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Posted on Feb 12, 04:32PM | IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee, New Delhi, Feb 12 : The study of the nude has been central to the history of Indian art in its journey from prehistoric cave art, the temples of Khajuraho, Vatsayan's Kamasutra to modern portraitures by masters across genres and mediums despite the growing protests by right-wing groups.
What role can carnal play in high art?
"At a more popular level, in folk and tribal art, erotic motifs and symbols are a recurring theme. In both forms, erotica again plays a dual role: it is seen as cultic, religious practices and in the recreational activities of communities," says critic-curator Alka Pande in her book, "Indian Erotica".
Pande says the human body can be used in art to portray social realities as well.
In 1954, artist Akbar Padamsee found himself in court defending a painting, "The Lovers".
Controversy had broken out that the naked couple on Padamsee's canvas represented modern decadent values, says a new book on art, "The Naked and the Nude: The Body in Modern Indian Art (Delhi Art Gallery)".
Recalling Indian art's early encounters with nudity, the book says Mumbai artists, bred on Parisian Bohemianism, led the "still largely imagined lifestyle of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, known for their sensuous iconography, beautiful models and equally famous dalliances".
According to the book, in Calcutta too, artists used live models, but it was Mumbai that had been the hub of portrait painters.
"What provided offence was not the subject of the nude as much as its distortion," the book says.
In one of the galleries of the National Gallery of Modern Art are two paintings "Sleep" and "Woman at Bath" by Amrita Sher-Gil, which show her matured approach to painting the human body.
In "Sleep" - painted in 1933 - Sher-Gil used sister Indira as the model to paint a sensuous woman in bed. The "Woman at Bath", painted in 1940, distorts the nude form to create something more vital and basic, showing her artistic mastery over the human body.