What: A recently released book, Jews and the Indian National Art Project traces the contribution of Jews to Indian art. From artists such as Anna Molka Ahmed, Esther David, Anish Kapoor and Siona Benjamin to photographers, architects, critics, scholars and art patrons, the book qualifies as a tome on the subject as it aims to include multiple voices making it a collector’s item. Spanning from colonial times, it records how the Jews had a vantage point as far as Indian art was concerned, as they helped Indians in finding a modern identity in art as opposed to the Colonial British who undervalued contemporary works at the cost of portraying India as ‘traditional’.
A panel from Rang de Nila by Siona Benjamin. She belongs to the Bene Israel community and uses symbolic elements from modern India, Islamic, Persian, Rajput and Mughal art. Pics courtesy/ Niyogi books
The artist Fyzee Rahamin changed his painting style from “Western” to Indian. The artwork is titled, Mahmooda Begum. Present location is not known.
Anna Molka Ahmed’s massive six-panel painting The Dance of Death depicts a range of ethnic groups and a nuclear Holocaust throwing the world “back to the Stone Age”. Courtesy of a Pakistani art historian.
How: Understandably, Indian art in the 19th and 20th centuries was rife with several debates such as what makes an Indian artist. Is it being born into an Indian family? “Can a foreigner or a member of an Indian minority group play a role in the ‘Indian National Art Project’ as a scholar, critic, or artist? How can artists retrieve the connections to their roots without being limited by them? How can artists transcend the hegemony of established Western modes of thought and creativity?” says the book. From the European Jews who were present in India before the Holocaust to Bene Israelis who now consider India as their motherland, the book is a tribute to these voices and the contribution of the community towards Indian art.
Javanese Court Dancer, Painting by Nachman in the Baroda Museum. Pic Courtesy/Mahesh Padia
Memories of the Bene Israel artist Rebecca Yehezkiel (84)
Portrait of Sayaji Rao by Solomon J. Solomon
Courtesy Museum & Picture Gallery, Baroda. Pic courtesy/Mahesh Padia
Where: Jews and the Indian National Art Project, edited by Kenneth X Robins and Marvin Tokayer, Niyogi Books, Rs 3,500. Available at leading bookstores.