kathakali-dancer-and-alice-boner-and-indian-women-museum-rietburg

A Swiss Artist On The Banks Of The Ganga-Alice Boner

“If it is true that culture is a vehicle of international understanding and those promoting it are its ambassadress, then Alice Boner, indeed, deserves to be called an ambassador of Indian Culture!” : Alfred Würfel

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alice-boner-with-a-figure-of-devi-benaras-1977-museum-rietburg

The National Museum of India, Museum Rietburg (Germany) and the Alice Boner Institute (Varanasi; India) are collaborating on the ongoing temporary exhibition titled “Alice from Switzerland: A visionary artist and scholar across two continents”. This exhibition introduces Alice  Boner, showcasing the Artist’s vast opus; which is mainly paintings, photographs, sketches and sculptures which captures Boner’s journey from Zurich to a visionary artist who deeply fascinated by the forms of Indian art and culture.

A look at Alice’s life: Alice Boner was  born on July 22, 1889 in Italy. She completed her training as a painter and sculptor in Munich, Basel and Brussels. The early works of Alice included drawings, portraits, sculptures, paintings, full body studies, landscapes and nature observations. She also had a fascination with dance. Like many artists of that period, Alice was interested in non-European art. It was a choice of destiny that she met Pandit Uday Shankar in 1926, when Uday Shankar was performing at Kursaal Zurich. This meeting become the turning point of Alice’s life. She was attracted by the soulful dance of Uday Shankar and also made some sketches of his dancing postures. During the second meeting with Shankar in 1929 while he was planning to go back to India to recruit a troupe of musicians and dancers, Alice proposed to come to India along with Uday Shankar.

boner1The duo created an extensive tour of India in search of inspiration, patrons and collaborations that they needed and the first performance of their troupe held in the Théâtre des Champs in Paris on March, 1931. In search of a more natural life in harmony she migrated to India in 1935. She moved into a house in Varanasi which remained her home until 1978. She lived 40 long years in Varanasi. It was her days in the holy city of Varanasi when her fascination with the form of human body became the highlight of her art. She was creating paintings rather than sculptures as it was a “slow process to catch up with the wealth of aspects India offered to the observing eye” (Alice Boner: artist and scholar; G. Boner, E. Fischer: Autobiographical note). By the time she became more fascinated by Indian art and philosophy. She always had love for Indian performing arts and met musicians and dancers of that era; she even went to Kerala to explore Kathakali. In 1941 Boner visited cave temples of Ellora and discovered an idiosyncratic geometric formation for a definite genre of sculptural relief that appears in Indian art of 6th - 9th centuries.

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In 1957 Boner along with Pandit Sadashiva Rath Sharma translated the text over the manuscript ‘Shilpaprakasha’; written on a palm leave. Alice painted a number of masterpieces and her studies on the creation of ancient compositions led her to paint a triptych by her findings in ‘Shilpaprakasha’. Pakrit, Vishvarupa and Kāli are the subjects of it. Currently the triptych is on display at the Bharat Kala Bhawan, Banaras Hindu University.

Alice Boner is without any doubt one of the most remarkable Swiss women of her times. In 1969 the University of Zurich honoured with the doctoral degree. Indian government awarded her with its best civilian award: Padma Bhusan in 1974 from the president Shri V.V.Giri.

Boner returned to Zurich in 1978 due to ill health and died on 1981, april13.

Boner donated most of her collections to Banaras Hindu University and Bharat Kala Bhawan. As per her last wish, her residence in Varanasi turned into a centre for research and artistic collaboration.  Now Alice Boner Institute in Varanasi is supporting work of international artists and scholars under the directorship of Mr. Harsha Vinay.   Boner donated one part of her collection to Rietburg Museum and the museum is displaying those works of the visionary artist for public viewing.

The Exhibition:  This exhibition is the first collaboration between the National Museum, the Rietberg Museum and the Alice Boner Institute, as well as the first major exhibition on Alice Boner. It travels from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, where it opened in November 2015. Curators for this exhibition are Andrea Kuratli and Johannes Beltz and exhibition designers are Martin Sollberger and Mirijam Zeigler. Exhibition is open for public from 2September to 30 October, 2016.

The collections in the exhibition are one of a kind which reveals Alice’s contribution in Indian Art. The main idea behind this exhibition is to make people understand that how Alice Boner practiced, promoted and shared her knowledge between east and the west. Sculptures, paintings, sketches and photographs are the visual evidence of her work. Through which visitors will understand Alice Boner. Audience will get to know how the artist involved in a trans-cultural exchange along with scholars (i.e. Stella Kramrisch, Anand Kumarswamy etc). She shaped the European understanding of India and contributed to the establishment of Indian art as an academic discipline.

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It is hard to believe, despite being an artist, patron, researcher, and cultural ambassador Alice and her work is less known in our society.  This exhibition might become a medium to enlighten people about this. People from the current and future generation should know Boner’s involvement in Indian art and culture. This exhibition invites people to make them aware about Alice’s legacy preserved and exhibited in Museum Rietburg, Zurich, Bharat Kala Bhawan and Alice Boner Institute. Audience will understand how artists are equally important as philosophers in the reconstruction of India.

Background information of the exhibition is Boner’s life and work, Alice Boner and her contribution to Indian Art and cultural ambassador by means of visual media.

And finally the Exhibition on Alice Boner invites people to visit the exhibition and have look at the not better known life of insightful Alice Boner who migrated to India, stayed here for more than half of her life and fully immerse herself in Indian way of Art.

A symposium “Dialogues on Alice Boner” and a music concert was held in the museum conference room on 3rd September, 2016.

Display: Exhibition space contains a selection of photographs, sculptures, oil paintings, drawings by the artist. Some personal stuff which indicates her travel is also on display like camera, suitcase, books and some travelogues. Apart from these some books written by Alice Boner along with her co-author is also on display. Curators are trying to show the life of Alice Boner in a chronological interpretation. We can see a gap in the exhibition space which makes the gallery a quiet and silent space, on a positive note through the space people can feel the extraordinary journey of Alice Boner. Entire U-shaped exhibition area is dependent on artificial light and all the objects are placed on eyelevel. Use of both Hindi and English in the introductory text panel and labels is helpful for audience. The exhibition includes three visual screens; one of them is screening a short silent black and white film showing Uday Shankar dancing together with his female partner in Varanasi. Broachers and catalogues are available for visitors to carry a memory of the exhibition with them. The exhibition is getting an average response from visitors in its first 10days. Individuals, Research persons, family groups and students are visiting the exhibition. A lot more visitor’s involvement would be great success for this exhibition.

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Author:

Mridusmita Bhuyan

 

References:

Moody, Robert V. (2005). “Alice Boner and the Geometry of Temple Cave Art in India” (PDF)

Boner G. And  Fischer E; Alice Boner: Artist and Scholar( autobiographical note in exhibition catalogue)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Boner