The initial gathering of the group, Society of Contemporary Artists, was propelled by the need for appropriate facilities and an independent space for young artists to exhibit their work. The only two artists’ groups that were functional in the city of Kolkata in the ‘50s were Artists’ Circle and Chitrangshu, spearheaded by Sanat Kar and Nikhil Biswas respectively. However, these were not enough to provide a solid infrastructure for practicing artists. It was the initiative by the art critic, Ahibhushan Malik, who organized Banga Sanskriti Sammelan in 1959, an exhibition of all artists of Bengal, that marked the turning point in the lives of most of the participating artists- Nikhil Biswas, Somnath Hore, Sanat Kar, Bijan Choudhury, Arun Bose, Shyamal Dutta Ray, Sunil Das, to name a few. The exhibition, thereafter, travelled to Bombay, where Malik decided to name the group ‘Artists Union of West Bengal’. Once the artists realized the positive acclaim received by the exhibition, they expanded and registered their group under the name ‘Society of Contemporary Artists’ with Nikhil Biswas and Sanat Kar as its first secretaries in 1960.
The first meeting of this newly founded group was held at Anil Baran Saha’s house, which eventually became the group’s office; their first exhibition was held at the Artistry House on 20 November, 1960. The decades of the 1960s and 70s were pivotal for the country as at that time artists were seeking for a sort of aesthetic autonomy. Exhibiting through the Society provided them with the opportunity to evaluate and develop their work, with uncompromising clarity. The years following the country’s independence instilled in the artists a desire to achieve the notion of a national identity. As Geeta Kapur wrote in her essay Modern Painting since 1935, “this development in the 1960s should be seen with reference to a spate of national liberation movements all over the world and the emergence of ‘native’ consciousness”.  Due to the turmoil faced by the country through the late 60s to 70s, particularly with the onset of the Bangladesh war and the Naxalite Movement, the artists took it upon themselves to act as a representative voice of the times.
A younger generation of artists with inventive practices, such as Ganesh Pyne, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Ganesh Haloi, Lalu Prasad Shaw and Dharamnarayan Dasgupta, joined the SCA a few years after its existence. Over the next few decades, some of them developed path breaking practices. Bikash Bhattacharjee’s use of surreal influences as a commentary on women, and Ganesh Pyne’s imagery for loss and death within a miniaturized format stand out. Although they did not have any shared ideological platform several of the artists responded to the city of Calcutta as a subject. Reminiscing the group’s impact on his position in the art scene at the time, Manu Parekh said, “The years 1965-75 served as a very active period in Calcutta in terms of creativity and SCA was the most prominent group. Therefore, my involvement with the group was a cultural initiation into the city as well as the country.”
The group was also responsible for the introduction of the medium of printmaking in Kolkata. On returning from Czechoslovakia, notable printmaker Ajit Chakraboty not only offered the members his house to use as a studio, but also introduced them to a number of etchings and woodcut prints he had brought back. After being granted funding from the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1963, many of the members moved towards comprehending this new medium and eventually established themselves as the leading printmakers of the country.
Though many of the members eventually dispersed owing to differences, there were many others who joined the society. In fact, this is the only group of artists that is till date active. Aditya Basak, one of the primary members of the society, attributes this to the time and interest invested by each member to hold the group together. He said, “Philosophically, it is very difficult to hold a group together over such a long period of time. However, as a result of being bound together through programs and activities, we all have maintained friendly relations with each other and that is the reason this group is still alive today.”
The Society celebrated 25 years of existence in 1985 by publishing thirty graphic albums, each with twenty five prints. Some of the participating artists were Aditya Basak, Amitabha Banerjee, Ganesh Haloi, Ganesh Pyne, LP Shaw, Manu Parekh, Sailen Mitra, Sanat Kar, Somenath Hore, Shyamal Dutta Roy and many more. They continued this tradition, celebrating 40 years and their golden jubilee in the year 2009, by hosting such landmark events.
Relocating peripheries: Kathmandu Triennale
Reflections on the KMB - Forming in the pupil of an eye by Roobina Karode
Protagonist of Tradition: A legend passes
Reconstructing Visual Imagery in the Age of Mass Production by Arshiya Lokhandwala
T J Demos speaks to Gayatri Sinha
The Queer Speculum by Arshiya Lokhandwala
A fertile land of pellucid light by Soumitra Das
In conversation by Ashrafi S Bhagat
Printmaking, A flashback by Keshav Malik
Science, facts and fiction by Soumitra Das