July 29, 2014
by Ansuman

Responding to the Archive – Aurogeeta Das

Here is the first in what will be a regular series of posts by people working at the Tagore Centre, who will delve into the archive, share their findings and create new responses. Here the writer and artist Aurogeeta Das explains her motivations as she approaches Tagore’s work.





Untitled (subject: semi-abstract bird figure) Ink on paper by Rabindranath Tagore Source: Facebook page: ‘Manuscript and painting of Rabindranath Tagore’


When I first heard of the Tagore Centre’s call for artists, writers and/or curators to respond to their archive and create new work, I was excited because of the interdisciplinary approach being encouraged. From the dim recesses of my memory, I recalled admiring Tagore as a teenager when I was introduced to his work at school. Tellingly, I cannot recollect in which subject I was introduced to his work but I do remember thinking of him as a Renaissance man, a ‘great’ with many talents and astonishingly diverse interests.


Twenty years on, I have explored a range of approaches to the visual arts, from the point of view of artistic practice, as an arts editor and journalist, as a researcher and writer, as a lecturer and most recently, as a first-time curator, with varying degrees of success in my desire to achieve greater coherence. Rather than see these myriad forms of expression as competing against each other, I have found that my adoption of each medium has lent fresh perspectives to the rest. This has made me appreciate anew that an interdisciplinary approach might still result in a richer outcome. My interests have been consistently interdisciplinary in the past 15 years; I continue to research, write, paint, lecture and curate all at the same time. I am now hoping to weave together the many strands of my work.

So in response to the Tagore Centre’s call for artists, I proposed to combine the various approaches I have previously explored in my roles as artist, curator, researcher and writer in a single experimental project. Interdisciplinary interests can lead to a variety of outcomes. I want mine to develop primarily into in an artist book, as I feel that numerous disciplines and media intersect in this form of expression. As such, it echoes the title of the Tagore Centre’s residency: an artistic book, I feel, is situated ‘between the lines’ of wall and page, image and word, conceptually and visually. What is perhaps a clearly visible manifestation of this ‘in between’ space is the frequent placement of images in between lines of text in an artist’s book. This is not quite the same as an illustrated book, as the artist’s book often places visuals and text on a more equal footing, rather than having the images merely accompany a text. When images illustrate a text, they remain secondary to the visual. While the core piece of work I have proposed is an artist’s book, I hope that its content can be reflected, in different forms, in distinct outcomes: a blog diary, a series of paintings, an academic paper on the relationship between words and images and a possible curatorial project. Although the content will adapt to the discrete media, as suits the differing form of each, every outcome will retain recognisable elements of the core work.


When I say ‘the relationship between words and languages’, I should clarify that I am interested in understanding how words resonate in visuals, both physically and conceptually and how the visual is evoked with words, as much through the materially realised form of letters as in the evocation of the visual through the imaginative use of poetic and literary language.



Untitled (subject: semi-abstract bird figure from the tale ‘Bird of Fairyland’) Lithograph reproduction of original with coloured inks on paper by Rabindranath Tagore Museum No: IS.78-1961 Source: V&A Museum

Those of you who may be more familiar with Tagore’s work may know that his visual experiments started as doodles on his literary manuscripts. I am therefore fortunate to have a pertinent starting point to explore the relationship between words and images in Tagore’s work, though of course I hope to also address this relationship in his other cross-disciplinary endeavours. This exploration ought to enrich my own outcomes. To lend further focus to the core piece – the artist book, and to these distinct outcomes, my study of Tagore’s output as an artist and writer will concentrate on the theme of birds (and more broadly, nature). I chose this theme because of my own deep love for nature and my interest in birds but equally because I am intrigued by Tagore’s paintings of birds. In case you have not seen these yet, I have posted a few examples here. They are mysterious, fantastical, occasionally even otherworldly. They appear to have been created from the unconscious. At other times, they are almost anthropomorphic.


