Friday, August 19, 2011

THE CHANGING PARADIGMS OF THE ‘FOLK’: Pats and Patuas of West Bengal. (Revised Synopsis)


Today the gates of night’s fortress

crumble into the dust—

On the crest of awakening dawn

assurance of new life

proclaims “Fear Not.”

The great sky resounds with paeans of victory

to the Coming of Man.”

--Rabindranath, April 14, 1941, CRISIS इन CIVILIZATION

Pats and Patuas: Introduction

“Our intellectual society becomes paranoid by any thing connected to religion, and then they even forget the religion of humanity. Whatever it may be, they do not find any enjoyment (rasa) in the perception of religion, but they can preview these paintings (Pats) without associating them with the religion, because there is no difference between god and human. ….In their understanding the name Purusha (male) stands for Sri Krishna and Prakriti (female) is perceived in the image of Sri Radha. They are the mystery of creation, cause of mystery – and they were there, they are there. These images allowed the artist to take unprecedented freedom according to their allusions. Here the freedom exactly means their truth (or the context of freedom stands here from the perspective of their reality). It (freedom) most possibly did not have any application on the life in general, and then it could have raised criticism. Even granting this freedom we come to notice no distinctions between Sri Krishna and other Cowboys. I have mentioned earlier that here, there is no place for metaphor, here image is all and everything with each gestures, they woke up by themselves as there is no place for emotion (Bhava). Color has surpassed the line of the eye, where eyes do not expresses any resonance of the narrative. They have repeated these gestures because these always expressed the character of one and it is seldom subjected to imagination and it is incorporated exactly from visual reality.”[i]

Itinerant painters are found in many countries all over the globe. A significant purpose of their trade and existence must be their ability to express or campaign the need full without making any chaos or shouting. ‘Joshua Roll’ of Europe and ‘Dragon scroll’ of China could be viewed as other derivatives of Patua repertoire. Direct and indirect references show that in India culture of Pat and Patuas have emerged long past from her indigenous social background.

Some scholars have emphasized that during Buddhist era the Pat tradition had flourished with new recognition and openings particularly in eastern India (Bengal, Orissa and Bihar). The greater influence of Buddhisiam and Jainisam in the earlier Gour Janapadas worked as a background for higher concentration of Pauta communities in these areas and henceforth worked as a dominant factor behind their distinctive achievements in the field of Patachitra.[ii] Then time onwards Patuas have settled in various popular pilgrimages of eastern India. The heavy concentration of Chitrakars around the Jaggannath Temple of Orissa exemplifies the fact. But we do not find any evidence of scroll Pat in Orissa, where as the continuous existence and polyvalent achievement of scroll Pat can be viewed as a distinct character of Bengal Patua repertoire. Gurusaday Dutta in his seminal work BANGLAR RASAKALA SAMPAD, evaluates that long scroll Pats are most elegant and vibrant with higher aesthetic achievement among the various examples of Patua repertoire. Although scroll painting on epical narratives are also found in South India as well as Western India (such as Garoda scrolls of North Gujarat, Chitrakathis of Maharashtra, Phad pantings of Rajasthan) but the variety of content and singing of the scroll Pats are unique features of Bengal Patua repertoire. Singing of the scroll has its distant derivative in the performance of Bhopas who sings the narrative of Phads. Comparing these two repertoires Kavita Singh observes: “unlike the bhopa who is specialized as a bard but does not paint the images he carries, the patua is usually the author of the images he displays. Contrary to common belief, however, the patuas are seldom the composers of the songs the sing. Some innovative patas have songs invented by the patuas, but for the most part, the songs are drown from a corpus of traditional material; some times the songs by patuas are used also by other performers of the region, such as glove-puppeteers…The patua songs are usually short, sparse, almost a fast-moving inventory of events. The songs currently being sung seldom last more than ten minutes, but all through the singing the scroll is constantly being handled; new events are revealed and old ones are rolled away.”[iii]

In Bengal who paints Pat are generally known as Patuas. There are varied historical records, which would suggest that the art of painting was not solely belonging to the community of Patuas only. There were many other communities such as Sutradhar, Kumbhakar, Malakar etc. who also took painting as their subsidiary profession. Artists from these communities along with the Patuas who are also known as Chitrakars, together created the many-folded world of indigenous art in Bengal. Painting various kind of Pats such as Scroll Pat, Square Pat, Sara Pat, Ghat Pat, Ganjifa Pat were common to this communities along with other more reliable or permanent occupations like idol-making, pottery, wood carving and carpentry, temple building etc. which had better economical prospects then painting Pats. But in this whole list of communities Patuas or Chitrakars are the exceptions. All though they have taken other occupations according to their immediate needs but predominantly and primarily remained attached to the art of painting Pats. Binoy Bhattacharya observes “From the list of their occupations it is clear that Patuas prefer independent kinds of work requiring skill and intelligence which will not interfere too much with their itinerant habit. The Patuas being skilled in so many things can often do more than one job at a time and earn more than ordinary laborers.”[iv] To continue their identity as folk painters they construct a long and prideful history of struggle against multi-layered oppression and discrimination by the larger society. Some times they have shown resistance and in other times they stepped down but secretly saved their Pats and tradition of Pat painting. However unfavorable the condition may be, they never escaped from their historical role as painter or folk artist.

Coomaraswamy (1929) suggested that the Patuas had been playing their trade since thirteenth century AD and most likely centuries prior to that. One camp of scholars claims a post-Aryan origin for this artisan caste, while others conforming to nineteenth century nationalistic approach suggest a tribal source of the Patua tradition. In continuation with the later view Bimalendu Chakraborty (1996) opines in his book LOKAYATA BANGLAR CHITRASHILPI O CHITRAKALA that Patuas are originally Bede or Bedia. Sudhir Chakraborty emphasizes the fact in his book CHALCHITRAER CHITRALEKHA: “Patuas are specially an artist community who belongs to lower strata of the social system and they originally belong to the clan of Jajabar (Itinerant), Bede, Bagdi or Bauri”. Combined source of myth and oral history provides us some clues about this lower status of the above mentioned artist community. Brahmavaivartapurana (Shastri 2004), an important Sanskrit Text written in thirteenth century Bengal, states that Patuas were born of a union between Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, and a semi divine dancing girl, Ghritachi. Because of this disrespectful marriage both were cursed to be reborn on earth as low-caste Shudras. On earth she gave birth to nine sons, which can be red as nine castes. These nine castes were known as Navasakha group of the nine recognized artisan castes. They are Malakar, Karmakar, Kanshakar, Sankhakar, Kumbhakar, Tantubai, Sutradhar, Swarnakar and Chitrakar. The verse tells us that Chitrakars are grouped among the lowest three of the nine castes. So this account suggests the Hindu origin of the Patuas and also their lower status in the caste system. The text further informs us that this artisan community was caste out of Hindu society because they did not follow canonical procedures in playing their trade. If roughly translated, the critical line reads: “Chitrakars, for painting pictures untraditionally have just been expelled from the society by angry Brahmins.” In other words, they did not conform to the standards put forth in the Shilpashastra literature that lay out the aesthetic canons of Hindu iconography.

