Society of Contemporary Artists
An artist collective established in 1960, the Society of Contemporary Artists (SCA) was set up to serve as a space where Indian artists, especially in Calcutta (now Kolkata), could discuss and exhibit their work. Stemming from the legacy of the Bengal School and Rabindranath Tagore, the SCA aimed to overturn the nationalistic style embedded in previous artistic traditions.
The SCA was initiated by Ahibhushan Malik in the wake of artist groups such as the Artists’ Circle, led by Sanat Kar, and the Chitrangshu Group, created by Nikhil Biswas, which aimed to expand on Rabindranath Tagore’s non-categorical and expansive artworks that were notable for not following in the direct line of the Bengal School. Originally the Artists’ Union of West Bengal, the society was renamed the Society of Contemporary Artists following the success of the 1959 Banga Sanskriti Sammelan exhibition curated by Malik. Biswas and Kar were the first secretaries of the society, and its first meeting was held at Anil Baran Saha’s house, which also served as the society’s subsequent headquarters. In its infancy, the SCA’s most active artists included Shyamal Dutta Ray, Somnath Hore, Bijan Choudhury, Sunil Das and Arun Bose. Later artists of the society included Ganesh Pyne, Lalu Prasad Shaw, Dipak Banerjee, Bikash Bhattacharjee and Dharamnarayan Dasgupta.
Whereas most members of the SCA collectively responded to the subject of Kolkata as a city, they did not share common ideologies. For instance, Bhattacharjee represented the avant garde practices of the SCA in his works, which shunned ideological identification with specifically Indian artforms, instead reflecting Surrealist as well as figural influences. On the other hand, Pyne’s imagery strayed from the Bengal School’s mythological tradition to draw inspiration from Expressionist traditions, especially the work of Swiss-German Expressionist Paul Klee, to execute a dark, dreamlike tone.
The SCA is considered to be largely responsible for popularising printmaking within Kolkata. With funding from the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1963, several members of the society instituted themselves as printmakers, woodcut printers and etchers. In 1985, the SCA celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary by publishing thirty graphic albums containing twenty-five prints each by artists such as Sailen Mitra, Manu Parekh and Aditya Basak.
The SCA is one of few major active artist collectives in the country and continues to organise programs and annual exhibitions. The SCA held its first exhibition in November 1960 at the Artistry House. Between 1960 and 2000, the society held exhibitions in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata, as well as the Birla Academy of Art & Culture. The group held their fifty-eighth exhibition, Journey Envisioned, at Gallery Time and Space, Bengaluru, in January 2018 and their sixtieth exhibition at the Birla Academy in December 2019.
Critical Collective. “Society of Contemporary Artists, Kolkata, 1960.” Accessed May 25, 2021. https://criticalcollective.in/ArtistGInner2.aspx?Aid=0&Eid=303.
Ghosal, Sharmistha. “Society of Contemporary Artists to Hold its 59th Exhibition at Birla Academy.” The New Indian Express, December 7, 2018. https://www.indulgexpress.com/culture/art/2018/dec/07/society-of-contemporary-artists-to-hold-its-59th-exhibition-at-birla-acedemy-11500.html.
“Manu Parekh: The Permanent Performer.” Open, September 15, 2017. https://openthemagazine.com/art-culture/manu-parekh-the-permanent-performer/.
Rao, Madanmohan. “Excellence Is a Life-Long Journey – Akhil Chandra Das, Society of Contemporary Artists.” YourStory, February 18, 2018. https://yourstory.com/2018/02/excellence-life-long-journey-akhil-chandra-das-society-contemporary-artists/amp.
Roy, Samaren. “Calcutta Studies: Arts and the Artists.” The Radical Humanist 65, no. 10 (January 2002): 36–37. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.32106011340970&view=1up&seq=10.
Sen, Arup Kumar. “Ganesh Pyne (1937-2013).” Economic and Political Weekly 48, no. 14 (2013): 4. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23527267.