Animals/Composites (2) Coloured ink on paper by Rabindranath Tagore, 38 x 42.5 cm, dated 13 September 1930, Copyright Rabindra Bhavana Source: V&A Museum



Animals/Composites (3) Coloured ink on paper by Rabindranath Tagore, 34.9 x 45.6 cm, about 1930-31, Copyright Rabindra Bhavana Source: V&A Museum


I may also especially examine the collection Stray Birds (1916), which brings together verses and aphorisms written by Tagore. A significant part of my own ongoing work as a visual artist is focused on birds – a recurring motif that is indicative of my broader interest in nature.


Bird Gouache on deckle-edged handmade paper, approximately 21 x 21 cm 2009-10

The complex exploration of line in my gouache paintings, which turns into a mapping of form, echoes South Indian women’s geometric floor-drawings, which often use a grid of dots or other marks. These grids act as markers for visual reference but they also become an intrinsic part of the drawings. Unlike South Indian women, however, instead of using a grid of dots or other markings, I imagine the generic form of a bird as constituting a broad grid.


Bird Gouache on deckle-edged handmade paper, approximately 21 x 29.7 cm 2013-14


My paintings of birds also draw inspiration from indigenous artists’ depictions of fantastical and real birds, the latter often drawn with vivid imagination and whimsy. Needless to say, as you can see from the examples I have posted here, these bear little resemblance to Tagore’s paintings but like his, mine don’t realistically depict actual birds either but are drawn from my imagination. Rather than doodling, they often start by ‘taking a line for a walk’, to use Klee’s phrase.


Bird Gouache on deckle-edged handmade paper, approximately 29.7 x 42 cm 2013-14


Although I read Tagore’s work as a child, and know of the range of his creative work, I am not very familiar with his whole body of work. This is one reason why I feel that the possible resonances among Tagore’s distinct outputs may be an interesting area to explore. I am so looking forward to drawing upon Tagore’s cross-disciplinary interests and outcomes by gaining an insight into his inter-disciplinary process, if it can be termed as such. I hope to ascertain to what extent his interdisciplinary interests were ‘visible’ in his literary and artistic work. In addition, I expect to reproduce Tagore’s own words and/or images in my interpretation of his work. This is all very ambitious, given the constraints of time and the daunting task of exploring Tagore’s phenomenal output, so I’d better get started!




Bird Gouache on deckle-edged handmade paper, approximately 21 x 29.7 cm 2013-14

February 21, 2014
by Ansuman

Behind the Beard

Here’s another contribution to our Features section. A short extract from Sahitya Akademi’s 1961 publication on Tagore. It follows on nicely from Matthew Pritchard’s piece on interpreting Tagore for the West.

Artists create with painstaking labour but have little control over how they or their works are perceived. The further the work travels, the more faint and distorted does the creator become. This Law of Celebrity has held true ever since the very first stories were told, and it is still true now. Some extra effort is required to penetrate the miasma of rumour and fantasy that obscures the work of art. Perhaps one way is to become absorbed into the work wholeheartedly in order to feel what was felt by the person who made it. And perhaps there is no more wholehearted involvement than singing. Is this what Tagore meant when he said that his songs were the most vital parts of him, living on long after he was gone?

Phillipe Stern’s piece gives us a glimpse of the person of Tagore, and thereby gives a clue as to how we might approach his art. As Matthew Pritchard also suggested, returning to the simple, vulnerable beauty of the voice seems to be key. That’s what is behind that beard and also right under our noses.

The Real Rabindranath Tagore and his Music 


February 12, 2014
by Ansuman

A New Approach to Tagore’s Music

I’m delighted to introduce the first offering in our new Features section. This part of the site will grow into an online exhibition and discussion forum and this first piece, by Matthew Pritchard, serves perfectly as a provocation and a keynote.

Tagore’s reception in the West has often been hampered by stylistic misunderstandings. His words and music are easily misrepresented and sometimes just barely limp across the cultural divide. The Tagore Centre would like to take a fresh look at Tagore’s legacy and help to find what makes it compelling and relevant in our time. Matthew Pritchard describes a journey towards understanding that might be an inspiration for others and might prompt a re-evaluation of some old material.

