The Making of a Modern Indian Artist-Craftsman: Devi Prasad.

Author:Cort, John E.
Position:Book review
 
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The Making of a Modern Indian Artist-Craftsman: Devi Prasad. By NAMAN P. AHUIA, with contributions by KRISHNA KUMAR, KRISTINE MICHAEL, BOB OVERY, and SUNAND PRASAD. New Delhi: ROUTLEDGE, 2012. Pp. 320, 392 illustrations. Rs. 2495.

Many contemporary Indians know Devi Prasad (1921-2011) primarily as one of the pioneers in bringing the concept and practice of the studio potter to India, and for training a generation of Indian potters from his New Delhi studio. But his work as a potter and pottery teacher in India encompasses only the last three decades of his life. Before then he was a student of Rabindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose at Santiniketan, an arts educator at Gandhi's experimental village of Sevagram, and a leader of the international pacifist movement as General Secretary of War Resisters' International (WRI), based in London. His life represents a complex interweaving of many of the diverse factors that go to make up global modernity. Naman Ahuja's sumptuously illustrated and produced volume, designed to accompany a 2010 retrospective exhibition of Prasad's work at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, provides an excellent introduction to this important but inadequately known figure.

Ahuja devotes one section of the book to each of the four phases of Prasad's life. At Santiniketan, Prasad studied with Nandalal Bose. Bose and Tagore together were responsible for articulating a conception of the modern Indian artist-craftsman, and putting it into practice in both their own art and the curriculum at Santiniketan. In turn, Bose and Tagore were influenced by the arts and crafts movement. Tagore was exposed to it in England, but the arts and crafts ideology also came to India and in particular Bengal through the writing and educational work of E. B. Havell, A. K. Coomaraswamy and others. This movement valorized the careful work of the individual craftsman, in contrast to what was seen as the soul-deadening effects of industrialized mass-produced consumer products. While the heyday of the arts and crafts movement in Europe and North America was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in India it remained a vital force for many decades and was an important influence at Santiniketan when Prasad was a student there in the 1930s and 1940s. The Indian iteration of the arts and crafts movement has received scant attention in the several recent major exhibitions and catalogues of the movement's global spread, so Ahuja's extensive...

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