History shows that during the reign of Ballal Sen (circa 1160 – 1178), the second king of the last Hindu dynasty in Bengal, restructuring happened with the regional caste system into a rigidly ranked hierarchy of a variety of sub-castes and was known as the Kulin system. The Chitrakars were thus more oppressed as a result of this restructuring, which would explain their motivation behind converting to Islam when the Sen Dynasty declined from power and Muslim rulers ascended to the throne of Bengal as Islam had no discrimination on castes. Binoy Ghosh confirms us in his article ‘PATUA O PATSHILPA’ about the fact: “Patuas and Dhokras amongst the artisan castes/ communities, during these changing political and social equations under the Muslim rulers of Bengal, felt socially uplifted to accept Islam.” He further observes: “…every student of Social History surely knows that the most of the Bengali Muslims and Bengali Christians changed their religion as an outcome of protest against the intolerable and inhuman oppression and discrimination by the strictly Brahminic elite (Kulin) society of Bengal”. The clan occupations of pre-Hindu tribal origins were attributed or accommodated within the older-medieval Hindu society as the lowest in the rigid Brahminic caste system of Bengal. The process of degeneration has continued till so far with different faces in different times gradually turn these communities into mere mark bearers of this social discrimination. Discipline of Social Studies and Social Sciences indicate that one root cause behind these still persisting discriminations in the social atmosphere must be the selfish enjoyment of facilities allowed or produced by these discriminations. By creating subalterns in those lower castes/communities their labor were made cheaply available and less payable for the powerful elites or the upper castes people. The more downtrodden one becomes, his/her work becomes less valuable/payable to the society at large.

But about Dhokras and Patuas it can be said that their art and trade perpetuated from pre-Hindu tribal past to the present day. In between this long journey there must have been several disjuncture or punctuation. They became Hindu; they became Buddhist, then Muslim. Flowing with the shifting stream of history of Bengal, Chitrakars and Patuas of Bengal adopted many cultures and religions but never forgot their art. Hence we come to notice at least three distinct phases in the Patua repertoire. They are Pre-Hindu Tribal phase, Hindu phase and Muslim phase.

Diversity and variations in the Patua community and their repertoire of Pat would gide us to understand social cultural and aesthetic significance of their arts and practices. As we get to see different kind of Pats, Patuas/Chitrakars themselves are/were not the same always.

“....You have slept for unnumbered ages; this morning will you not wake”[v]

Changing conditions and changing paradigms: problem statement

Further study in the Patua tradition and the field of folk art in general reveals the changing paradigms and causes behind these changes. Any concerned reading of the changing paradigms must notice that the post–independence conditions of existing Patua repertoire demands more extensive and multilayered research with fresh aptitude and questioning.

Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and few others from Shantiniketan started practice-based research extensively in the field of folk and village culture and collected all available materials of great importance for the Nandan Museum. Earlier seminal works of Gurusaday Dutta and Dinesh Chandra Sen and few others who worked in the field of folk culture of Bengal are unavoidable till date and the discourse thus emerged is primarily outcome of the tireless works of these few concerned scholars, researchers and collectors and artists. With great urge they requested their readers to actively participate in the aesthetic search of the indigenous culture and its potent persistence through time but that did not really make any great impact on the mass in general or common Bengalese, in their understanding of the folk culture.

The multilayered cultural inheritance of the past civilizations and their cultures got objected and obstructed during the period of colonial rule and time after that. For the present discussion the important point to be noted is the consequential effect of the partition of undivided India on the cultural inheritance of the people of this subcontinent. The most severely disturbed two territories were Punjab and Bengal, politically, socially and culturally. But before discussing this later phase we need to look back to the colonial period where the above-mentioned disintegration started in all directions of the indigenous culture of the country and Bengal as well. Pre-colonial social system of village Bengal came to a stand still and the values and worldview of folk life, which were so far compatible, started tearing their roots from the tradition and its inheritance. We can notice that India’s history of modernization co-insides with the history of colonization and later with the struggles for independence.

During the collonial period changes in governance, land reforms by establishment of Zamindar system with a permanent contract (The Permanent Settlement, in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis), enforcement of new laws, tax system, rise of new business centers (Kolkata, Bombay, Madras, etc.), making of new roads, fast-spreading streams of railways, establishment of universities and restructuring of traditional education system every thing contributed in bits and pieces to the disintegration of traditional social matrix and its folk life and social distantiation as a whole. Self-dependent villages came under the Zamindar system and the landlords to pay the high tax to the Company and to maintain their socially uplifted economic status, started extracting the villages and its people. Farmers would lose their land, workers their trade, businessmen their ethics, artists or artisans their patrons. As their patrons, already deprived from their pride were struggling socially and economically, the artists would turn into destitute.

To overcome this helpless condition the Patuas mostly shifted to other trades and few of them who continued with the Pat-trade deserted their villages and started shifting to Kolkata, the newly emerged beloved city of the Britishers and the Babus. They settled around the famous pilgrim centers (Kalighat, Chitpur, Patuatola) of the city looking for the potential buyers from the visitors to these popular pilgrim centers, who were mostly villagers and middle class urban mass. Usually square Pats on religious icons were on sale in the initial stage of these new settlements, as there was no tradition of selling Scroll Pats to the public earlier too. Later on under the changing conditions these urban Patuas started looking for newer subjects and mode of production to attract the growing interest of the urban people. Thus the introduction of contemporary city life as a potent subject entered the repertoire with a simple but versatile linguistic approach. Kalighat Pats with all its brilliant achievements became famous and more famous in later days, as they portray visual commentary and social critique of the colonial Bengal and its urban culture from the urban Patuas. Probably first time in their tradition they played the role so directly and brilliantly.

Traditionally narrative scrolls were painted to accompany Patua’s performance of the Pat songs (pater gan), where the audio and visual combined together, one into another, would produce a complete arrest of the viewer’s senses. Historically, by this trade the Patuas of our country would play the role of mass educator and knowledge depositors to their audience. And the trade was taken respectfully and seriously in the indigenous culture. In return to their performance they would earn their livelihood from the monitory and materiel donations (dana) given by the applauding audiences.

During the difficult time of social upheaval due to colonial rule and modernization of the nation, uprooted from the traditional purpose the repertoire of Scroll Pats gradually lost its relevance in folk life and slowly started vanishing. Social and cultural distantiation gradually increased between urban and rural societies as well as between people within each society. Same happened between educated intellectual class and uneducated working/peasant class. Various attempts from government, non-government and cultural organizations and concerned individuals of post-independence era could not make any remarkable impact on the growing blindness[vi] thus generated by these distantiations. Somehow we lose the game in the beginning by depending heavily on the promotional and welfare-mode of engagement with the “other”. Following the participatory mode of engagement of earlier mentioned scholars the present research is a quest to find an alternative ground where the self and the other could no longer be segregated so distinctively. In other words the discourse of major and minor through engaging with each other would invigorate life vitality for both; where no one needs to bear the welfare of other.

The present research does not aim to achieve any new goal apart from the already asked ones by earlier researchers and scholars. Concerned scholars of the field through their valuable efforts emphasized the need for urgent concern from the people with interest in their culture and tradition for an engaging and participatory viewer-ship. The present research would try to find where we stand now, in this context of social cultural distantiation, after sixty four years of democracy and attempt to enquire how and why this blindness prevails both in the discourse of major art and practice of the minor art about each others context and inheritance. And who gets facilitated by these conditions? As Gilles Deluze pointed out “history is made only by those who oppose history (not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it).”

