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Connecting to roots, homelands with art

Monday July 25, 2011 12:13:45 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

Boats are adman-artist Rajat Bandopadhyay connections to his youth.

(Photo: IANS)

New Delhi: Quest for roots, reconnection to childhood and the trauma of dislocation are the emotional soul of their art. This pain lends an air of nostalgia to canvases, becoming more pronounced with the redrawing of geographical borders during conflict and political aggression.

Paula Sengupta, a Kolkata-based mixed artist and printmaker, connects to her family roots in Bangladesh through her art.

She speaks of the India, Bangladesh and Pakistan conflict with images of war using embroidery, serigraphy, acrylic, aquatint, wood block prints and used objects in her new series of work -- "Lv.Pony".

"My works are about rootlessness and the longing to connect to my roots. My current works are themed around the liberation war of 1971," Sengupta told IANS here.

"I went to Bangladesh in 2008 and it helped me understand who I was and who I am now. My father was from Comilla and my mother's family descended from Jessore," she added.

Sengupta rediscovered undivided Bengal's traditional "nakshi kantha" threadwork -- the artistic thread of her lineage -- and wove it as a medium into her embroidered and etched narratives.

Watercolours evoke nostalgia and bucolic memories of simple living amid nature, first loves and the innocence of youth, confessed New Delhi-based adman-turned-artist Rajat Bandopadhyay who has returned to his artistic roots after 20 years.

Bandopadhyay's solo exhibition of naturescapes in water colours, "Relate", begins Aug 1.

"Water colour is a medium that I learnt in my art school - the Government College of Art in Kolkata. Our college taught us the British style of water colour in which the light and shades are more pronounced," he said.

"I remember working on three water colour compositions on an average every day in college," he added.

Bandopadhyay looks "for slices of Bengal in the array of boats - fishing boats, country boats, trawlers, dhows, tow and tug boats - that he loves to paint on paper".

The nostalgia for roots and traumas have also been the driving emotions for early masters like M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, Shakti Burman, Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar, Paritiosh Sen, Sohan Qadri and several others who wanted to connect to the Indian idiom post- Independence, breaking away from western influences.

The history of art is crammed with hunts for roots.

"There are many instances of artists who have returned to their roots to unpack traumas. For example, a lot of 65-year-old French artist Christian Boltanski's works are on the Jewish holocaust which displaced his family," said senior art critic-writer Gayatri Sinha.

"Issues like homeland, displacement and migration have deep socio-psychological impact on artists," she added.

Artist Vivan Sundaram has opened his family archive to re-invent it and M.F. Husain's art has been autobiographical, Sinha said.

For Sabyasachi Ghosh, who exhibited in the national capital recently, Indian mythology and religion were ways to connect to his roots in India during his tenure in Riyadh where he worked as a school teacher.

"I painted motifs from the Mahabharata, flying pigs, eagles, images of Lord Vishnu and the cosmic big bang in secret so that my neighbours could not spy on me," Ghosh said.

"Figurative painting is not encouraged in Saudi Arabia. But I had to reconnect to my roots because my culture was my identity," he added.

On his return to India, Ghosh has given up his job for the cause of full-time art.

Mithu Sen connects to her artistic roots "with an element of nostalgia" in her art, while Manju Nath Kamath is trying to revive old performance arts traditions of "Bootha kola and Yakshagana" in native Mangalore as an extension of his art.

"The walls of my family homes in my village also creep into my art," Kamath said.

Artist Niladri Paul, a native of Jharkhand, is haunted by a tribal avatar of Radha-Krishna in his art which he links to the ancient musical, dance and theatrical traditions of India in his acrylic compositions.

"My art is journey to the roots," said Paul, who spent much of his childhood among the tribals of Chhotanagpur.

The eagerness to connect to a lost homeland and roots is sustenance for the Hindu Kashmiri artists in exile.

Vishal Dar of Kashmiri origin talks of the Kashmir conflict, corruption, suicides by army soldiers and intra-national identity in his new media works.

Said Veer Munshi, an artist in exile from Kashmir: "The pain we feel gets translated into our work."

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at








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