Goan artist’s biography on art misses – The New Indian Express | Catch My Job


Express News Service

Since the explosion of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the world has started taking skin tone seriously. Hence the publication of this outstanding illustrated book which strives to make a case for a re-evaluation of the work of the little-known artist born in Santo Estevao, Goa, José Nicolás Angelo da Fonseca (1902-67). Well timed.

To go against strict Catholic Goan bans, Fonseca dared to portray New Testament figures, including Christ as a brown-skinned Indian, and the Madonna as an Indian mother in a sari in numerous paintings.

For centuries, European artists represented them as Caucasian, and so they were painted as white–white, of course, symbolizing their purity. They held fast to this belief in the fair-skinned appearance of Christ, even though it was confronted with the facts of Christ’s West Asian origin.

Delio Mendonza is a Jesuit priest of Goan descent, born in Mozambique in 1958. He has taken on the mission of finding a place for Fonseka in the pantheon of great Indian artists, a status, he feels, that the Santiniketan-trained painter was unfairly denied because of his aesthetic commitments––
A combination of Christian iconography with the artistic style of traditional Indian art – which did not go down well with orthodox Catholics.

The “forgotten master”, to quote Mendona, completed his early education in his village, and then, like many well-to-do students, went to Belgaum in British India, then to Pune and finally to Mumbai, where he enrolled to study science. St. Xavier’s College. After that, he trained to become a doctor, but became dissatisfied and joined the JJ School of Art in Mumbai. He disliked the Eurocentric approach and traveled all the way to Santiniketan.

Mendonsa writes that the artist trained under Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose for over a year from 1929 to 1931, though the former joined Santiniketan in 1942.

With prolix, tiresomely repetitive and unnecessarily trite accounts of Goa’s ecclesiastical history that in no way inform our understanding of the artist in question, Mendonça is attempting to rewrite art history, but a fact-check is the least one can expect from him. .

What is “Santiniketan College (Established in 1901 near Calcutta)”? Rabindranath Tagore established the Brahm Vidyalaya in Santiniketan in 1901. The foundation of his Visva Bharati, where Fonseka must have trained, was established in 1918. It was formally founded in 1921 in the presence of such luminaries as Brajendra Nath Seal and Sylvain Levy. Santiniketan, at Bolpur (not Belpur, as Mendona writes).

To combat the training of European academism in art schools, Abanindranath and his disciples sought inspiration from the grandeur of Indian art, thereby ushering in Indian modernism, which was quite different from the Western model due to a completely different social and political situation. Fonseka joined Santiniketan at that juncture.

Mendonsa argues, “Fonseca strongly felt that only an indigenous pictorial Christian art form in India could connect Christians with their history and social duty. His extraordinarily rich array of ‘brown’ water colors form Christs and Madonnas… an unspoken critique of imported instruments and materials, when India could offer them too. Practicing indigenous practices was his way of countering Western cultural hegemony.”

Since Christianity was the religion of the colonists, Fonseca’s attempt to make it more acceptable to the people of the subcontinent was by turning the New Testament characters into Indians characterized by their modesty and dress. Fonseka adapted Abanindranath’s Bengal School style with hints of Art Deco, though he never deviated from Christian iconography and symbolism.

Mendonza wants us to believe that Fonseca deserves international acclaim and compares him to some of the modern masters who painted Christian themes. Although he was skilled, and a rebel too, for refusing to make a naively blonde Christ in his own way, opting instead to go local, Fonsekar
Art lacks the magic that makes sacred art great.

His bloodless and dull paintings in the wash technique favored by artists of the Bengal school are exquisitely beautiful images that faithfully follow the biblical story. How can an artist like Fonseka be conservative, who cannot be accused of experimenting and innovating with form, shape, color?
And lines, and those who were far removed from the social problems of his time, would be called modern, as Mendona has tried to establish.

As far as Indian art is concerned, since when were Hindu gods and goddesses so shy about their bodies? Even his religiosity lacked that passion which animates great religious art. Little wonder, Fonseca remains a footnote in the history of modern Indian art.


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