“…The musk is in the deer, but it seeks it not within itself: it wanders in quest of grass.”[vii]

Revisiting the discourse and mapping the area of the present research: context and background

The paradox thus emerged farther examined by Binoy Ghosh in his article ‘Social Distance in Culture’ (Samaskritir Samajik Dooratwa) through an appropriate quote from Lewis Mumford: “The fact is that only a handful of people in any age are its true contemporaries. Only sluggishly do the mass of people respond to the currents that are sweeping through the ruling classes or the intellectual elite; if this is mainly true even today, it was more so before universal literacy had quickened the space of communication.” Binoy Ghosh analyses, “With the advent of the new era most of the motivation (or activism) of these very few individuals does not get transfused into the larger mass, not even a percent of it. It happens because mediums (or carriers) of culture did not developed in the earlier ages and their natural development is facing difficulties even in this era of modern mass education (communication) system…. social depth or penetration did not grow proportionately with the faster expansion of culture cartographically”. Binoy Ghosh observes that geographical spread of modern culture too got obstructed during British rule because the colonial rule created various difficulties in the natural stream of progress and development in technological devices such as transports, industries, factories, towns and cities, etc. As its obvious result the distance between rural society and the urban society of present time gradually furthered and regional circles of rural culture got disconnected from the stream of the epoch culture and started getting distorted, decayed and in many occasions paved the path of disappearance (death). On contrary we come to notice that many elements of the tribal era and medieval era have comfortably disseminated (spread widely) into the rural culture of the modern era. Binoy Ghosh coments: “Scientists state that the most characteristic cultural mark of the modern era is delocalization (decentralization) of mind. Development in modern mass consciousness is naturally flowing towards this delocalization, but usually no sign of that can be seen in Bengal’s rural societies till date. In the society of Bengal (and also Indian society) the vertical expansion of culture is mostly withheld by the social discrimination with respect to caste-race-sect.”[viii]

The above discussion is put forward to understand the difficulties faced by any concerned researcher in the field of folk art and culture. Keeping these salient points in view if we proceed to the post-independence era of the Patua repertoire we face the similar disposition and distantiation, what obscures any complete appearance of the field. Tarapada Santra critically observes that the establishment of parliamentary democracy in India through mass elections moves towards identifying its people distinctively to bring them into the number game of politics. So the questions for confirmation become more prevalent than ever before. The clichéd debate arises with more clarity: are the Patuas Hindu or Muslim? Prior to the partition of Bengal there did not seem to be any strict sectarian demarcation, yet as religious communalism became a growing problem of colonial and post-colonial India, the lines of identity were gradually drawn, paradoxically within the ‘secular’ society of independent India. Tarapada Santra informs us: “shortly after the independence, the Hindu Mahasabha (a Hindu nationalist organization) made concentrated effort to reconvert Muslim Patuas through purification rite (suddhi). The process started from Kolkata and extended its mission deep into the villages of Bengal. Later on Bangiya Chitrakar Unnayan Samity was founded to organize the newly reconverted communities for the inclusion in the register of schedule castes and tribes. The mission is not yet completed; but the official organizations such as the above mentioned guided by specific vision and mission, caused stronger division between Hindu Patuas and Muslim Patuas”.[ix]

But the resistance has not died yet. Tarapada Santra observes, “But majority of them (Patuas/ Chitrakars) at the end, continue to reside in the middle-path. And Patuas who prefer the path of harmony actually remained attached with the profession of Pat-trade, where as, the other Patua communities beholding distinct Hindu or Muslim identity mostly have shifted from the Pat-trade (Pat painting and Pat singing)”. Tarapada Santra examines: “how the history of some communities among many possesses some indigenous characteristics in West Bengal. In the rise and fall of different kingdom at different historical juncture (Yugasandhi) these communities, marginalized by the new society converted their religiosity for the sake of survival. But they continued their own rituals, community faiths and professions. At the present era, their social history is getting more and more importance in the study of humanities. Chitrakar/Patua community of west Bengal is one of those.”[x]

Researcher or folklorist from his/her high cultural subjective position faces challenge to cope up with this ever reconstructing world of folk culture to deal with the plural-shared and always manipulating subjectivity of folk/minoritarian consciousness. Besides, there is nothing more contradictory and fragmentary than folklore.[xi]

In other words we need to notice incredible ability of this consciousness to adopt their life as well as practice to the changing conditions continuously. What is striking about the Patuas/Chitrakars is their resilience, their ability to adapt their art form to modern necessity by addressing issues of current interest. It is no wonder, then, that some of them have survived to some degree, even though many Patuas have been forced into other occupations.[xii]

Many intellectuals believe that the tradition is waning as a result and will not survive another generation (e.g., McCutchion 1989). “But is this really the case? I do not believe that it is” opines Korom. It becomes relevant to think what Binoy Ghosh would have said about the changing paradigms when a resource centre emerges at the Patua village of Naya, through the active agency of Bangla Natak Dot com (a Kolkata based NGO working for more than a decade on the field of folk and indigenous culture of Bengal). In this context it would be important to study the possibilities thus appeared with these changing conditions.[xiii]

Reviewing of the of the important literatures (publications, books) and marking the gaps citing the present research

Two significant publication of national impact have greatly contributed to the perception about the field of folk culture in India. One, ‘Picture Showmen: Insights into the Narrative Tradition in India’, a Marg Publication (March 1998, edited by Jyotindra Jain), regenerates the discourse of contemporary narrative picture tradition. The book of collected essays is one of the first comprehensive historical surveys of the manifold tradition of pictorial narration in India from ancient times to the present day. Contributors to this volume discuss a gamut of traditional genres – the early Buddhist narrative techniques and aspects of narrative in Indian miniature painting, as well as later narrative folk arts from Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and the Deccan, and work of Gulammohammed Seikh, “a neo-narrative painter from the world of contemporary Indian art.” Besides descriptions of actual performances, the studies include insights into the lives of the traditional performing families and their efforts to keep their art alive in the face of dwindling patronage. Thus the crucial work reconstructs a discourse with a Nationalist frame of the post colonial time to organize the so far scattered world of picture narrative traditions of India and looks into the contemporary conditions of those repertoires. ‘The “Murshidabad Pats of Bengal” by T. Richard Blurton studying and exploring the valuable collections of British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum reveals the brilliant world of Murshidabad Pats. He clarifies: “This brief article on just one group of the rich tradition of Bengal scroll-painting is an attempt to isolate a regional and chronological variant – the Pats from Murshidabad, dated to the turn of the eighteenth-nineteenth century. Whatever the future of these definitions, the brilliance of the colours, the invention of the design, and the sheer indulgence in narrative even when the episodes are not all known, mark these paintings out as works of art of verve, excitement, and importance”.

The potent present and performative aspect of the Bengal Pat repertoire is looked upon comparing it with the Phad tradition of Rajasthan by Kavita Sing in her essay ‘ To Show, To See, To Tell, To Know: Patuas, Bhopas, and their Audiences’. She confirms us that the Patua may carry or sing scrolls on Rama, Krishna, Manasa, Chandi, Satyapir, Christ, Jyoti Basu, or Indira Gandhi, believing in none of these. “The patua must be prepared for a heterogenous audience with a range of belief systems, or for an audience that is bored with what he has to show. Innovation has positive value hare…. The patua shows his scrolls by day, seeking an opportunity, at any time and any place, to perform. His performance occurs among distractions; it impinges upon his audience’s routine. The patua is not given a time or a space of his own; he has to seize a time, a space, and make his own. The bhopa performs at night, when the day’s tasks are done and his audience is able to dedicate itself to hearing his songs. His performance is from of jagrata, a wake, in which the audience chooses to participate. Listening to the epic is a meritorious act. Thus the bhopa is assured of an audience. To gather an audience, the patua depends upon his wit and ability to please, and his remuneration depends upon their generosity. The bhopa negotiates a fee with the patron before he agrees to perform. Others present at the performance are obligated to make an offering of at least a few rupees to the phad. In the eyes of the law, the patua is today a beggar. The bhopa is a priest.” Thus Kavita Singh with her concerned analysis marks the adversity of Patua’s life and his trade in the light of changing patronages of present time. .

'Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India';(edited by Jyotindra Jain, Crafts Museum and The Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports Corporation of India Ltd., New Delhi, 1998) is another most important work on the field of folk/tribal art and culture. ‘The Other Masters’ produced a way of looking back into the traditional repertoire and the subjectivity of the artist with a new insight. The discourse thus available through various contributions on the diversified field of folk-traditional artists of special acclaim, gives a sensible critique on the earlier modernist takes, precisely speaking, of J Swaminathan and K. G. Subramanyan. “ Although both Swaminathan and Subramanyan were involved with tribal art in a ways that allowed the emergence of third world resistance to the cultural hegemony of the west, invigorating and diversifying modern art practice in India, their universalist frame of reference and unproblematic espousal of “high” art foreclosed the analysis of tribal expression within the realm of nation”.[xiv] Going with this line the discourse thus available through ‘Other Masters’ created a new space for the emergence of folk traditional subjectivity in the national and international art scene of our time. The discourse attributes equal need to emphasize on the subjectivity of the artist from folk/tribal origin and accommodates them in the larger discourse on art as the Other Masters. In this context it would be relevant to remember Jyotindra Jain's curatorial project "Kalam Patua: from the interstices of the city" where he in association with the earlier project "Other Masters" places Kalam Patua in the “newly emergent liminal space” of modernist paradigm where: "a few individual folk and tribal artists walked a different path evolving new symbolic strategies and tactically re-interpreting cultural traits from their own past to emulate in their work their contemporary personal and social predicament."[xv]

Thus the new value added to the artistic subjectivity of folk origin brings newer aspirants from the community and established a competitive but invigorated atmosphere around their, so far dried up tradition[xvi]. But the project seems to be self contradictory or incomprehensible if we view it from the other end, the world of the folk. The valuable critique thus provided by Towards A New Art History: “On the other hand, Jyotindra Jain has worked within the framework of “high” art to overturn conventional hierarchies that leave no room for individuality or excellence of artistic expression to rural/tribal crafts persons. By means of art historical methodology of appointing and legitimizing individual “masters” he constructs an alternative history of contemporary Indian art. Despite the fact that he successfully makes a case for delineation of tribal and folk artists as creative geniuses equal to the artists of the elite sphere, the glaring disparity of the social and material conditions of their lives gets overlooked. His more recent work does takes note of the historical shifts in patronage, and the influence of modernity in the works of these “timeless” artists, yet the project of appointing “master” in line with the artists of “high” art bypass the implications of plucking them out of their communitarian and historical contexts.”[xvii]

Present research would address the gaps thus created by the abovementioned discourse to understand the changing conditions and changing paradigms in the field of folk art and culture. The new conditions are looked upon in the book ‘Village Painters: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal’ by Frank J. Korom. The book is written in the manner of a travelogue to the village of Naya, where the life and practice of the Chitrakar community was noticed with respect to various tendencies and potentials generated by the changing paradigms. The work frames the new enthusiasm in the community of Chitrakars with respect to the ‘global society’ of post-colonial, post-modern present. “Detached from their traditional backdrop this Chitrakars or Patuas now paint for the ‘global market’ of our time”[xviii]. So the connoisseur’s blame about the loss of tradition in the Patua repertoire of contemporary time needs to be viewed from this perspective.

To understand the above mentioned fact critically we can look into the valuable discourse from Veena Das’s ‘Discission: Subaltern as Perpective’ from “Subaltern Studies”. In this article she places the concerned contributions from various fields contesting the problematic of structuralist methodology where the basic concern for man revolves around the rationality of human behavior. “There is an over determination of man as rational being in the structurlist methodology; hence the category of affective action becomes a residual category in which all that can not be explained by the paradigm of rational actions is sought to be fitted. The category of meaning is reduced to the category of motive; the rationally controlled individual who exercises a constant and alert control over himself in the interest of transforming the world becomes the measure. All other forms of being -- whether of nonwestern man or western woman are understood in terms of a lack, a deflection from the ideal typical action represented by the paradigm of rational action. …. In this context the question is not whether we can completely obliterate the objectified character of social institution, but rather whether it is at all possible to establish a relation of authenticity towards these institutions….. In this context[xix] the contributions to Subaltern Studies make an important point in establishing the centrality of the historical moment of rebellion in understanding of the subalterns as subjects of their own histories.”

So the present research considering these salient points in view would look after the ‘subaltern consciousnesses’ (as invoked in the discourse of ‘Subaltern Studies’), in the repertoire of Pats and Patuas with respect to the changing paradigms as a result of the changing conditions of the present time.

Research Problem and Hypothesis

“Culture industry”[xx] documents, collects, museumizes and auctions the work as product. The methodical apparatuses of varied kinds like promotion, enhancement, design development, creation of new market and buyers, about which the artists have no clear idea, are applied to the practices of these communities with the tag ‘folk’. The artist starts enjoying facilities of such conditions and his resistance against emersion into the system starts falling. Henceforth the artist starts enjoying being in a secured mold which bonds him to paint or write or sing what the industry thinks worthy of selling. The situation becomes more severe when the market starts commanding not only what to paint but also how to paint. The preference of contemporary galleries and their appointed curators on foreign made papers and colors in recent time, promoting the branded materials in the name of quality proposed as a sure factor working behind the choice of the buyers, could be seen as an example.

In other words the research would problematize the blindfolded comodification of folk art and culture precisely locating the problem of distantiation in the Patua repertoire of west Bengal. At present time with the growth of “global market” for all arts an increasing thrust would be prevalent for mixing up of both major and minor art practices. We get to see in the present time that Bauls are singing songs of Rabi Baul and (on the other hand, in the main stream culture) Bengali Bands/Rock Bands are singing folk songs. What should be the parameters of these mixing and what emerges out from these changing paradigms? How far these interventions can defy the curse of cultural comodification by putting up resistance with a life practice with love and respect of the “becoming other”.

A basic concern for the present research is to understand and trace the contemporariness of the Patua Practice by developing “an interventionist discourse on the universe of arts and ideas”[xxi]. Here an attempt would be taken to transgress the standard hierarchies and disciplinary boundaries. This would help us to deal with the dynamism of subaltern consciousness of so-called "folk genres"; here for the present project, Patua repertoire of West Bengal.

Without intervening into the modernist discourse that constructs the category "folk" (as the other)[xxii] as an ahistorical timeless anonymous practice, it wouldn’t make any sense to understand the contemporariness of such kind of community practices.[xxiii]

In this context the emergence of Biswajit Patua who did MVA in Painting from Kalabhavan would pose fundamental challenges to the understanding of folk in the discourse of major/ “high” art. Here the question comes from the body of his work: Is the language and practice of Biswajit Patua folk or modern or contemporary-folk or folk in academia or just contemporary art practice?

