Frieze Masters 2020: In Hindsight: Collages by Benode Behari Mukherjee

7 - 18 October 2020

Our presentation at the Frieze Masters Viewing Room 2020 brings together a rare collection of Mukherjee’s paper-cut collages and lithographs which were produced from 1957 into the late 1960s, revisiting them as markers of resilience, as representative of the grit and commitment that personified Mukherjee, and as an essential part of his unique modernist language. 
 
Artist and pedagogue Benodebehari Mukherjee was crucial to the contextual modernism of Santiniketan – an experimental school set up by poet, artist and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore that was deeply connected to the early formulation of Weimar Bauhaus which started the same year. 
 
Mukherjee lost sight in his only functioning eye in 1956, but he continued his practice as an artist making drawings, paper–cuts, small clay sculptures, and even a large mural. In his writings he reflected on the issues involved – how blindness alters ones perception of the world, where it differs from normal perception, and how can it be communicated across the sensory divide to normally sighted people. And triumphantly concluded: ‘Blindness is a new feeling, a new experience, a new state of being.’
 
After exploring the surface with his hands and fixing the field in his mind he performed a sequence of gestures big and small, leaping blindfolded from island to island, to create complex compositions with several elements. He cut individual motifs or pictorial ‘signs’, defined by edge and surface, from pieces of coloured paper, and pasted them on boards to create spatial interrelations between them. Thus colour, paradoxically, entered his work in an unprecedented manner after its sensory experience was denied to him. But since colour had to be manipulated from memory he had to limit himself to a few commercially produced coloured papers with which he had been familiar. To supplement the limited range of coloured paper at his disposal, and to add subtlety and textural nuances to his work he added newspaper, cord and fabric to his material resources, and moved from paper-cuts to collages.
 
Mukherjee's work was exhibited at an important retrospective curated by Gulammohammed Sheikh and R. Siva Kumar at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), 2006–07, among other international exhibitions. His works can be seen in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Museum, London; and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi, as well as several important private collections. The artist passed away in 1980 at the age of seventy-six.