After the 2002 Gujarat riots, Mithila painter Santosh Kumar Das’ nephew urged him to paint the incidents. Das said he was not a man of violence and did not want to paint hatred on his canvas. But his nephew believed that it might unveil new aspects of the art. Thus began Das’ intensive research of four months. The results included Muslim families finding shelter in the Shah-E-Alam Mosque. The 2002 ink-on-paper painting had folk men and women handpicked from the artform and put on the canvas. Another showed Mother Earth weeping for the victims of the Gujarat violence, and angrily invoking goddess Durga to punish the rioters. These works will go on display at Ojas Art Gallery, from January 10, as part of Das’ first solo exhibition “Rerouted Realities” in the Capital.
In this exhibition, he portrays Krishna as a flute player, a musician, a dancer and a god holding a mountain on his finger tip in his Krishna series, many of which form the crux of over 40 works on display. There’s a colourful rendition of Krishna playing a flute to a snake in Krishna Playing Flute, alongside Krishna Under Tree and Krishna As A Cowherder, made using swift brush strokes. This endeavour too provided the artist with many revelations at different levels. The 58-year-old Mumbai-based artist says, “I realised how using folk techniques, one can open up and push barriers.”
“As a child, I would mostly do realistic art, by copying calendar images of gods and goddesses, cinema posters and illustrations in government text books. I was fascinated by them in the ’70s. Then my mother learnt Mithila art and it brought in a new experience, ambience and language,” says Das. He went on to study the artform for 10 long years, including the works of renowned Madhubani painter Ganga Devi, before he began practising as a Mithila artist 2000 onwards. “Much like riyaz in music that has to be practised everyday, I understood Mithila art as a language and personalised it,” he says.
The fine-arts graduate from Baroda has created his series on the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, lovers, and the monsoon. There are the different versions of the fish in ink strokes of black and red in his Fish series. Then there is the biker, from his everyday musings, riding with the body of an eagle. It was inspired by a late evening walk where he saw him speeding on his bike. “I reimagined the bike as an eagle with a strong head. It shows how as an artist I get inspired by anything,” he says.