The present research would thus enquire in the repertoire of Pats and Patuas how the market oriented appreciation and promotion for any kind of art practice and methodologies thus developed and established by pedagogical institution nourishes the blindness discussed above. When “..our modern mind, a hasty tourist in its rush over the miscellaneous ransacks cheap markets of curios which mostly are delusions. This happens because its natural sensibility for simple aspects of existence is dulled by constant pre occupations that divert it.”[xxiv]How the changing cultural conditions and social atmosphere dissociate folk/tribal art practices from its basic mode of production and consumption. Viewed from this perspective the anxiety of connoisseurship about the loss of tradition in the field of folk/tribal art needs to be cross-checked with a self-critical frame. The blemish tones about the “contaminated folk” in the cultural sphere need to go through self-verification about one’s own understanding of his/her culture and tradition and the other. The way great souls of Bengal like Rabindranath, Najrul, Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Gurusaday Dutta, and in the later times cultural historians like Binoy Ghosh, Trarapada Santra participated in the folk life and art overcomes the hierarchical value judgments which make the blindness functioning. Their intervention into the field produced life vitality for both the self and other. Their love and respect of the folk life and culture transgressed the disillusions of otherness and prepared a process of “becoming” other by tracing the inheritance within (the self).[xxv]

Re-entering the quest; working plan; field work; research methods

sadho bhai , jibat hi karo asa


If He is found now, He is found then,

If not, we do but go to dwell in the City of Death.

If you have union now, you shall have it hereafter.

Bathe in the truth, know the true Guru, have faith in the true Name!

Kabir says: ‘It is the Spirit of the quest which helps; I am the slave of this Sprit of the quest.’[xxvi]

So the emergence of Kalam Patua in the larger discourse of art need to be reviewed keeping these salient points in mind and would provide a major concern for the present thesis. Works of Kalam Patua would be revisited accordingly for the search of an alternative subjectivity of ‘minoratarian consciousness.’

Biswajit Patua’s works and his practice would provide another departure point in the repertoire. His ‘becoming’ would be studied for the present thesis, analyzing his works done so far and during the course of the present research.

Paintings of Bhaskar Chitrakar, youngest son of Dulal Chitrakar, an idol maker and sculptor with national fame from Kalighat, would be studied as another variable from the changing paradigms. Bhaskar Chitrakar can be named as the only painter of ‘Kalighat Patchitra’ in the whole repertoire. Though painting is an occasional job for Bhaskar who primarily works in the family workshop for idol making, still his growing endeavor in the field of painting demands a critical acclaim for the present research. His practice of painting mostly so far remained in promotional mode. Order is placed first then the work is produced.

Works of Banku Patua and his sons, and works of Baidyanath Patua would be revisited to understand postcolonial development in the repertoire of Musirabad Pat. For this purpose discussion with Pulakendu Singha would provide some important insights. He has worked heart and soul for the upliftment of the community to the national and international art scene.

Works of Dukhushyam Chitrakar and Ajit Chitrakar and their successors like Rani Chitrakar, Swarna Chitrakar from Medinipur, would be reviewed to understand their influence in the changing paradigms of the repertoire. The documentary on Dukhushyam and Medinipur Chitrakars by Supriyo Das, HANIFAR SWAPNO’ (Dream of Hanifa), not yet seen, may provide some important insights on the repertoire.

Works from (not so much explored) community of Chitrakars from Purva Medinipur would make another case for the present research. To empower the discourse with other derivatives the works of existing Patua communities from Howrah, 24-Pharganas, Nadia, Birbhum and Bardwan would be extensively researched for the present thesis.

The changing paradigms of Orissa Patachitra and the works of some of the important artists from the repertoire (Anantha Moharana, Bibhu Moharana, Rabindranath Sahu, Bijoy Parida and some others) would be examined for the present research. The other derivatives of narrative painting tradition, as already discussed in this paper, from Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the Deccan would be revisited for a comparative analysis in understanding the changing paradigms of the folk repertoire.

During the first six months of the present project I would try to finish the archival works visiting the libraries of Kolkata (National Library, Gurusaday Museum Library, Kolkata University Library, Rabindrabharati University Library) and Libraries of Viswabharati, Santiniketan. Study of the collected works of Asutosh Museum, Gurusaday Museum, the State Archeological Museum, Behala and collections of Tarapada Santra in the Anandaniketan Samgrahasala of Bagnun and other important collectors would be completed tentatively within one year of the present research.

National fieldwork for the other derivatives as mentioned before, and collected works of various Museums (one important is Delhi Crafts Museum) would be completed within two years. During these period necessary interviews would commence and continue with K.G. Subramanyan, Jyotindra Jain, G. M. Sheikh, Kavita Singh and other important persons whose interventions in the discourse on folk-tribal arts and cultures contributed for the present research.

The next one year I would like to spend writing the thesis paper accordingly taking notes of the concerned suggestions from any quarter through discussions. And according to my understanding the present project would demand at least three years to take a shape.

asatoma satgamaya; tamasoma yotirgamayo; mirturma amritamgamayo

[i] Kamal Kumar Majumder, Bangiya Shilpadhara O Annanya Prabandha

[ii] Sarasikumar Saraswati’s book on Pal paintings PALYUGER CHITRA KALA provides us some brilliant examples of Patachitra (painting on wooden book cover).

[iii] See the article ‘To Show, To See, To Tell, To Know: Patuas, Bhopas, and their Audiences’

[iv] Bhattacharjee, Binoy. Cultural Oscillation: A Study on Patua Culture, Culcutta: Naya Prakash. 1980

[v] SeePOEMS OF KABIR, Rbindranath Tagore, RABINDRA RACHANAVALI, Rupa, 2002

[vi] As observed by Clifford, “An ignorance of cultural context seems almost a precondition for artistic appreciation. In this object system a tribal piece is detached from one milieu in order to circulate freely in another, a world of art of museums, market, and connoisseurship”.

[vii] SeePOEMS OF KABIR, Rbindranath Tagore, RABINDRA RACHANAVALI, Rupa, 2002

[viii] Binoy Ghosh, Samaskritir Samajik Dooratwa

[ix] Tarapada Santra “Patua o Patachitra, Medinipur, Hawrah o Chchobbish Porgana”

[x] Tarapada Santra “Patua o Patachitra, Medinipur, Hawrah o Chchobbish Porgana”

[xi] Gramsci opposing Raffaele Corso’s attribution of the folklore as “contemporary pre-history” emphasizes: “the minor arts have always been tied to the major arts and had been dependent upon them thus folklore has always been tied to the culture of the dominant class and, in its own way, has drawn from it the motives which have then become inserted into combinations with the previous traditions. Besides, there is nothing more contradictory and fragmentary than folklore.”

[xii] “…Yet capitalism having destroyed at the root of collective way of life or make a position of the same…Folk art can no longer economically sustain in any honorable fashion,….What then is the reason for its survival if not as a political act of resistance against the phenomena of forgetting that capitalism entails….” Anita Dube, Questions and Dialogue Exhibition catalogue article, Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery, Baroda, 1987.

[xiii] The basic lines of thought as executed here had their origin in the earlier dissertation project at FFA, MSU, Baroda. One important out come of this early phase of the discourse happened to be the curatorial project (Changing Paradigms of the ‘Folk’: Chitrakars from Naya) at gallery Kaleidoscope of Baroda, 2007. Twelve Chitrakars from Naya were invited for the workshop and exhibition. This curatorial project perceived as an academic exercise later on got invigorated by the insights and inputs from the Baroda art community. In a sense this was an attempt to revitalize the Patua practice through bringing it at the gallery conditions of Baroda and its majoritarian field to generate an interactive space for both. In this workshop opportunities were created to invoke an interactive spectatorship by tracing the aesthetic nuances of the practice and its performative possibilities. This opened up an opportunity to understand and to become conscious about the contemporary developments of the Patua repertoire

[xiv] See Towards New Art History, introductory essay to the collection Towards New Art History: Studies in Indian Art.

