As patachitra artists,like several other traditional craftsmen,are struggling against the tide of sleek,urban graphic art,the chitrakars of Noya village in Midnapore district have become models in the art of survival.
The mantra that has helped them to keep their art alive is their conscious decision to paint on contemporary issues like the fate of the Tata factory in Singur,the bloodshed in Nandigram,mid-day meals and even terrorist attacks.
The graduation from the staple folklore and epics that usually featured in their visual narratives is not only the sole innovative idea. The Chitrakars of Noya village – most without any formal education have embraced modern avenues like painting on T-shirts,bags etc which have opened new doors to keep the century old art form alive.
30-year-old Jaba Chitrakar,whose finesse as an artist earned her a place in the profile of twenty woman artists that British author Stephen P Huyler presents in his critically acclaimed book Daughters of India,has this to say when asked about the never-say-die spirit of the Chitrakars: It also has to do with the fact,that our art is the only means of sustenance.
Married at the tender age of 14,Jaba belongs to a very poor family which weaved mats to make a living. Though she received no formal education,she picked up the art of painting,singing and storytelling from her husband,whose family had been patachitrakars for generations. Its strange there is very little understanding about our art in the cities, says Jaba,now a mother of three.
The traditional patachitra painting is done on a long scroll where pictures depict stories and we compose songs to compliment them and also present our opinions, says Jaba. But to cater to the preferences of urban patrons,the Chitrakars came up with miniatures of patachitra paintings. We came up with smaller versions which could be hung up like paintings in the walls,could be gifted,or made into cards, she adds.
Jaba defends the decision to miniaturise the paintings. We were compromising on our art,but then we were also introducing it to several people who had no clue as to what this art form was, says Jaba.
While it was difficult to tell a story through a miniature,the Chitrakars,especially Jaba tried painting some message through them. I had never gone to school and have no formal education. The songs I composed with my husband used to be penned down by some relative or usually I could retain most of them in my head, says Jaba.
The miniatures were followed by patachitra paintings on bags,T-shirts,sarees,dupattas,kurtas which found a ready market and also got recognition.
However,despite the commercialisation,the Chitrakars have ensured that their children dont train in a diluted urban version of their art.
Sonia,Jabas daughter,is already a professional in the art of patachitra painting. The 10-year-old,who goes to school in her village,has painted several scrolls and written down stories to sing along. The little girl is the only child who has been featured by Huyler in his book. I was amazed at how good the little girl was at their art, says Huyler.
We perform in cities on and off,but still make the rounds of villages with scrolls on the incidents at Singur,the carnage at Nandigram,the Mumbai blasts etc. Several villagers dont know a lot about them,so it always feels nice to educate them like our forefathers, says Montu,Jabas husband.