Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda
Founded in 1950, the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda (now Vadodara), was the first institution in the country to offer a degree in the fine arts, through courses that combined the theory of art history with studio practice with the aim of promoting self-expression among artists and encouraging them to pursue art as a vocation.
The Faculty was established by then-Vice Chancellor of the university Hansa Mehta, who invited Markand Bhatt to set up the programme, with dedicated departments for painting, sculpture and applied art. Bhatt was also the first dean and Head of the Department of Applied Art. Along with Bhatt, artists such as NS Bendre and Sankho Chaudhuri helped set up the Faculty. Originally functioning out of a bungalow and courtyard called Pushpa Baug, the Faculty later shifted to a building located near the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery.
In its first prospectus, Mehta stated that an education at the Faculty would empower students to not only establish viable careers but also understand the inseparability of art and life. In its early years, students were introduced to various techniques and ideologies, including life study, European and British art school pedagogies, the Bauhaus movement and the miniature painting traditions in India. The institution also adopted the pedagogies advanced by Rabindranath Tagore and Shantiniketan, preferring open-air learning and the introduction of varied techniques to formalised European modes of instruction. Teachers like Chaudhuri and KG Subramanyan did not establish firm boundaries between their studios, homes and classrooms, and dialogues and discussions on art were held over informal sessions.
The institution also established the Fine Arts Fairs, the first of which was held in 1961 at the behest of Subramanyan. The fairs were instrumental in introducing students to various styles and techniques of art in the country, as well as highlighting the institution’s emphasis on living traditions of Indian art. The Baroda School (1956) and Group 1890 (1962) were also established as a result of the pedagogical approach of the Faculty. Additionally, the Faculty published Vrischik (1969-73), a periodical on art and ideas, edited by Bhupen Khakhar and Gulammohammed Sheikh.
NS Bendre joined the Faculty in 1950 as Reader and Head of the Department of Painting, whereas Prodosh Dasgupta briefly served as the Reader and Head of the Department of Sculpture — a post later taken up by Sankho Chaudhuri. Subramanyan joined the faculty in 1951 as the lecturer of painting and later became a Reader (1961–65), professor (1966–80) and dean (1968–74) in the same department. Some former students of the Faculty, such as Ramesh Pandya and Jyoti Bhatt, later taught at the institution. By the late-1960s, most of the original faculty members had limited their engagement with the institution; Bhatt quit the Faculty in 1959, Bendre left in 1966 and Chaudhuri in 1971.
The 1960s also witnessed a continuous flow of artists and scholars between MSU and Britain owing to scholarships such as the British Council and Inlaks scholarships. For instance, Gulammohammed Sheikh studied at the Royal College of Art, London, and returned to the Faculty as a teacher in 1967. British painter and art critic Timothy Hyman also had an ongoing relationship with the Faculty that began with an interest in Bhupen Khakhar’s practice. The Faculty also had an ongoing interaction with Shantiniketan. The Shantiniketan diploma also began to be recognised at MSU, inviting an influx of painters, sculptors, printmakers and art historians such as Sarbari Roy Chaudhuri, Raghunath Sinha and Madhab Bhattacharya, who came to the Faculty for post-diploma and postgraduate courses.
There was also an influx of artists from Hyderabad in the 1960s, notably Laxma Goud, D Devraj, DLN Reddy and Kavita Deuskar. The 1980s saw artists like Madan Lal, Dhruva Mistry, Pushpamala N, Indrapramit Roy, Jayashree Chakravarty and Tara Sabharwal enroll at the Faculty. A number of notable art critics were also trained at the institution, notably Vivan Sundaram, Nilima Sheikh, Mrinalini Mukherjee and Ravinder Reddy, among others.
Over the years, the institution has become a creative hub of modernist ideology and individual self-expression in Gujarat. As of writing, the Faculty has an intake of over five hundred students each year across departments. It has also added research facilities for each department as well as a number of short-term and certificate courses, including a one-year post-graduate diploma in museology. The Faculty also organises an Annual Display each year to exhibit the work of outgoing students.
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