[xv] See the catalogue essay by Jyotindra Jain.

[xvi] So, Kalam Patua becomes one amongst 'The Other Masters'; as he becomes the exception in the backdrop of his community (Patua community) which has been homogeneously constructed undermining the differences of various natures, all through the modernist art historiography as an ahistorical category. In this context it would be worthwhile for the discourse to remember Foucault: “Discipline constitutes itself only through limiting the field and it functions through politics of inclusion and exclusion.”

[xvii]See Towards New Art History, introductory essay to the collection Towards New Art History: Studies in Indian Art

[xviii] Korom Frank J, Village Painters: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal, Museum of International folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

[xix]After all, even the work of Goffman and Foucault, committed to recovering the knowing subject, has shown how the reified and alienating power of society flows through the tiniest capillary branches of society. How can the representational closure with which thought presents itself be shown to be the product of thinking subjects? In other word, are there reflexive devices which at as ‘corrections’ or ‘interrogations’ in relation to a given society?” ( From the same article)

[xx] The valuable insights provided by Theodor Adorno (in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception) invigorates the discourse at hand: “…Even today the culture industry addresses works of art like political slogans and forces them upon a resistant public at reduced prices; they are as accessible for public enjoyment as park. But the disappearance of their genuine commodity character does not mean that they have been abolished in the life of a free society, but that the last defense against their reduction to culture goods has fallen……Criticism and respect disappear in the culture industry; the former becomes a mechanical expertise, the latter is succeeded by a shallow cult of leading personalities. Consumers now find nothing expensive. Nevertheless, they suspect that the less anything costs, the less it is being given them. The double mistrust of traditional culture as ideology is combined with mistrust of industrialized culture as a swindle”

[xxi] See the first issue of Journal of Arts and Ideas, October 1982.

[xxii] As informed by Santhosh. S: “The studies in Indian art largely comprises of documentation of sites and objects with a kind of empiricism, the second group is a constellation of formalistic/stylistic analysis of them, the third category is a kind of social history of Indian art. Above all the differences in foundational methodologies they all share an idealist notion of history. This idealist notion of history closely linked with the idealist notion of nation and its golden past. So to say one of the primary functions of these texts is to produce an ideal ground to establish an organic existence of nation in order to bury its others. Because of this complex materiality of knowledge, each of our pedagogic acts conforms with the fact that each lesson on history we are undertaking is at the same moment mark an opposition to the history.” ( from Thinking about ‘New’ in the age of New Conventionalities in Nandan, vol.xxix 2010)

[xxiii] To make a point here, works of Dukhushyam Chitrakar, the most eminent from that village of Naya, with all the disjuncture of formal as well as contextual concerns, enlivens a subjectivity that functions in a position of “becoming”. All through his life and work he explored various subjects and their narrations addressing different social, political and environmental issues. Although many of the narratives are derived from the convention (like the mythological ones) and promotion by other cultural agencies of majoritarian concern (like the HIV Pat), some of them (i.e. Congress Biplabi (split of Congress), Jibankahini (autobiography) are self-generated and shows all the marks of individual subjective agency with a minoritarian consciousness as he remained the most influential agency (as an example as well as a teacher) to contemporanize the present practice of his community. These variables are not some kind of fixed categories; rather function in continuous overlaps and in contestations and put the question of subjectivity in complex.

[xxiv] Rabindranath Tagore, The Religion of an Artist.

[xxv] Rabindranath Tagore, the first noble laureate of Asia (for the famous English translation of Gitanjali), was also known as Rabi Baul of the people. Jamini Roy the most well known modern painter of his time internationally, is commonly known as Jamini Patua. How does it happen?

[xxvi] SeePOEMS OF KABIR, Rbindranath Tagore, RABINDRA RACHANAVALI, Rupa, 2002

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Monday, October 4, 2010


    Whatever is here is a collective discourse emerged out from last two year’s engagement with the critical space of Art history and Aesthetics department of present day (before the expulsion of Prof.Shivji Panikkar, in the controversial “Obscene Art” issue) M S University, Baroda.
    During my stay and study at Santiniketan, Kalabhavan I met several Chitrakars/ Patuas from different parts of W Bengal as they come to visit the campus as well as to participate in the Melas of Santiniketan and Sriniketan. Most if not all of the cases, if not all, they were from Medinipur and predominantly from Naya village of Paschim Medinipur. My engagement with them started with Rahim Chitrakar, elder son of Patua Guru Dukhushyam Chitrakar, as he used to stay with us in the hostel whenever he would visit Santiniketan.
    This relationship developed into an interactive friendship as we slowly became aware about the cotemporary conditions of our practices, life and struggles. These persist and continue their becoming.
    This becoming seems to point to an interactive communication between two communities, one of the students of Kalabhavan and the other of the Patuas. However as these two communities grew together these seeming divisions, which persist, moved into a symbiosis and a partial merging of the two cultures developed into a shared understanding of our becoming.
    The vigorous and graceful performances and discussions of Dukhushyamda at Santiniketan enlightened us about the potency and practice of narrative story singing of the Scrolls. For us they were not the glories of past but a potent present, as they would surprise us with their critical but humorous commentary about the contemporary facts or issues, such as demolition of Babri Masjid or HIV or Tsunami.
    So patas and Patuas were not ‘the other’ to us as we find them in the written discourses and the studies of folk/tribal practices. This condition helped us to understand their world not of something different or ahistorical but as synchronous to ours, equally contemporary and conditioned by the historical forces of the time. This led me to further quarry to this contemporanity of the Patua practices and their contribution to the field of art as a whole.
    This critical space of this department of Art History & Aesthetics, M S University of Baroda, prepared the ground and produced a flow of continuous critical motivation behind the conception and completion of this project. This space is invigorated by the wake of New-Art History and its multiple openings towards interdisciplinary studies. It is a space committed to the project of decentreing the discourse of Art history as a majoritarian practice.
    Biswajit Patua, my classmate and roommate at Kalabhavan, with whom I never felt the communitarian other but in the same time who was never the same like us (who do not have any traditional backdrop) in the Institutional premise. Biswajit’s changing identity and his becoming remained the undercurrent behind this project, which produces the possibility to trace the post modernity in the neo- traditional practice of the narrative scroll painters of Bengal.

