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Review of the exhibition "Hello, Mona Lisa!", april 2004, Genesis art gallery, Kolkata.

Mona Lisa reinvented by new-age painters
(Deccan Herald, Kolkata, May 8 2004))


Five hundred years after the creation of La Gioconda, or Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci, four talented painters of the metropolis have sought to recapture the mysterious beauty and her enigmatic smile, which captivated and baffled people over the ages.

Vinci - the artist, inventor and scientist all rolled into one - drew the picture of Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, the wife of French aristocrat Francesco del Giocondo in 1506, and immortalised her. Never in the history of art has one painting, created in oil on pine wood, been so discussed and generated awe.

In a novel effort to reinvent Mona Lisa, whose enigmatic expression seems both alluring and aloof giving the portrait its universal fame, artist Sanatan Dinda has retained the original smile of the bewitching beauty, amidst indistinct images of Howrah Bridge, Kolkata slums and skyscrapers. “I had in fact toyed with the idea of giving Mona Lisa a Bengali look but instead stuck to the original to depict her features while juxtaposing it with a contemporary local background as an element of the three-dimensional surrealistic landscape,” Dinda says.

Breaking all conventions, artist, writer and curator Srimati Lal recreated Mona Lisa as a strong contemporary independent woman in modernist style. Asked what the smile of her Mona Lisa stands for, Lal says, “Mona Lisa’s smile has transcended all barriers of ages and countries. But I have drawn Mona Lisa in a forward looking manner with images of laptop and mouse embossed in the background.”

Asked whether her Mona Lisa, drawn in a vibrant colour in non-classicist style, broke into smile feeling intrigued over various incidents taking place all around us, Lal says “her smile can neither be labelled as out of intrigue or delight because that smile is ageless. But she represents the ‘shakti’, the independent self and inherent strength of modern woman.”

Bratin Khan, trained in Shantiniketan in the Bengal School gharana, portrayed Mona Lisa as a village bele surrounded by lotus and decked with jewellery with a faint smile on her lips.

“My Mona Lisa smiles from within and her smile has no enigma associated with it. She is a simple, pretty rural woman, who feels at ease with herself and the surrounding world. She is not of the complicated urban type but neither she belongs to the genre of the 16th century. In a way she represents the still existing scores of housewives in rural Bengal who are simple and pure in their hearts,” Khan says.

Veteran artist Tarak Garai most clinically captured on canvas the original nuance of Da Vinci with no deviations from the master’s work while painting two other women’s faces on Mona Lisa’s either side.

“Da Vinci’s work is sacrosanct as an ageless work having no scope to alter, which includes the smile. I have added these two women who are for me the more topical manifestations of the mystery lady of 16th century. Yes, their smile can be traced as one of joy with the march of time,” Khan says.

Celebrated painter Wasim Kapoor, who egged on the four painters’ for exploring such concept, says art should re-invent and re-mould itself to pass the scrutiny of time, “Has not Satyajit Ray masterpiece been re-invented by another director? It did not diminish the appeal of the classic of the maestro," he says referring to the sequel of ‘Aryaner Din Ratri’ by Gautam Ghosh. “All forms of art, be it painting, music, film have one common element, their elementariness. If others cannot deal with one classic in their style how can art progress. It is good for the original as well,” the affable painter comments.

Rekha Modi, from Habiart Foundation, who was behind the Hello Mona Lisa venture, says they were planning to take Mona Lisa paintings by Indian artists to Paris in 2006 to present the classicist and modernist Mona Lisas before the afficionados side by side.