“Every patua is the chronicler of his time”, remarks Anwar Chitrakar, a noted contemporary Kalighat painter whose recent pata paintings on the current pandemic have been featured in a solo online exhibition titled Tales of Our Time at Emami Art, between 5th and 31st July 2020. The pata paintings showing different aspects of the lockdown and pandemic times attracted a wider audience and was hugely appreciated by the art lovers of Bengal and beyond. Working within the stylistic boundaries of Kalighat Painting, Anwar does not habitually repeat the antecedents but uses the visual potentialities of Kalighat painting, its satire, wit and humour, to capture the transitory sights and emotions of the everyday life, the strangeness and banality of which we see down the streets.
From the ancient times, the rural wandering artists of Bengal, known as patuas, have communicated and spread visual messages through their painted scrolls or Jorano Pata that depicts stories from religious mythologies, epics and folk tales. The pata painting is not usually made only to be shown, but to be performed with the narrative song, which the patua himself sings while unrolling the painted scroll. The experience of “seeing a pata painting” is both visual and acoustic, connecting the pictorial art to the rich oral tradition of Bengal. Breaking away from this age-old tradition, Kalighat Painting emerged in the nineteenth century as a new, distinct style of pata painting in the major temple sites of Calcutta, mainly the Kalighat Temple. In the new urban setting, the patuas, realizing that the long narrative scrolls were no longer viable, chose to paint small-format pictures on cheap mill-papers, depicting, alongside the religious-mythological themes, the fleeing worlds of Calcutta, particularly the emergent Babu culture of the city that reflected the erosion of the traditional values under the impact of colonial culture. What makes Kalighat Painting so famous is not just that it reflects the contemporary world and Babu culture, but the unique witty, satirical tone with which it does it.
Why Anwar Chitrakar prefers Kalighat style of Painting?
Anwar has a reason behind his preference for the Kalighat style of painting. He was born in 1980 into a traditional patua family at Naya village in West Midnapore, which is home to over two hundred patua families working as a close-knit community. Anwar received hereditary training in Bengal folk painting at a very young age from his father Amar Chitrakar, but, diversifying from his caste profession, he had initially worked as a tailor in the village, before taking up painting as his main profession around the age of twenty. “As I was too late to start my career as a painter and many of my fellow artists in the village had already become established artists, I always wanted to do something new to attract the attention of the people. I found the “modern style” of Kalighat Painting more suitable for the purpose than the stereotypical religious pata painting.” Wit and humour intact, Anwar’s Kalighat paintings, which look more refined and flexible as well as more individualistic in comparison to the Kalighat Paintings of the nineteenth century, show the artist’s effort to contemporise the conventional forms filtering them through his interactions with the mainstream artworld and travelling to the art residencies and art fairs.
Anwar is known for giving a global voice to the traditional art form of Bengal pata painting. He is widely exhibited and his paintings can be found in the collections of many reputed art institutions, galleries and museums across the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He was one of the artists that Emami Art has represented in the India Art Fair 2020 at New Delhi. Emami Art’s interest in the traditional art can be seen as part of the contemporary artworld’s renewed interest in making the folk and tribal art more mainstream.