    Chitrakars from Naya, Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal: Changing Paradigms of the ‘Folk’

    My basic concern for this project is to understand and trace the contemporariness, which is always in a dynamism of subaltern consciousness of so-called "folk genre;" here for the present project, scroll painting tradition of West Bengal. Without intervening into the modernist discourse that construct the category "folk" as it's other and reconstituted the category "folk" as an ahistorical timeless anonymous practice, it wouldn’t make any sense to understand the contemporariness of such kind of community practices. In this context I would like to remember Jyotindra
    Jain's curatorial project "Kalam Patua: from the interstices of the city" where he in association with the earlier project "Other Masters" places Kalam Patua in the 'newly emergent liminal space' of modernist paradigm where: "a few individual folk and tribal artists walked a different path evolving new symbolic strategies and tactically re-interpreting cultural traits from their own past to emulate in their work their contemporary personal and social predicament."[i]
    Invoking James Clifford’s critique on the irony of antithetical discourse of modernist paradigm where Jain observes: The entire Western academic debate on folk and tribal art of non-western societies, as it took place in anthropology and art-history in the whole of the twentieth century, centered around the polemic notions of the protection and preservation of their cultural identity, uncontaminated by outside influences and those of progress and assimilation through exposure to modern industrial culture, especially pertaining to the notion of fine art, marked by the concepts of purity of form, cultural evolution, individuality and endeavor towards 'overcoming our ordinary relations to the world'. Jain quotes Cliford: "The concrete inventive existence of tribal cultures and artists is suppressed in the process of either constituting authentic traditional worlds or appreciating their product in the timeless category of art". Jain continues "in the process of constituting authentic the authentic traditional worlds of tribal art, the anonymity of the artist became the chief criterion for artistic merit-'If the artist isn't anonymous, then the art is not primitive'. In this 'Salvage paradigm' the identity of the 'Other' had to be kept intact not only due to the concern for preserving traditional cultures but also because the 'oppositional concept of primitive was essential to the construction of modern art's progressive rhetoric'. On the other hand the protagonists of the theories of cultural change and assimilation put a premium on individual creativity and innovation both within the inherited artistic norms and in response to the cultural changes that had occurred in non-Western societies under the impact of colonial interaction and post-colonial, capitalist economy-based developments. Though under the parameters of this discourse the art world may have discovered and celebrated the emergence of individual artistic expressions coming out of non-Western cultures, they were valorized for their formal qualities within the frame of the universal modernist aesthetic. As observed by Clifford, 'an ignorance of cultural context seems almost a precondition for artistic appreciation. In this object system a tribal piece is detached from one milieu in order to circulate freely in another, a world of art -of museums, market, and connoisseurship.'
    To continue the argument: One can notice the major epistemic violence of modernist discourse to situate 'folk and tribal' practices into the timeless, ahistorical, anonymous category and then compare them with the highly specific context of modernism in art historical/cultural discourse. Unproblematic modernist methodology of interpretation is applied to re contextualize and appropriate productivity of various specific community practices under this category made it available/amenable to Commodification and it functions through over-engagement with the formal aspect overlooking deliberately the context/content.
    As 'subaltern cannot speak' the speech-act is highly territorialized by and for the privileged class/cast; so happens the natural ghetoization of subaltern communities in the discourse of the major. This has remained the obvious characteristic of the genealogy of knowledge production from major discourse.
    In the absence of "speaking subaltern" or subaltern intelligentsia a consciousness of "becoming minor" could become the only activism and potency of humanities as discourse of the major. In this context one can look into the emergence of dalit literature as a crucial 'space clearing gesture' of minoritarian consciousness in the cultural premise of postcolonial India.
    But to understand the phenomenon in its nuanced politics of play and appropriation and re-appropriation by majoritarian discourse I would look through Santhosh. S's article 'SPECTRES OF THE 'RADICALS' OR WHERE HAVE ALL THE "RADICALS" GONE?' Tracing the genealogy of modernist cultural practices he locates the various methods of appropriation and re-appropriation of subalterns by upper class/cast intelligentsia.
    “General tendencies in contemporary cultural practices are indicative of the ways in which upper cast/ class intelligentsia tries to dislocate the subaltern's constitutive role from history of modernism. This move is symptomatic in the sense that it establishes and re-inscribes the upper caste/class (male) as the primary proprietors of modernity and modernism.
    Such moves can be tracked in the art critical/ historical practices as well. Art History/ Criticism as a discipline in India, from its inception onwards has been marked by its elite orientation and essentialist cultural nationalism. Clearly, there has been a troubling persistence of an essentialist nation-centeredness even in the work of many progressive thinkers in the general field of studies on art and culture. Certainly there is a noticeable difference between earlier modes of cultural nationalism (that of the kind of Coomaraswamy etc.) and the progressives. My argument in relation to the progressive (left-wing) intellectuals is that one cannot go on forever with a persistent attack on globalization alone and evade crucial questions related to the dominance of the neo-colonialist, upper caste intelligentsia in the sphere of culture in general. In fact, our 'progressive thinkers' seem to align themselves with the upper caste national bourgeois in the name of national identity, authenticity and sovereignty. The strategy of progressive intellectuals that is set against the backdrop of the nationstate and of nationalism enables them to define modernity in India as the achievement of upper caste and class elites. In this framework, the existence of lower castes exists only in a relation of inessentiality to it. The other strategy widely used by progressives in India with their "excessive' democratic impulse is of the appearance of some exceptional figures into the 'narrative of nation' as the token representatives of the subalterns and dalits.”
    The modernity hunts of the majoritarian intelligentsia in the minor practices attribute exceptional characteristics in the chosen subalterns and include them into the narrative of the major (nation). Project of "Other Masters" as could not come out of this progressive trope; and it equally effected the identification of Kalam Patua in similar manner. It is not to say that Kalam's works are less or more modern but to point out the very limitations of modernist epistemology, which colonizes "other" practices through politics of inclusion and exclusion.

    Now, going back to Santhosh's intervention to understand the critical conditions created through majoritarian betrayal of minor practices. He writes: “In Indian context, our experiences of modernity tend to be theorized under the rubric of the elite practitioners' angst in relation to hegemony of Western dominance. Due to this, the fight of the subalterns in India to register their presence in mainstream cultural practices faces multiple hazards. Even after attaining a political identity such as dalit and their assertion of a presence in the realm of political power, their struggles to participate in cultural practices have not even been addressed adequately and still their cultures more or less remain as something that has been accused of 'contamination' and regulated by the upper-caste [class] intelligentsia. Most of the attempts made by the subaltern art practitioners to engage with the larger cultural field are accused of as pop cultural betrayal through the regulation /attribution of their practices as authentic folk/tribal culture. The subalterns in India have a double challenge: the hegemonic and overarching discourse of upper-caste national bourgeois intelligentsia on one hand and the global imperialism on the other, even though their identities are often interchanged.”
    One needs to locate emergence and engagement of Kalam Patua with/in the larger cultural field in this context. The various methodologies of attribution/ appropriation underfuntions with transcendental of Hegelian notion to trace the exceptional/genius in the artist it interprets. It could not go beyond the fallacy/politics of inclusion and exclusion of liberal Marxist paradigm which is unable to destabilize the operation of binarism, because of its fundamental connectional problematic created by it’s dependence on binaries for the very constitution of it. So, Kalam
    Patua becomes one amongst 'The Other Masters'; as he becomes the exception in the backdrop of his community (Patua community) which has been homogeneously constructed undermining the differences of various natures, all through the modernist art historiography as an ahistorical category. In this context it would be worthwhile for the discourse to remember Foucault: 'Discipline constitutes itself only through limiting the field and it functions through politics of inclusion and exclusion.'

