Asu Dev’s sudden demise on February 6th 1983, was not only a rude shock to the member of his family, to persons like me who had the opportunity to mix with him very intimately, but to everybody in Assam and North East India, who consider Graphic art to be one of the most powerful medium to record the life and achievements of contemporary period. In that sense Asu Dev’s demise was a loss to the entire North East India.
Why? Asu Dev’s outstanding master pieces silently answer the question very boldly. Because they are based on tradition, natural atmosphere and life of the people of this very region.
Asu Dev never had been a student of any conventional Art School nor do I believe that he was particularly influenced by any conventional forms. No doubt he studied deeply the international and national trends of art forms. But the motive force of his artistic work was to base on his works glorious traditional arts of Assam, its absorbing natural beauty and above all the life movements and change that has taken place in the society as a whole of this part of North East India.
His miniature enlargements based on the “Chitra Bhagawata” (the earliest available art forms of Assam) on the walls of the residence of Late Dr. Bhubaneswar Barua was highly appreciated by everybody who saw them. (It pains me to hear that the walls bearing the ‘Fresco’ has been completely white washed and the rare murals are no more to be seen. It was something of which Assam could be proud of).
Some of his representative works like “In the Cornfield” “Santhal Virgins”, “The Cage”, “Birth of a New life”, The Wake” and many other pieces which I have seen but the titles, of which I have forgotten. Asu Dev has painted a couple of paintings showing Gauhati in the past. Paintings like “Graveyard”, Light more Light”, “‘Trees,” etc. Show The Institution of Engineering (India) Assam Centre at Panbazar, the Gauhati Railway Station from the Railway over bridge, and The Nehru Park respectively in the past.
I being a non-technical man in this field of art confess that I do not understand the language of colours. But some of Asu Dev’s paintings were so simple that even a lay man like me could easily understand.
Asu Dev was a believer in materialistic philosophy from the age of his early youth when he was a textile designer working at Ahmedabad, Khulna, Mymenshing, Calcutta, and finally at the present Assam Textile Institute at Gauhati. He breathed his last with the same belief. Naturally he did not believe the ‘dictum’ of Art for Arts sake. He believed art to be a mean for expressing joy and sorrows, life and movements and above all the change that has taken place in the Political and Economic stage of society. “Birth of a New Life” which is a bold invocation of coming age. Modern heavy industrialisation in this Region and many other such meaningful works are the silent voices of the age who will speak more loudly in future than in the life time of Asu Dev.
I am older than Asu Dev by a couple of years. I first met him during the forties as a Comrade. Since then I had been meeting a lot of people in various parts of the country. But I must admit that I have never come across a person like Dev. He was like an open book to all, very cordial, energetic, full of ideas, and very obstinate in his own ideal. He was a man who could speak for a long time on any topic put before him.
He held exhibitions of his works at different times and at different places. Some were one man shows and some group shows. A couple of years ago the House of Soviet Culture in collaboration with All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society organised a one man exhibition of his works, at New Delhi. This exhibition particularly shows how Asu Dev was honoured not only by the art lovers of India, but also abroad.
In 1966 the Inaugural session of the Assam State Progressive Artists and Writers Association was held in Gauhati, and along with it a group show of paintings, sculptures etc., was also organised. (Late) Sajjid Zahir internationally famous poet and artist, and founder secretery of the Association while glancing at the different exhibits of art suddenly stopped near a particular painting. The painting was Asu Dev’s ‘The Cage’ an all time favourite of the art lovers, Late Zahir told me that Asu Dev was the real artist of the people of Assam I remember to have read somewhere a poem, containing these lines, “Fame is the food that dead man eat.” I think these lines are really true.
Asu Dev is no more. He died at the age of sixty six. But I think the legacy he left behind will supply with food to keep him alive for years to come, more than he really lived.
Though there are various internationally and nationally accepted art form, yet there are attempts at the present for creation of realistic arts based on actual life of a particular region were the artist lived and worked with a lot of sufferings. West Bengal the land of Nandalal Bose, I think is the pioneer in this field in establishing the Bengal School of Art. I have strong belief in mind that a day will certainly come when the artists of Assam will also feel in the same way. In that case, I have not the slightest doubt that Asu Dev will figure as the pioneer in the field of art in Assam as well as the whole of North East India.
It is gratifying to note that the Gauhati Artist’s Guild of which Asu Dev was the founder President till death, has started in a modest way in that direction under the able leadership of another artist of Assam, Shri Benu Mishra. I lack in adequate words to express my thanks to the Gauhati Artist’s Guild, who recently published an album of paintings of Asu Dev and another young artist Rajen Hazarika who also expired just days after Asu Dev. I hope, the Gauhati Artist’s Guild will take steps to preserve the valuable pieces of Asu Dev, and give him full recognition which he is still deprived of. Asu Dev’s creation possibly would not have been successful had not he married another artist Smt. Bela Deb, who is a student of the Kala and Sangeet Bhawan of Vishwa Bharati Santinekatan West Bengal. Much credit goes to Smt. Deb without whose sacrifice and devotion Asu Dev could not have reached his zenith.
Asu Dev was not a man to certify himself as an artist, possibly that must be the reason for which the Government of Assam, which have budgeted crores of rupees for Cultural Development of Assam have not yet thought it worth to honour this outstanding artist of Assam, even after his death.
Asu Dev and his wife is blessed with a son only. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the adolescent youth during his age between the teens has already taken up the brush to follow the steps of his illustrious father. I am happy that Anutosh has already started to organise “Retrospectives” of his father. I wish Asu Dev will live honourably through the works of his son also.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
DADHI MAHANTA: Was a friend of the artist associated with ISCUS and the Communist Party of India. The article was first published in December 1983. (Retrospective I)