Bandwalla, by Krishen Khanna, 1988, Oil on canvas. Exhibited at #MasterpieceFair by @dag_modern.
After a diverse series of paintings depicting war, persecution and humanity, Krishen Khanna began to paint and sketch bandwallas or bandmasters who were usually seen in north Indian weddings to play music for the celebrations. As India had been at war with Pakistan, China and more recently, Bangladesh the artists made reference to the soldiers through these bandwallas and their military style uniforms on large canvases. He represented the broad narratives depicting mixed social references, for example, the impact of military leaders and their rulings on the common man, caste inequality, labour and everyday survival.
In this painting, Khanna has depicted four bandwallas engaged in playing their grand instruments and synchronising their tunes in their red ensembles, buckled belts and shoulder epaulettes. The red colour of their uniform conveys the energy that they emanate. The artist portrays these men as practicing and creating music with a sense of happiness, but that is only for the show. If we pause the tunes and remove the uniforms, these men return to not so extravagant and precarious lives on the streets of Delhi. Khanna’s humanist rendering captures the harsh realities of their lives, playing long hours of music for little money in uncomfortable uniforms that play on people’s memories of military bands and their precision.
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