Meera Mukherjee

Untitled (Minibus) | Mumbai | bronze | 21.6 x 34.3 x 21.6 cm.

“Passion goaded her creativity and expressed itself in her work, which for her was worship. She exemplified the Keatsian concept, ‘the poetry of the earth is never dead.’”

Maitreyi Chatterjee, writer, activist, critic

Sculptor Meera Mukherjee was an artist’s artist, and a singular regional voice whose finely-wrought expressions comprised ancient Bengali tradition and the profound changes brought by modernity and the collapse of British colonialism.  She viewed her work as deeply transformative and self-ennobling; hers was art -as-apotheosis. “I have never made art for art's sake,” she said. “Nor have I done what I have done with any hope of gain. The beginning of every work I have taken on has been an impulse. However, ideas, emotions, are only the beginning: To realize them in forms, calls for sustained physical as well as mental effort.”

Mukherjee was born in Kolkata, and began studying there at the Indian Society of Oriental Art School at age 14. In 1947, she enrolled at the Delhi Polytechnic, where she earned a diploma in painting, graphics and sculpture. She traveled to Germany in 1953 to study painting at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kuenste in Munich; she dropped painting after a single term in favor of sculpture, the discipline through which she would gain international renown.

Her sculpture was deeply influenced by the traditional Bastar sculptors of Madhya Pradesh, with whom she worked as an apprentice. It was during this time she learned Dhokra method of sculpture—also known as the cire perdue, or “lost wax,” method—a technique for casting non-ferrous metal that has existed in India for some 4,500 years. From that, she innovated her own process for bronze casting, which required first sculpting the works in wax, so as to preserve the tactile nature of the material, then building it up and adding surface decoration using wax strips and rolls. Despite the hardness of the bronze, its finish appears delicate, organic and malleable, imbuing the work with a unique kind of lyricism and rhythm.

As importantly, it was during this time that her connection with sculpture acquired a deeper, more spiritual dimension. “I experienced their complete devotion whilst working on sacred pictures which would be venerated and worshiped,” she said of working with the traditional sculptors. “And I asked myself, could we modern artists not develop the same spirit of devotion and apply it to our work?”

Mukherjee seemed to crystallize her moment in time the way few artists do, emerging onto the Indian art scene at a time that was transitional, full of change and eclecticism. She was well honored her lifetime, the recipient of the Padma Shri, the President's Award of Master Craftsman, and the Abanindranath Award from the West Bengal Government. “In a period that is transitional, full of change and eclectic she has managed to salvage not only images of life but something of its thought, its rhythm, its feeling,” writes art historian, Jaya Appasamy. Her work “offers a solution,” she adds, “to the problem of tradition and modernity.” She died in 1998.

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Works by Meera Mukherjee

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