Certainly he’s articulated for me a vague dissatisfaction I have always felt with the standard presentation of Rabindrasangeet. I’ve struggled against my nagging doubts because I was convinced there must be something of value to discover in my own heritage. Now I feel very excited by the possibilities Matthew hints at, of renewed marriage vows between the musics of Bengal and Europe.

January 7, 2014
by Ansuman

Between the Lines

Welcome to a new look for the Tagore Centre website!

With the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund we are now embarking on a new programme of work called Between the Lines.

Between the Lines aims to help people from all walks of life become familiar with Tagore’s work.

Over the course of this project we will introduce Tagore to those who may be encountering lines of his poetry, songs or paintings for the very first time.

We will also invite those who are firm fans to read ‘between the lines’, look beyond the customary understandings, and become more actively inspired.

In reading ‘between the lines’ we invite you to discern the space from which the words emerge, a space of sky and light, a space of dark silence and the blank page.

The poet’s words may lead us into this space but those words are eventually lost in music.

Lines of melody reverberate in the silences between the lines of melody.

It is in that silence that we may hear our own breath and the movement of our own thoughts.

So it is between the lines that Tagore has drawn that we might discover ourselves.

Here is an invitation to take Tagore’s line for a walk.

Let’s begin from his example but move on from there. Let’s heed Tagore’s exhortation not to passively consume, but to energetically engage according to our own desires, capacities and environments.

Over the next few months the Tagore Centre will be creating a series of opportunities, for anyone who is interested, to approach Tagore in a new way.  We will produce new translations and interpretations to help us not merely spectate from a distance but to hear his call and answer, to see his tracks and follow wholeheartedly. The emphasis will be not on a dusty old man uttering solemn edicts, but on fresh creations animated by an ancient spirit. The Tagore Centre will be running events to promote not only an appreciation and understanding of a precious heritage, but to use that understanding in dealing with our present reality.

There will be opportunities to not only engage with Tagore’s vast body of work but also to sing, play, write and make films of our own. If that seems of interest please subscribe to this website for regular updates. In the meantime, here is news of the first project in which we invite you to participate:

Open Call for an Artist/Curator/Writer-in-Residence

The Tagore Centre UK holds a substantial archive of books, photographs, CD’s and visual art relating to Rabindranath Tagore. The main centre is in North London and there is also a branch in Glasgow.

We are now looking for an artist, curator or writer to immerse themselves in this archive and respond to it.

The successful applicant will have access to the Tagore Centre’s collections and its project space, which is suitable for small performances and readings. He or she will also be able to engage with Tagore Centre staff and its wider network, and to attend the Centre’s regular programme of events.

Most of the written material in the archive is in English but support can be given for those non-Bengali speakers who would also like to use Bengali language materials.The production and dissemination of the successful applicant’s practice may take any form but a significant element of it should be documented online via a blog or online exhibition.

This online space may be used to frame and comment on particular parts of the collection, or for new interpretations of Tagore’s legacy, or for tangential musings and experiments. Other contexts and venues for any outcomes of the residency may be arranged by mutual agreement. These might include talks, workshops, exhibitions, or performances with the Tagore Centre or any of its partners.

Applicants need not be expert in, or even particularly familiar with, the work of Rabindranath Tagore.

Curiosity and a willingness to explore will be better qualifications. Some orientation will be given at the commencement of the residency and Tagore Centre archivists will be on hand throughout to offer guidance and feedback.We are looking for someone with a fresh perspective who will be able to contribute to dialogue and debate and enrich the Tagore Centre by their presence.

We offer time and space to engage with a vibrant community interested in the work of a remarkable multi-disciplinary artist, and we offer a platform for any new work that might arise from this engagement.Applicants need not be based near the Tagore Centre but should be able to make at least six visits to it over the course of the residency.

A bursary of £1000 is offered and a small budget is also available for any production expenses which may be used towards travel and subsistence.

For more details on how to apply please write to:

The Tagore Centre UKhlf-final