Art and the Postmaster

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As a person with a 25-year plus footprint both in NGO/CSR space and artiste/event creation and management space, I have been privileged to meet fascinating people and hear fascinating anecdotes which I believe should be shared as much as possible to convey the spirit, the inherent art in the vast Indian psyche.

One person who has shared great stories with me and a very old friend is Shanaz Sarin, who until recently served as the Project Head for the awesome Art Project at the T2 Airport Terminal in Mumbai.

A story she shared with me of a 50 something Postmaster is stirring and touched me deep within.

Kalam Patua is being credited with reinventing and representing the lost art of Kalighat which originated in 19th century, Kolkata. Simple to the core, he serves as a Postmaster, addressing his routines at the post office across the day.

When he finishes his day at 6.30 p.m., he gets restless and yearns for his compulsive intimacy with his canvas. Once the night sets in and his family has retired, he comes alive with brush on canvas. His creations are now being celebrated widely as the New Kalighat paintings.

Patua’s work, though fundamentally emerging from a lineage of over 300 years, has a significant enhancement. Kalighat painting is a style, a genre that evolved in 19th century Kolkata as a widely popular art form catering to the mass markets in Kolkata and somehow got lost before Independence. Patua has gone much beyond his legacy and created a refreshingly contemporary style. The modern element in his work is unmissable.

Folk art has some way to go before becoming investor friendly but the global art community has taken notice. The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, reputed to showcase the single largest collection of Kalighat paintings, has acquired and showcased Patua’s work in its widely received touring exhibition across South Asia. Museums across the world ranging from India’s own, National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi to the National Museum in Liverpool, UK, the Museum of Civilisation in Canada to Chicago Children’s Museum, US, all of them display his work.

The son of a farmer, Bholanath, Patua’s mother Susari came from a family steeped in pure Patua tradition. Right from his childhood, she was the critical eye overseeing his sketches and drawings. Patua was greatly inspired by one of his uncles, Gopal Chitrakar, and used to be in awed of the speed with which he used to sketch on mud walls. The _Patua and Kalighat tradition is known for the swiftness of its technique. It is an essential requisite for dexterity and skill in this art form. Patua also learnt a lot from another of his uncles, Baidyanath Patua, from the age of 10. This, though was traditional sculpting of religious and mythological icons. Today, his art form expresses common everyday lifescapes.

Patua sure has come a long way from his rustic and rural roots. Definitely, an unsung hero of India.

Thanks Shanaz, for bringing this artiste alive for me.

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