and to meet his wife. He showed me many prints. He held up one and said, 'You like it?' By then I had already forgotten that I had shot a picture with his camera - I had done it with so much resistance and prejudice. I said, 'Yes, it's very well seen!' He said 'It's you and it's important you buy a camera and work with it!' That's how I got my first camera."

Dashrath comes back and takes up to photography just as a fish to water. He always had an artisan's keenness to learn every details of an art. so he learned the intricacies of making prints as well.

Dashrath went to learn ceramics in Czechoslavakia and when he came back he was offered the postion of leading NID, which had just then been created based on a report by Charles Eames and the support of Sarabhai foundation. ( In their report the Eames interestingly glorify the design of the 'lota'). During his tenure heading the NID, Dashrath is also assigned the responsiblity of showcasing India in art fairs abroad and at home.

In a bid to capture the 'idea of India' Dashrath undertakes three all India tours in an Ambassador. It is through these photos that the world would look to India as a colourful and Vibrant country for a long time.

Many of Dahsrath's photos are in the nature of capturing the folk in action. the folk carrying burden effortlessly, their gait and pose find a prominent documentation.  His frames often have vibrant colours on one side and light shades on the other. He captured the designs that captivates him, be it the simple knots of a rope carrying a burden , or the designs on fabrics, jewelry or stone sculptures, he never misses them.

While looking at these photos one feels helpless in the rampant way we are loosing the richness and vibrancy of this culture and diversity to the all consuming giant of modernity, the ruthless vanquishing of our rich heritage and diversity rich land being turned into tabloid models of diversity in the middle of a concrete jungle. We are now being taught to take salvage and pride in belonging to this modern concrete culture.

A bunch of photos capturing  banners of Tamil movie advertisements and wall writings carrying sarcastic political remarks and caricatures is great material for a hearty laughter and some thoughts on where have such fine political commentators vanished.

Through the Talk Dashrath comes across as the fine crafts man who never stopped or Shied away from learning, be it clay pottery or working with design software on a Mac. His strength was his artisanal mind that made him innovate with whatever little resource at his disposal.

The design of a wooden collar with many cameras to give a 360" view, well recounted in Sadanand's words,

‘In 1967, Dashrath… creat[ed] a 9-screen 360° projection of "A Journey in India" for the India pavilion at the Montreal Fair, with no access to high-tech equipment. Faced with the task of having to create a "circarama" effect, he devised a plywood housing for nine cameras which he would wear around his neck. Linked to a single remote shutter release apparatus, the cameras facing different directions would go off simultaneously to create the effect of "shooting in the round".’(
Dashrath Patel surrounded by his 9-screen projection, India Pavilion, Montreal World Fair, 1967. Image courtesy The Dashrath Patel Museum.

This innovation  gets even more fascinating when you learn of the spirit that this was Dashrath's answer to ...Eameses’ spectacular IBM pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1964/1965), an ovoid theatre (the ‘Information Machine’) was equipped with multiple screens, live performances and a seated audience that was raised fifty feet high by a hydraulic lift.

Dashrath's passion for tweaking with the elements, made him an expert  problem solver. When Sadanand recounted how Dashrath had relieved M. Krishnan on a sticky evening when he could not get a photo print right by swaying his magic wand, you could feel what a resourceful person he was. 

In retrospect, Dashrath will be remembred as someone who started off inspired and bearing the flag of Nehruvian romanticism and modernism and in later life resigned to Gandhian activism leaving behind the romance of the megalomania and helping with grass root activities aimed at rejuvenating the village economy.

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