Ramkinker Baij (1906-1980), was a powerful modern painter and sculptor, best known for his magnum opus
“Santhal Family” sculpture. Born in the Bankura District of West Bengal, Baij was a son of a village masseuse and barber. He came to Santiniketan on account of the skilful posters he painted during the non-cooperation movement. Here, he became another disciple of Nand Lal Bose, and then became one of the pioneers of modern Indian sculpture. He joined the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan as a fine arts student. At Santiniketan, under the guidance of Nandalal Bose, his artistic skills and intellectual horizons acquired new depth and complexity.
Contribution to Sculpture – Santhal Family
Initially, he started making sculptures which were innovative in subject matter and personal in style. His first magnum opus in this genre was the Santal Family done in 1938. Santhal Family is widely considered to be the first public Modernist sculpture in India. This sculpture depicts a mother, father, child and dog from the Santhal tribe, carrying their few possessions with them to a new life. It was made of cement cast and laterite pebbles.
The artistic creations of Ramkinkar Baij have been inspired by the lifestyles of rural dalit or Adivasi communities. Through his sculptures, he represented the tribal peasants of the region, giving the figures iconic presence and dignified grace that was so far limited to the images of Gods and Rulers.
He took a great interest in human figures, body language, and in the general human drama. His main points of reference were modern western art and pre and post-classical Indian art. Regarding his work, he said: “I do not know whether what I am doing is modern or not, but it is based on my experience.”
Contribution to Sculpture- Yaksha and Yakshini
On achieving independence, Jawaharlal Nehru had an idea that the public buildings, many of which were large imposing structures, could be utilised to ‘encourage Indian artists to function in some way’ and sculptors, painters, designers, etc. could be asked to cooperate. At that time, the RBI was in the process of constructing/contemplating new buildings at New Delhi, Madras and Nagpur. A committee was set up to examine the proposal and to make recommendations on the subject. This committee recommended that the sculptures could be erected on either side of the main entrance of the RBI office at New Delhi, one depicting the idea of “prosperity through industry” and the other “prosperity through agriculture”. Then, the views of Carl Khandalawalla, an eminent critic and connoisseur of art, were sought. He suggested that RBI could consider having figures of “Yaksha” and “Yakshini” on the two sides. The artists were invited and the proposal that was accepted was of Ram Kinkar Baij. The art form of the male ‘Yaksha’ was drawn from the statue of the ‘Parkham Yaksha’ in the Mathura museum and the art form of the female Yakshini was derived from “Bisnagar Yakshini” from the Calcutta Museum. This is how Ram Kinkar Baij became immortal with his Yaksha and Yakshini J
(information comes from RBI website)
His paintings too take on expressionist dimensions like his sculptures, which are filled with force and vitality.
Legacy and awards
There is a book called ‘Dekhi Nai Fire’ based on Baij’s life and work, written by Samaresh basu. In 1975, Ritwik Ghatak wisely made a documentary on Baij named ‘Ramkinkar’ where he featured him as a political icon. He was awarded Deshikottom by Visva-Bharati University. In 1970, he was honoured with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. He died in 1980.