Anand Moy Banerji needs no introduction. A renowned and multifaceted artist, we got him to talk about his life, views, and style over an e-mail conversation.
Ashish: What is the story behind you becoming an artist?
Anand Moy Banerji: Quite simple and very important. I am talking of the early seventies, of my school days. I should be giving credit to my parents and my school — Raisina Bengalee Higher Secondary School. And especially to its senior art teacher, Manab Banerji. My father was not only keen, but at times, we siblings had probably felt that he was stubborn too. Keen on what? On simply taking us to various historical places in Delhi, like Sapru House, Max Muller Bhavan, and AIFACS. Every Sunday, my mother would pack a tiffin-box and we would be off. He would take us to art competitions and cultural programmes. On the other hand, my school also sent me to all inter-school art competitions. Somehow, somewhere, silently, that became part of my life. I would earn awards most of the time – or probably always – and suddenly I earned the Indo-Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1972/73. My visit to Russia then forced me to start dreaming about becoming an artist. Manab da, as we used to call him, his dedicated interest got me admitted, with scholarship, to the College of Art in 1975.
Ashish: What inspires you to put your energy into art?
AMB: I sincerely think, man and nature — ‘Purusha’ and ‘Prakriti’– are my real sources of inspiration. There are many things to say. Manab da’s pencil sketches, Abani Sen’s mural in our school – “Nataraj” – probably were the first strong visual interactions I had. Dhiraj Chaudhuri’s pen and ink drawings, Bimal Dasgupta sir’s watercolours, Jai Zharotia’s subtle coloured drawings, Anupam Sud’s technical nuances in printmaking, Sanat Kar, Somenath Hore’s personal languages in the art of printmaking, and certainly K G Subramanian’s personality, subtly reflected in his art, were my initial inspirations, along with Tyeb Mehta ji and the book “The Little Prince”, while doing my master’s. The presence of the spirit of Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan along with the blessings of Kanchan Chakraborty, our art history professor in Santiniketan, were also big initial inspirations. Then, after a long journey, I finally saw ‘Purusha’ and ‘Prakriti’.
A: What materials do you use in your paintings?
AMB: As an artist, I use many kinds of materials as I paint, draw, print and also do a lot of experimental work too. What I want to emphasise here is that I am actually open to all kinds of possibilities. So, from a pencil to a computer monitor, all are my friends.
A: Who is/are your favourite artist(s)? And why?
AMB: Speaking precisely, with a pragmatic perspective, now that art has travelled a lot from the primitive days to postmodern ones, at various stages, various artists might have inspired me and I may have grabbed on to them as my favourite at that stage. But in the end, it seems to be nature, nature and only nature. Nevertheless, if you still ask me, Ramkinkar Baij, M F Hussain, Picasso, and Anish Kapoor.
A: As an artist what do you think needs to be done in order to reach out to more people?
AMB: To make art reach a larger audience is a very important endeavour, to begin with. Though there can be various views and various standpoints, my blueprint for this is simple – to make art education an important part of our school curriculum, along with physics, chemistry, maths, and so on. What I mean is, you need to create a platform of love and acceptance for art from the beginning. Only then will it be able to reach all people. Otherwise, all attempts will be temporary. When I say art, I mean all forms of art – visual, performance, literature, everything put together.
Ashish: What differences do you find between audiences in India and abroad?
AMB: My answer to this is related to my previous answer. I have seen a huge, snake-like queue of people lining up to see Lenin’s tomb in Russia, and the same in front of the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. This does not happen here for any exhibition or any music or dance performance. When I say this, I do not wish to compare, but it happens. This is because art and culture have always had their own culture, but never their own world. We do not document in order to let the next generation know. In India, you may see a huge line in front of malls but attendance in the National Gallery Of Modern Art will always remain very thin. The government has to organise more art initiatives and events, too.
Ashish: Is art limited to some classes in India? If so, what are the reasons behind it & how do you see the economics of art in India?
AMB: I will try answering these two questions together. Please imagine visiting a temple in India today, in the postmodern era. Still the poor hesitate to enter, the rest will stand in a line, and certain affluent individuals will arrive and get an entry straight away – even if they have to pay a certain sum. Now, why do we complain that art does not and cannot reach everyone? I have no political, social, religious, or economic agenda here, but realise one thing when God, who is art to me, is served to people on different platters depending on their lot in life – the fate will be the same on the other side. Our society as a whole has to march forward a long way still. Yes, to talk about economics one must create a market for Indian art, globally.