Ganesh Haloi belongs to that group of modernists in Bengal who began their career in the late 1950s but who flourished during the 1980s. The Eighties were a period that brought in a much-awaited phase of relief after the turmoil and turbulence associated with political movements in the preceding two decades.
Throughout this period, as a sensitive painter and individual, Haloi has been a close observer of the situation from where he resides and works in Kolkata; but his pictorial response is best seen as a passive reaction towards the tumultuous circumstances of violence, being overwhelmed by a more gruesome and painful turn of events—that of being uprooted from his homeland in erstwhile East Bengal (now Bangladesh), following the Partition of 1947, that compelled him like many others into a forced exile and refuge in India.
The memory of that loss, and his hapless situation, like millions of others, were more indelible impressions for Haloi. Decades passed since the emigration, but the scars born of such wounds refused to heal and Haloi carried them within his thoughts, and his art—a lingering memory that turned his mind away from the immediate locale. Ever since then, his preoccupation has been to relocate himself culturally, connecting avidly to a past that synchronised his memory with its geographical specifications, greenery, water bodies, et al.
Like other artists of his time, Haloi’s oeuvre began with concerns over the figurative that was primarily of narrative and dialogic nature. But he holds a personal conviction that art is transformation, and perhaps in tandem with this conviction, his own practice too transformed gradually, though steadily, through stages of semi-abstract articulations to the more recent, relatively complete abstract reflections.
Working for six long years at Ajanta for the Archaeological Survey of India, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, also played a pivotal role in recasting his visual sensibilities, in the sense that it allowed him a way out towards the quest for indigenous recuperation in art. The rich earthy hues and lyrical sinuous forms of Ajanta made their impact felt in the pictorial compositions Haloi executed subsequent to his Ajanta experience. In them, ochres, browns, and shades of green began dominating his palette considerably—though undeniably in the later phase, as life transformed so did his pictorial concerns and sensibility, and thereby the chromatic range of his colour-scapes.
One may also infer an indigenous approach in his choice of medium—that of water-based techniques of gouache or tempera on paper, and it is possible that such choices allowed him to relocate with a certain sense of new rootedness in the territory of his enforced migration. Last, but not least, and in a dialectic relationship to the indigenous import, one must address the relationship of Haloi’s art to that of inspiration drawn from the Western modern tradition.
At a British Council exhibition held in Kolkata in 1967 which featured Robert Adams and Robert Meadows, amongst many others, Haloi discovered the resonance of his own concern for lines, planes and mass of colours—in the works of Meadows in particular. As one acknowledges this impact, one connects Haloi to his contemporaries in India, who like him were struggling to negotiate internationalism simultaneous to their concern with the indigenous, and thereby to contextually justify their identity and concerns in art.