Reviving art and philanthropy
The age old patua or Kalighat potter painting has been revived by Bablu Basak, a senior artist and philanthropist.
MY MOTHER Bablu Basak's patua painting on oil and acrylic.
Long back the landless labourers from the interiors of West Bengal, such as Birbhum, Midnapore and Bakhpura, tired of lingering poverty and no source of income, migrated to Kalighat, the business centre of the metropolitan city, with only one skill to boast - painting. They were known as potter painters because they made clay dolls and painted on them, besides mats and cloth. They began painting on leaf, then gradually moved on to paper when they reached Kalighat. The themes in their paintings varied from mythology to everyday life and the colours from pastels to bright hues. Soon the potter painters of Kalighat became famous among the locals and the business visitors for their potter paintings. But the skill gradually started waning as it wouldn't fetch required economic benefits. At present there are barely one or two families still sticking to this 300-year-old art for it's a skill they have inherited from their ancestors and have honed through ages.
Bablu Basak, a Delhi-based artist from Kolkata who acquired his diploma from the Indian Art College, Rabindra Bharti University, two decades ago, has been a witness to the still surviving potter painting of Kalighat, or Patua paintings as they were later known. He has tried to revive this art on his 25 canvases in an exhibition titled Replays and Revisings, which concluded the other day at the Habiart gallery.
Basak dedicates this exhibition to mothers. Hence he plays freely with his protagonist. His canvases show Ganesha and Krishna as children on their mothers' laps, besides mothers of children from villages, from tribal communities and so on, all in the patua style. Says the artist, "The trademark of Kalighat potter paintings was the fat and rounded figures of human beings with large, innocent eyes (tana chok - beautiful eyes as they say in Bengal). I have modified it a bit by using very bright colours as red, yellow and blue with red and black lines. Such paintings sell for crores abroad and we are not even aware of the heritage we have."
Where on the one hand Basak's attempt to revive the almost extinct art kept him busy for four years to come up with this exhibition, his other noble preoccupations have not allowed him to sit in peace either.
For over a decade now Basak has been teaching the child rag pickers, kabadi wallahs, domestic helps etc., how to paint by making himself available at Delhi's slums free of cost. He also teaches the children of bureaucrats and industrialists, but for a price.
Not only does he provide the deprived children with colours, canvases, etc., he also uses his money to get them admission in art colleges. He will utilise the proceeds from the sales of his works at Habiart for their admission this time too.
"It is very difficult to persuade the parents of children living in slums to learn artistic activities because it means a day wasted for them. For example, a rag picker earns Rs.70 a day, which he gives to his parents. Either this money goes towards buying liquor or running the family. They even fight with me saying I am spoiling their children. My activities have even been noticed by political parties who often come to with promises of venue, infrastructure and material to teach these children in slums, but just to draw political mileage out of it. In the light of my bitter experience of taking help from them once, now I refuse to be obliged," says Basak.
A few of Basak's students from slum areas are now studying in different art colleges in Delhi. Not only that, he also teaches housewives and women from slum areas and holds an exhibition of their works annually in Delhi.
Salute to the painter!
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