The metal sculptures of India are famous the world over. The festive season reminds us of the immense talent of Indian sculptors whose works are imaginative, exquisitely detailed and have beautiful finish. Bimal Kundu is an eminent name in metal sculpting. He is a member of the prestigious Society for Contemporary Artists and a national award winner. His sculptures are widely sought by collectors and art connoisseurs in India. BE’s Saptarshi Deb spoke to him regarding his art form and its nuances.
Q) Does the metal sculpting sector witness a surge in demand in the run-up to Dhanteras?
A) The art market in India is largely diversified. Coming to sculptures, there are various materials, which are used. But the demand for metal sculptures is the most. The buyers in India, who are mostly collectors, prefer metal sculptures because it has a large resale value. Many collectors can sell these art forms at higher margins in future. Secondly, metal sculptures are qualitatively better to craft as fine touches can be easily worked upon in metal. Visually too, metal has more appeal. Stone sculpting has a limitation in terms of artistic representation. As compared to it, metal casting is technologically enhanced. We use the lost wax process for casting. This ensures great detail and enhances the quality of the sculpture. Lastly, I must add that it is easy to rework metal sculptures as compared to stone ones. This makes metal sculptures easier to maintain.
Coming to Dhanteras, we definitely witness a surge in demand across India. But what you must understand is that the market for sculptures is very different from the other markets. We cater to very niche segments, who are mostly collectors. During Dhanteras, these collectors invest in these art works and for them it is a buy that reflects taste and conspicuity. This market is not so prominent in Bengal as it is in other parts of the country.
Q) What are the preferred metals used for sculpting?
A) The most preferred metals in our art are brass and bronze. Aluminum is also used but is not preferred as detailing is difficult with it. In certain case related religious sculptures, Ashtadhatu which is a combination of eight metals including gold is used. The percentage of gold used in it makes it expensive.
Q) How is the domestic market for this sector poised as compared to the export market?
A) Sculptures as such, have no export market. These are art pieces and are not produced en masse. There is lot of red tape involved in exporting Indian sculptures to foreign buyers. The international guidelines state that an artist can only make nine copies of his work and each should be duly signed. Therefore, large scale replication is not an option. And for collectors, it is the artist’s brand and his work which holds collective value.
The market which exists for us is predominantly the domestic market. Artistic sensibilities of Indian sculptors reflect a certain ‘Indian-ness’ which is largely appreciated in the domestic market.
Q) You have been associated with the industry for decades. What are the challenges in the sector? Are traditional sculpting methods being preserved?
A) The predominant challenge in this sector is to get a market for sculptures. There is still some market for paintings but for sculptors, the market is largely constricted. Sculpting requires a large workshop, expensive materials and machinery and a large investment of time as compared to other art forms like painting. The return is relatively less. It is quite difficult for artists to continue in the market and only few sculptors can make it. Finding a full time creative sculptor is getting increasingly difficult these days.
Coming to traditional sculpting methods, south Indian artists are way ahead in preserving traditional metal sculpting styles and techniques. The market for it is also good. Some of it is also exported as most of the work is based on mythological characters, which finds appreciation in the overseas market. The sculpting tradition and style has been conservatively maintained by these artists and passed on systematically. Odisha and Rajasthan are famous for its stone sculptures.
Apart from these, there is a folk market that is prevalent in many parts of India. It is metal casting by direct process and is also known as Dokra. It is widely prevalent in Bankura and Purulia in West Bengal and in the Bastar region of Madhya Pradesh. This has a large market and is mostly practiced by folk artists.
Q) What changes do you perceive as far as idol sculpting and designing is concerned?
A) Historically, Bengal has had its share of metal deities. Brass and Ashtadhatu has been widely used in making idols of Radha Krishna and other deities. As far as the Durga Puja is concerned, it is mostly clay work. However, lately some of the organizsers are experimenting with other material like wood and fibre. This time around, a Durga idol is being made with wood and the hands are being made of metal.
Q) What is your preferred style of sculpting?
A) My preferred style of work is semi realistic cubism and I mostly use metal for my work. Apart from metal, I have tried my hand in leather sculpting. During my initial days, I was into idol making and used clay extensively.
Q) How many schools/styles of sculpting presently exist in India?
A) See, the style is always dependent on the artist. As far as schools are concerned, I would say folk sculpture is in itself a school of sculpting. Apart from that, I would identify the school of south Indian sculpting as an exclusive school. Apart from these two, contemporary sculpting is another emerging school and has the largest demand.
Q) Apart from domestic buying, which sectors are traditional buyers of sculptors?
A) As I told earlier, most of our buyers are art collectors. The demand is predominantly domestic in nature. Apart from the collectors, there is a lot of scope for commissioned work in our form. Government authorities, political parties, institutions often commission work to sculptors. These include sculptures of national leaders, political leaders and spiritual and religious personas. I am also into designing awards and presentations for corporate houses.