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.


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.


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

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