A peak into Somnath Hore’s art

Somnath Hore documented human sufferings through sketches, prints and sculptures. As 2022 marks the artist’s 100th anniversary, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) is showcasing over 100 of his works. Read on to know more about the artist and his art…

Artist Somnath Hore

For Somnath Hore, art was not a medium to show creativity but to reflect the way of life. His works gave a glimpse of reality and sufferings that people faced during the bygone times.


Born in Barama village in Chittagong, in undivided Bengal (present Bangladesh), Somnath depicted class conflicts, displacement of people, famine-related deaths and violence, among other issues, in his art.


During the mid 1940s, he focused on recreating scenes that he saw around him. In 1946, he was a part of the communist party that was played an active role in Bengal. Understanding his position, the people in the party asked him to document the scenario of the city.


To share the original stories, Somnath maintained a diary in which he took notes and captured details of the chores that people were undertaking during the day. He used these insights to create sketches that were the primitive form of art.


Some of them captured the sight of workers working on a paddy field while others depicted intense moments of mass gatherings and protests that people undertook the British. Some also reflected also the plight of the people from the Tebhaga movement (peasant agitation initiated in Bengal by the All India Kisan Sabha of peasant front of the Communist Party of India).

Hore was one of the few artists who used diverse mediums to capture the volatile times in the Indian history. The year 1943 was the most difficult year for the people of India. Not only were the people fighting against the British for independence and bearing the impact of the World War-II, but they were also recuperating from the Bengal famine. Hore used the power of pen and pencil to showcase miseries of people through art.


His initial works showcased families’ daily struggles for survival, poverty and hunger crisis, as well as the condition of tea-garden workers in the north of Bengal. But in 1950, the artist transferred many of his drawings to woodcut prints. He also explored print-making and became one of the pioneers of the technique.


Eventually by the mid-1950s, he distanced himself from his active political involvement and the art of socialist realism. He instead moved to New Delhi, and subsequently to Santiniketan. As an empathetic pedagogue and convinced modernist, he inspired students and artists. In 1958, he became the head of department of printmaking at the Delhi Polytechnic, and subsequently the head of department of Graphics at Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, West

Bengal.


His etchings and engravings from the 1960s such as the Refugee Family, with weary sorrowful expression, reminds his personal experiences and the collective pathos of partition of the country. The recurring question of care and compassion or perhaps the lack of the same in society propelled him to revisit the theme of ‘Mother and child’ time and again through various mediums, sometimes through the gleam of bronze and at others through the strong rapid lines drawn or etched.


Somnath is widely applauded for his unique method of printmaking that was crystallised in the well-known ‘Wound’ series. He started this technique as a response to the Vietnam War and the socio-political unrest in Bengal by the late-1960s and 1970s.


At the ongoing show, KNMA is showcasing more than 100 works of the artists in diverse mediums such as oil on canvases, drawings in watercolour and crayons, different methods and techniques of printmaking and bronze cast sculptures. It also features metal plates that the artist used for taking prints, diaries, lithographs, woodcuts and etchings.

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