Painters, muralists, sculptors, printmakers, installation artists, art scribes and regular exhibition visitors all, we are unfailing in our professing of love for arts, especially the non-performing visual arts. Doubtful, however, is the number of us, willing to undertake love’s labour. You have been an exception. You enjoy the not-so-pleasurable task of knowing and let others know, more about art, for deepening the love.
From my reading of Vassari (whom the West wants everyone to regard as the pioneering historian of visual arts), Abul Fazl and Lama Taranatha, the three more or less contemporary chroniclers of visual arts, unknown to each other, from unconnected parts of the world, it seems, that a similarity, in quest, for finding an answer to the genesis of plurality in looks and concerns displayed by art objects, primarily motivated the activity of chronicling. Chronicles they wrote are the earliest archival materials. As are those collected, preserved and done-up by you.
The archive of the non-performing visual arts of modern India that you are building, with no less labour than love, I am sure, is love’s labour that very few have undertaken before you. I am not trying to run down the erudite discourses on silpa that our aestheticians have written from the late ancient times. Those used to be in sync with smriti and sruti systems of judgment, rather than about actual objects of art. Chroniclers like Taranatha and Abul Fazl were exceptions. More importantly, their type of discourses did not generate any continuity.
The British orientalists from William Jones to Percy Brown were so enamoured with their discovery of wonder that was India that they concentrated all their attention on the objects as objects-of-wonder, forgetting their contextualities. Similarly motivated were our own pioneers like Rajendra Lal Mitra. Their great love for objects per se made them great museum builders. Museums rightly became the monuments of our pride. Sadly, however, we largely kept ourselves off from intellectual discourses on the objects of praxis. Fortunately, however, not always. Our pioneering art historians like Troilokya Nath Mukherjee, Gurusaday Dutta and art activists like the Tagores of Jorasanko, who were equally interested in ongoing art practice, became archivists, recording the conditionalities and contextualities of making of art objects by makers, and their use by the users.
The Vichitra Tagores’ art archival activities had been the early inspiration for both the Rabindra Bhavan and the Kala Bhavan archives. The Rabindra Bhavan archive has had the good fortune of receiving E.B. Havel papers. Yet, there is a regret that the archival activities continued in Santiniketan by fits and starts. Attempts have hardly been made to build up a system for sustained functioning.
The greatest defaulters were the institutions of Calcutta like the University of Calcutta and the Government College (earlier School) of Art and Craft of Calcutta, the two of the earliest such institutions of modern India. As early in the second decade of the last century the University had started offering academic courses in the history of Indian art, as being backed by archaeology-the science objects made in the past. This endeavour was soon to be followed by the establishment, the Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art, one of the earliest of university managed museums. No effort was made to complement the endeavours with institutionalization of systematic archival practice. Was it an effect of the ingrained antiquarianism of orientalism! When the former Government School of Art and Craft was upgraded to a degree college, affiliated to Calcutta University in the sixties, courses in history of arts started to be offered. The courses even for the vocational school remained more or less similar to the non-vocational curriculum. No room for archival studies and practices was made. I wonder how discourses on art can be carried on without archival back-up.
Hope, you are trying to fill the yawning gap that was causing distress to researchers. The meticulous researcher that you have been, I hope you are taking care to: Ascertain the Provenance, Classify, and Categorise the collected documents, in accordance with an adopted standard, Provenance and mode of reproduction of Replicated documents, and adoption of standard method of Retrieval of content etc. Also necessary is a system of time-bound Review of the collection for junking of unnecessary load.
As a person who from time to time had helped the dormant Kala-Bhavan archive get an elixir and to give a start to the not-yet-conceived archive at the Calcutta Art College, I have a plea to you. In order to make your's a lively place of art activity, you may think of getting into a negotiation with the powers that are in the Faculty of Visual Arts, Rabindra Bharati, and the Department of Education, Government of West Bengal to locate at your archive, extension centres, to carry some courses in art archival praxis to post-graduate students of history of arts. The benefit of some of these part-time short courses can also be offered as in-service efficiency enhancement programmes, to those already in service in the museums and libraries of art institutions.
Let me stop now for will have to speak more as you continue your activities. Cheer you for that.