The history behind the Art Rebel Centre (1933) by Gobardhan Ash

Art Rebel Centre, founded in 1933, was formed and led by Gobardhan Ash, Abani Sen, Annada Dey, and Bhola Chatterjee. Subsequently, some of those invited to submit their work in exhibitions accepted membership. These include Lalit Chandra, Haridas Ganguly, Samar Dey, Amar Dasgupta, Sachin Das, Kalikinkar Ghoshdastidar, Khagen Roy, and Suren Dey, among others. Manoj Bose and Rabi Bose became members too, despite not providing paintings for exhibitions. The following is a brief history of how Art Rebel Centre came to be. 

I was studying at the Madras Art School in 1932. Sir (Atul Bose) mostly lived in Delhi around this time, and I invariably kept in touch. I wrote to him from Madras that I wanted to visit him in Delhi. “You don’t need to travel here,” he replied. For he would be visiting Calcutta in December (1932), and stay on for a long while. “If you are in Calcutta then, do meet me,” he wrote. I returned to Calcutta toward the end of December (1932), closely entertaining the idea of holding a second exhibition there. A couple of days after returning, I visited Sir at his Bondel Road residence, and discussed my work in Madras, and following that, about the prospective exhibition. “Great,” he exclaimed. We conversed some more on a myriad of things, till he said, “Why don’t you come over with Abani (Abani Sen) next time? We could discuss this in detail.”

Shortly after this meeting, I contacted Abani Sen and Annada Dey and informed them of my intention. Abani and I then called on Sir one day. He instructed us in setting up a methodology for organising the Exhibition. We replied that most artists in Calcutta were our acquaintances. There was no need to form a committee just then. We would visit them in person, let them know about the Exhibition, and request their participation.

After returning from Sir’s, the three of us ━ Abani Sen, Annada Dey, and I ━ pondered over our course of action for some time. We concluded that involving Bhola da (Bhola Chatterjee) in the Exhibition would allow for a sound organisation.

On informing him about it, Bhola da eagerly agreed to join in. It was maintained that no committee was to be formed for now. Only after gathering in the submissions, and deciding upon the venue, would we invite the participants and form a committee in their presence. Agreeing to this, Bhola da said, “Among the four of us, you three would be handling the work. I’ll always be there for support. This seems to work fine.’’

I later informed Sir of Bhola da’s joining us. He said, “Remember your ideals and march on.” We decided to approach the artists, informing them that the Exhibition was to be held in April, 1933, and they must submit paintings for the occasion. They should ready their choice works by the end of March, and try, if possible, to provide new paintings. We would duly collect these, along with their contributions to the cause. We would check on them periodically.

Returning from Madras, I stayed a while at my uncle’s place in Shibpur. Shortly thereafter, I shifted to my friend’s home on Banerjee Lane, Bowbazar, in Calcutta. I was to stay here now. My friend’s father was an officer in the Railways (D.T.S.). He decided to take his family on a long trip/pilgrimage, and acquired rail passes to that end. He left the upper storey of the house under my care, and arranged for a pantry of rice, pulses, oil, salt, etc. and a cooker.

“Take care of yourself,” he told me, “You can cook your food on the cooker, and paint in peace.”

This place, we decided, would be used to store the submissions, and hold our meetings. One day, Abani Sen, Annada Dey, Bhola da, and I met to deliberate on our modus operandi. One question remained ━ what of money? The same question had plagued us during the formation of the Young Artists’ Union. While they proffered help in every other way, everyone always bailed out when it came to money. In the case of both Young Artists’ Union (1931) and Art Rebel Centre (1933), as unlikely as it seemed, I took a leap of faith and arranged for the funds to conduct the Exhibitions. Like before, I reached out to family and friends, requesting them to contribute. The fruits of their sympathy enabled us to hold these events. Virtually every artist associated with these events was aware of this fact. Contributions from the artists and donations from persons of import helped further. Whenever faced with financial crises, I approached Sir (Atul Bose), who always helped out and encouraged me.

Meanwhile, I wrote to Kalikinkar Ghoshdastidar, Khagen Roy and others at the Madras Art School informing them that the Exhibition had been scheduled in Calcutta in the middle of April, 1933. If they were to contribute to this event, they must get back to Calcutta by the end of March. I would add their paintings to the catalogue after I received them. They duly returned with their paintings.

Ganesh Haloi with Gobardhan AshGobardhan Ash with Ganesh Haloi  and Rabin Mondal at his residence 

The work for the Exhibition was manned by the four of us ━ Gobardhan Ash, Abani Sen, Annada Dey, and Bhola Chatterjee. With Bhola da as figurehead, the three of us handled the artwork, visiting artists and noting down their name, address, and titles and prices of their paintings, and contributions as well. We ended up with 50 paintings among the four of us, and 150 submissions. 

We and Bhola da now strived to select from them such paintings to hold the best possible Exhibition we could. Although, the paintings we had collected were all quite worthy. We had already provided the Banerjee Lane address to the artists for contact purposes.

The search for the venue continued meanwhile. After a long search, we finally discovered a house with an empty hall on the third floor at 49, Dharmatala Street. The gate-keeper informed us that the house belonged to Sir Debprasad Sarbadhikari, who lived in his Creek Row residence. We met and informed him that we young artists were planning to hold an Exhibition. We would need to rent the hall on the third floor at 49, Dharmatala Street for at least ten days. He agreed. We ended up paying over a hundred rupees in rent. He absolutely refused to negotiate. In the end, it turned out that he originally came from Hooghly district, of which I was a native.

Following this, he agreed to my request of letting us use the hall two days prior in order to deck it up for the Exhibition. Thursday, 20th April, 1933, was decided upon as the date of inauguration.

Well in advance of preparing the catalogue, i.e., leaving aside time for printing it, the artists were informed of a specific date and time to meet. In the meeting, the followings were unanimously and democratically decided upon ━ Bhola Chatterjee as President, Gobardhan Ash as Secretary/Treasurer, Abani Sen and Annada Dey as Additional Secretaries, and Suren Dey and Rabi Bose as Additional Secretaries of Reception Committee.

Bhola Chatterjee christened this endeavour Art Rebel Centre, and also designed the catalogue cover. Sir (Atul Bose) wrote the Foreword in the catalogue. It has been reproduced below:

“Our aim is to create an art that is strong, bold, virile and anti-sentimental, fearless in its desire for new adventures, a powerful advance-guard, which alone can save Art in India now threatened by traditional conservatism and the habitual indifference of the public.This, our at, will be an enticing stimulant, a powerful incentive for creative genius, [which] alone can deliver Art in India from its present throes. We call upon the public to come and see, to scrutinize, criticise, to understand and sympathize with this new movement in Art in India.”

 The venue and date for the Exhibition was advertised through newspapers upon being confirmed. Bhola Chatterjee himself contacted Mr. A. K. Basu, B.A., L.L.B. (Cantab), and arranged for him to inaugurate the Exhibition.

Mr. A.K. Basu inaugurated the Exhibition with a speech in the presence of several talented artists of varying fame, art connoisseurs and critics. The vote of thanks was delivered by the President Bhola Chatterjee, on behalf of the Art Rebel Centre Exhibition, who also added a word or two about the Exhibition. Everyone at the event, especially the artists of Calcutta, acknowledged that there had never been such an amazing Exhibition in Calcutta arranged at such a short notice.

Contemporary newspapers reviewed this Exhibition as justifiably well-famed and of a high standard, and was well-appreciated.

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