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March '07

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML

Essay - Print making: Story and History

  • Anjolie Ela Menon
  • Ashim Pal
  • F. N. Souza
  • K.G. Subramanyan
  • Paula Sengupta, Run-Run-1
  • Paula Sengupta, Run-Run-3
  • T. Vaikuntam
  • Walter Emilo D'souza
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Print making: Story and History

In this well researched essay Bhavna Kakar, editor of Art and Deal Magazine traces the history of Indian Print making.

Printmaking initially was seen almost entirely as a device for making copies. The oleograph is a case to the point. The practice of printmaking as a serious artistic form, able to stand on its own without any concessions, is probably not more than a score of years old. In contemporary visual practice where the boundaries between languages and technique of painting are blurring, the art of printmaking is entering the mainstream of visual practice.

The training in and the sustained practice of print-making appears to have inadvertently become the domain of a comparatively smaller number of artists; probably because of the nature of set-up, equipment, apparatus and regime it demands, compelling and motivating many artists to espouse relatively less constraining ways and means of art locutions.

To understand the medium one needs to know the history of its advent and development in India.
Mechanical printing was introduced in India during the middle of the sixteenth century; about a hundred years after the first printed book appeared elsewhere in the world. The concept of duplication and repro­duction, which is the basis of printing, was known in India well before the establishment of printing press in 1956 in Goa. The Indus valley civilization for instance records evidence of stamped votive seals, which were used for mass re-production. Grants of land were recoded by engraving on copperplate and engraved images for religious and secular use on metal ware was in traditional practice. The expertise of etching on different surfaces like bone, wood, shell, ivory and conch was popular crafts. The art of stam­ping with a master block was used since ancient times. From the record of the Indus Valley Civilization concentric designs created by pressing a block on clay have been discovered. To make a print using a block and pigments such as sandal dust or lamp black or vegetable colors was a ritual practice that began in the Vedic period.  Of all those stamped imprints in India, printed Calico done with an engra­ved wooden block and covered the engraved surface with   vegetable dye and pressed the block on cloth was a common art and craft since long is possibly the tech­nique closest to the modern method of wood block relief printing. However the implementation of these proto-graphic arts of duplicating images into the actual technique of printing either manually or mechanically did not take place in India.
Since the early sixteenth century when Portuguese opened factories at Calicut, Cochin and Goa and then onwards with the further settlement of the Dutch, English, French and other Europeans in various parts in India, direct interaction with Europe began. The sixteenth century Indian history was dominated by foreign affairs. While the Mughal were fully occupied in spreading their political power, the Dutch and the French were concentrating in trade and commerce in India. The Portuguese Jesuit Missionaries of Goa were the first to think of printed books as an effective media for the propagation of Christian ideology. To fulfill this idea, they imported printing press and movable types from Lisbon and on 6th September 1556 two wooden Presses arrived in Goa by ship. The presses were immediately set up under the guidance of Joao de Bustamante, a Spaniard who came to India as an expert technician of printing. In the same year the Missionaries immediately printed their first book.

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