Ten 14x18-inch water colour paintings were all what Bhaskar Chitrakar needed to set a trend in London that is expected to give the depleting breed of patuas back home the much-needed life support. The artisan from Kalighat's potuapara received international acclaim when all his paintings were a sell-out at the Arts and Culture of India (ACI) exhibition held in central London last Monday. Barely a week has passed and ace London designers, led by Neishaa Gharat, are already planning to recreate the works of this 33-year-old in various forms.
Supported by CII's UK office, State Bank of India, UK and Air India, UK, ACI was launched with the exhibition at London's Bhatatiya Vidya Bhavan. Among those present were the Indian high commissioner to UK, Ranjan Mathai, London's Nehru Centre director, Sangeeta Bahadur and Victoria and Albert Museum (Asian Development) curator, Divia Patel. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee wrote a personal note to applaud the initiative.
Designer Neishaa is on the project to create the first range of clothes and accessories inspired by Kalighat paintings. "Last Monday, London's art lovers were exposed to Bhaskar's creations for the first time. Now they will wear his creations on their clothes. Starting with Bhaskar, we shall continue to support indigenous artists and craftsmen from India," Gharat told TOI from London.
She and her team of designers will create trousers, tops and jewellery in contemporary western styles and market them internationally. "We shall start with Europe and then move on to India. A part of the royalty will be used to help the artisans. The designers will receive professional mentoring, incubation facilities and a platform to access one of the largest retail markets in the world," Anirban Mukhopadhyay, one of the founders of ACI, told TOI.
Mukhopadhyay has been facilitating Kalighat paintings along with Satadru Dutta of Omnibus and Kartik Banerjee, whose organisation, Vivek works very closely with Kalighat artisans. ACI is actually a follow-up of their social initiative, 'Sabai Miley', which had displayed patas in pandals in Britain and Scotland.
For Bhaskar, it has not been an easy journey. He had to struggle against all odds to give Kalighat patachitra its due recognition. "Kalighat patachitra is perhaps the only genre in which the Bengali urban middle class of the 19th century has been portrayed in great detail," he said.
Another ACI founder, Sudip Roy echoed from London, "Now the world will see what Bengal culture is all about. The ACI intends to sell Indian art forms and raise awareness on how the artisans struggle to hand over the legacy."