From sagas involving deities, demons and folk heroes to Narendra Modi and gender and sexuality, Bengal’s traditional art form of patachitra is no longer shy of weaving stories around more contemporary issues.
The centuries-old art form, known for the (mainly traditional) graphic-oral narratives through painted scrolls — such as mangal kavya and Chandimangal — has evolved with the times, and is increasingly taking on more modern subject matter: politics (BJP’s second Modi wave, the “effectiveness” of a Third Front, the “people-friendliness” of the Aam Admi Party); gender and sexuality issues faced by the LGBTQI community; and current social issues, such as the Supreme Court’s judgment on adultery.
So, don’t be surprised to see subjects like a woman with her husband and a lover, or one showing a woman being molested, a transgendered person applying make-up… or even recognisable figures like the late filmmaker, Rituparno Ghosh, his transition and his creativity — all in the unmistakable style of the traditional patachitra.
Interestingly, most pata-chitrakaars (as the artists are called) are Muslims, and lines of religious divide have clearly blurred. While they are at ease with Hindu myths and fables, they are not afraid of going into a GST-demonetisation-hardliner debate either.
“We hope that Modi comes across as one whose focus is development, and not promoting religious bias,” says Monu Chitrakar, one of the most famous of the pat artists of Pingla, West Midnapore, the hub of this art form. Monu has gone all around the world with his art, having showcased it at folk and handicrafts festivals in Sweden, Paris and London.
Monu had been extremely busy during elections, as he was commissioned by AAP and Samajwadi Party to paint and sing scrolls. “The issues were given to me and I put them into visual context and wove songs around them. But, yes, these were very political,” he laughs. “Both the parties gave me a list of their achievements and I had to weave tuneful stories around them. I am an artist and hardly have much political opinion…. I don’t care for politics much, but work is work. Today, traditional stuff doesn’t pay any more, whereas such diversification helps us to earn. We are naturally exploring.” He adds that many fellow artists have now decided to paint scrolls depicting Modi in Midnapore, a growing saffron stronghold.
Anwar Chitrakar, another celebrity artist, whose scroll on ‘Chandimangal’ has been a permanent exhibit at the Prince of Wales Museum in the UK since 2016, was hard at work on a scroll depicting the rights of the third gender. Anwar has chosen to deviate from the usual mythical route because he feels today’s society is in transition, and has its own tales to sing. “Though we are largely apolitical people, we are artists who sing tales that are opinionated. naturally, what guides us today is news,” said the artist, whose pats on social messages have been showcased at Incredible India festivals in Germany and Japan.
“Pingla has been a phenomenon ever since it received the GI tag for patachitra painting in 2018, and then when an MoU was signed between Unesco and the MSME department for revival of the ancient art. While tradition remains the mainstay, social changes are getting reflected in the art,” said Amitabha Bhattacharya, chief of Banglanatak.com, the NGO that is partnering with the MSME department in reshaping Pingla.
Mrityunjay Banerjee, CEO of West Bengal Khadi Board, says the change was inevitable. “Folk artists have always documented social change. It is the same with Pingla artists, too. There is an air of revival all around,” he adds.
Source: Times of India