“So many great artists were a part of the Baroda Group, and have contributed to the art history of India”
-Your Highness Princess of Baroda- Asharaje Gaekwad
A decade after Indian Independence, the `Baroda Group of Artists' was formed in 1957. It included prominent artists like N.S Bendre, Bhupen Kakkar, Gulam M. Sheikh, Ratan Parimoo, Rekha Rodwittiya, Jyotsna Bhatt and Vivan Sundaram. One also associates the names of G.R. Santosh, K.G. Subramanyan, Prabha Dongre, Shanti Dave, K. Patel, Triloke Kaul, Vinay Trivedi, Balkrishna Patel, Jyoti Bhatt, Prafull Dave, and Ramesh Pandya to this dynamic group among many others as the years passed by. The Baroda Group of Artists evolved from a significant occurrence in the Indian Art Scene, in 1949 - the establishment of the Faculty of Fine Arts in The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (MSU).
Abstaining from the freshly departed European traditions introduced to India by British establishments, the faculty in Baroda appropriated the principles by Rabindranath Tagore's revolutionary open-air school - Shantiniketan, the Bauhaus, and the Barnes Foundation. Building a post-colonial identity of their own, the Baroda school was perceived as a conjunction between the 'Oriental' and the 'Occidental', which also combined the theory of art history with studio practice.
This faculty was dedicated to providing an alternative to the already established art schools by expanding and developing the value of contemporary art. The curriculum clustered around the concept of ‘Living Traditions’; simply put it functioned with the idea that traditions are necessary to modern and contemporary art, and hence arts must learn from them. This belief led to a few noted exhibitions of folk art and the Fine Arts Fair, which was developed by teacher and artist K. G. Subramanyan. At the fair, local craftspeople imparted knowledge of their craft among students, inviting them to learn from these traditions and experiment with different media and forms.
Subramanyan's assimilation of styles and preoccupation of Indian heritage had an intense impact on other Baroda luminaries like sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee; others like Bhupen Khakhar and Gulammohammed Sheikh dexterously blended aesthetics, idiosyncratically referencing miniature painting and modernist genres. In a critical move, the artists entrusted their canvases with the fragility of individual experience and their politics of place. In addition to drawing inspiration from tribal traditions of arts and crafts, these artists also believed in documenting and conserving these traditions; artist Jyoti Bhatt photographed the lives and art of different tribes around India, including the tribes of Kutch and Saurashtra regions as well as the Rabari group.
The Baroda School created for its students a peculiar atmosphere for learning the basic essential elements of artistic expression, whilst developing their personality. The knowledge they amassed on the formal elements of painting and sculpture was phenomenal. Through various exercises, they were encouraged to freely investigate a variety of materials and media. The curiosity of these artists was aroused about the diverse problems concerning art and to look at various art traditions of the world with an open mind with a deep awareness of the relevance of the environment in which they were living. This helped them build a contemplative perspective towards Indian art and heritage.
All these experiences amalgamated to increase their sensitivity and helped them develop their style with an autochthonous quality. Ratan Parimoo, too, has observed in his article "....that institutional training can stimulate creativity, which has been a new experience for India. They have aimed at giving due place to individuality and proving that dichotomies between ‘traditional’ and the ‘contemporary’ can be resolved given the fertile ground for genuine urge for artistic expression."
Beginning mid-1950s to mid-1960s, the Baroda Group exhibited in various cities like Baroda itself, Bombay, Ahmedabad, and Srinagar. Many artists belong to this faculty, more so, this school of thought!