The World of Sankho Chaudhury

Art History/Craft History

The World of Sankho Chaudhury

Sethi, Ritu


In January 2008 the Craft Revival Trust mounted an exhibition of the folk and tribal objects collected by the eminent sculptor the Late Prof Sankho Chaudhury. The vast majority of the pieces on display at the India International Centre, New Delhi that formed the core of the collection were collected from the hinterland of India, while objects from Africa, Nepal and other countries added to the world view.

Collected over a lifetime these handcrafted objects formed an eclectic mix of items used in villages for the conduct of the everyday – for adornment, for cooking and eating, for reaping and sowing, by the scholar, for prayer and ritual use and for play all providing a glimpse into a refined and mindful time.

These objects of anonymous craftsmanship created in materials ranging from wood, clay, metal and leather were artfully embellished often belying their mundane usage. Though paramount in the making was the usage, functionality and practicality of the object with a built in strength to endure the wear and tear of long term daily usage they simultaneously reflect an attention to detail, holding a mirror to the aesthetics of a people who surrounded themselves with objects that spoke of an inherent love for form, balance and patterning be it the humble ladle or the gourd pot.

Harking back to a time not so long ago where the consumer and the maker negotiated, and products were tailored for individual preference, specific requirements and needs in contrast to the mass produced items of today.

The purpose of posting these objects on is to make available to the viewer objects that cast a light on the evolution of usage, form and pattern and additional to savor aspects of an everyday traditional refined life.

– Ritu Sethi

Ira Choudhury writes

Sankho Chaudhuri was born and spent his early childhood in the Santhal Parganas in Bihar, which started his acquaintance with the Santhals.

Sankho and I studied in Santiniketan, in an area with a sizeable Santhal population. We saw their villages, much better kept and cleaner than others; their traditional clothes that they still wore (they don’t any more); their dancing, their amiableness and innate decency. One developed a respect for their tradition and culture.

Gradually Sankho started collecting craft objects and artifacts, vehemently commenting on the tribals’ need to embellish objects of daily use, unlike “civilized” urban people who have lost all feeling for the look of utilitarian objects. During his tenure in Baroda he visited many adivasi areas in Gujarat and often took students along. Some of them got interested in tribal arts.

There was no system to his collection: anything that he liked, could afford and could be carried away, from classical bronzes to musical instruments, or kitchen utensils. The best of his bronzes were acquired by the National Museum in 1980. A stint in Tanzania allowed him to add African objects to the collection.

The musical instruments were donated to the Rupayan Sansthan for the new ethnographic museum founded by Komal Kothari in Jodhpur.

Sankho routinely gave away objects to young people, or whoever admired one of them, hoping to kindle interest. An untiring advocate of creating a national collection before folk and tribal art disappeared altogether; it resulted in the setting up of the Rural India Complex in the Crafts museum and helped set up the Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalay in Bhopal.

It has become increasingly difficult to maintain many of the objects and some have become victims of time.

This exhibition therefore is very much like him: spontaneous, unsystematic but well loved.

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Excerpts from Prof Sankho Chaudhuri’s diaries

“Simple clay figurines made by villagers is secluded places and sold in the nearby market on the occasion of a festival assume different dimensions when we look upon them as continuity of a tradition. It have been argued that the folk lore and folk art (the Bengal scroll or the Rajasthan picture are both folk lore and folk painting) have kept touch with the tradition and helped a continuity unaffected by the forces of modernization and westernization that swept the country and produced sophisticated young men who learnt to taunt and laugh at our culture and tradition, aping their masters, the English men.”

Excerpts from Prof Sankho Chaudhuri’s diaries

“An object of daily use may be elevated to the status of art of artifact or artistic object because of elements inherent in it other than those of mere usefulness.

It is this aspect of folk and tribal life that has fascinated me and attracted me and like all greedy men of this age it has forced me to collect these also.

However imperfect my attempts in expressing myself in writing, my attempts would be to associate these objects with the conditions congenial for creation of these.”

Excerpts from Prof Sankho Chaudhuri’s diaries

“The time has come to ask ourselves what we want to with the potential talent of the artisans.

We have to consider whether the village and tribal crafts should be used only as a means of earning foreign exchange and keeping alive otherwise meaningless, moribund forms and crafts (like gold sequins and brocade work on velvet or rose water jars) or whether we could apply their skills to evolve designs of utility, and develop simple, cheap objects of daily use which every villager can afford, like clay toys, deities, oil lamps and so on, and try to create an economic base for these artisans to survive in the villages. ”

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