    Religious/Social status of the Patua/Chitrakar community:

    Are the Patuas Hindu or Muslim? Prior to the partition of Bengal by British, there did not seem to be any strict sectarian demarcation, yet as religious communalism became a mounting problem, the lines of identity and practice were gradually drawn. Shortly after the independence of India, the Hindu Mahasabha (a Hindu nationalist organization) made a concentrated effort to reconvert Muslim Patuas to Hinduism with the suddhi (purification) rite, especially in urban areas such as Kolkata. Later on, the Bangiya Chitrakar Unnayan Samiti (Bengali Chitrakar Progress Society) was founded to get the newly reconverted community on the “scheduled caste” register. The struggle is not completely over, however, for official organizations such as these have led to stronger division between Hindu and Muslim Patuas in urban areas.
    Many rural Patuas who still remain do not emphasize such distinctions, and they even attempt to alleviate Hindu/Muslim communal tension through their artistic compositions.
    In times fundamentalist religious leaders from both side (Hindu and Islam) attempted to convert and re-convert the Patua communities, which resulted into very complex conditions in different places with regard to diversified local majority. Some Patuas are executing fundamentalist Hindu tendency (specially who are living in a Hindu majority area), other are more prone to Islam and its Shariat. But majority of them, at the end, continue to reside in the middle path. Basically this part of the Patua communities, is still continuing the profession of pata painting, where as the Patua communities beholding distinct Hindu or Muslim identities mostly have shifted from the painting-tradition.

    Kalam Patua and his community:

    Kalam Patua; born in 1962, Jhilli, Murshidabad district of West Bengal learnt to paint scrolls from his uncle Baidyanath Patua who was one amongst the few artist in their community. Baidhyanath was an image maker and tried different professions, among which he would paint patas for his fellow community people who were poor and had, only option to play patas. They would show patas and sing songs in near and distant villages and in return get rice or little money for their survival. This profession was there as an alternative to many others like preparing sana for the weavers and particularly as an less dangerous but more respectful profession to snake-charmer's one. As past records show that Patuas of Birbhum and Murshidabad had a very different background and history to those of Medinipur. Patuas of Medinipur predominantly use the title Chitrakar for their last name, where as we hardly get the surname Chitrakar in Murshidabad and Birbhum. Taking into account the census records of both pre colonial and postcolonial period, it is evident that Patuas of Murshidabad and Birbhum belongs to the scheduled tribe community namely Bedias[ii] who had migrated from tribal areas of Chotanagpur to the fertile lands of these districts. Bedias are popularly known as Bede who catch snakes, play snakes (saap khelano), sell tribal medicines and till recent past considered as untouchables by the upper casts. After migrating to lower lands they slowly changed to different professions, one amongst which happened to be pat khelano (pata performance).
    “It should be mentioned here that surname Potua should not be the only criterion for fixing one’s community identification. Potua seems to be an occupational group. Therefore, all Potuas may not be Bedias.” This has been the proposal from Cultural Research Institute, Scheduled Castes and Tribes Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal, in responding to the issue subjected as ‘status of the persons using their surname as Potuas and claiming themselves as Bedias’, [Ref: His D.O.No. 29/TW dt. 22.7.88 on the above subject], in a circular passed to the Special Officer, of the department at Behrampore, Murshidabad. [Copy forwarded to the Sub-Divisional Officer, Sadar/Lalbagh/Jangipore/Kandi for information and necessary action]. It is clearly mentioned here about the community in investigation that: “from their occupational pursuits, social structures documentary evidences and other circumstantial evidences it appears that the subject group belong to Bedia.”
    Here the point I have tried to bring into notice is that although the community discussed above is identifiable as one amongst Patuas but they have a distinctive tribal past and belongs to Schedule caste by the constitution of India, unlike the Chitrakars of Medinipur.

    Identity of becoming Patua in the case of Biswajit Patua:

    The presence of a student from Patua community in an art-institution (Biswajit Patua in Santiniketan) would pose fundamental challenges to the categorization of folk from major/great/high practice. Here the questions lie.
    Is the language of that particular is folk or modern or contemporary folk or folk in academia or just contemporary art practice?
    My basic concern is with the question of subjectivity of a folk artist against a so-called modern high artist, and the given space within the existing institutional (in its larger sense) domain.
    Discipline of the major can only allow a minor to attain the liner goal, majority of nobody. It is always in contestation to becoming minor; as Deleuze says “There is a majoritarian “fact”, but it is the analytic fact of nobody, as opposed to the becoming minoritarian of everybody.” He further proceeds, “that is why we must distinguish between the: majoritarian as a constant and a homogeneous system; minorities as subsystems; and the minoritarian as a potential, creative and created, becoming. The problem is never to acquire the majority, even in order to install a new constant. There
    is no becoming-majoritarian; majority is never becoming. All becoming is minoritarian”.[iii]
    Biswajit Patua from Zhilli village of Murshidabad district after completing his secondary education got admission to the B. F.A course (2000), in Kala Bhavan, Viswa Bharati. He is now in the final year Post –diploma at there. Before coming to Kalabhavan he worked with (as a student/ apprentice) with eminent Baidyanath Patua of Zhilli, Murshidabad, who was primarily an image maker. And since his childhood he has close association with Kalam Patua, a young contemporary painter (Chitrakar/Patua) from his village Zhilli, now stays and in postal service since 1983 at Chandpara, Birbhum. He also after completing his secondary education (1979) thought to get admission to Kala Bhavan, but couldn’t do so due to economic hinderances.
    Kalam Patua learnt pata painting from his uncle Baidyanath Patua, and carries lineage of Banku Patua [according to his own acclaim]. At present Kalam’s works are exhibited in the curated shows with major practitioners (like Jogen Choudhury, Lalu Prasad Shaw), and also got solo shows at Delhi and Kolkata. To my knowledge Biswajit is the sole representative from the community in an art institution, and he would be the only one from his village (after Kalam Patua) to continue pata painting (if it can be called a continuity). Most of the young generation are educated and settled in state services and other utilitarian modern professions.
    All these biographical details are to indicate Biswajit Patua’s coming to Kalabhavan as a ‘modernist’ (and according to my proposal post modernist, in his becomingness of Deleuzeian discourse of ‘becoming- minoritarian’) intervention into the paradigm of majoritarian practice. The very presence and practice of Biswajit ‘deterritorializes’ the major. Through analyzing the continuous changes of his pictorial practice one can understand his ‘becoming –minoritarian as the universal figure of consciousness’.

    Dukhushyam Chitrakar and his community:
    The Patuapara of NAYA; its social-cultural-religious location:

    The Patuapara inhabits a unique place in the village, in that it straddles a predominantly Hindu population residing on one side of the main road and a predominantly Muslim population on the other. As such, it is neither fully integrated into the Muslim nor Hindu sectors of the village. In a sense, it inhabits a point in-between, allowing its residents fluid access to both communities, since the Patuas seek patronage from both Hindus and
    Muslims. But like their mixed identities, which have to be constantly negotiated in the course of social interaction, their lived spaces also need to be negotiated. Although in terms of caste status, they remain marginal; their physical presence is actually at the center, where Muslim and Hindu culture flows freely back and forth to influence their ideas about the world as well as the content of their painting and singing compositions.
    Tarapada Santra examines how the history of some communities among many possesses some indigenous characteristics in West Bengal. In the rise and fall of different kingdom at different historical juncture (Yugasandhi: transition of an age) these communities, marginalized by the new society converted their religiosity for the sake of survival. But they continued their own rituals, community faiths and professions. At the present era, their social history is getting more and more importance in the study of humanities. Chitrakara/Patua community of west Bengal is one of those.
    Although their profession is to paint Patas on religious myths of Gods and Goddesses and show them with songs, making dolls and preparing idols for worshipping and playing Hapu songs; in their religious status they are marginal to both of the dominant religion of the continent: Hinduism and Islam.[iv]
    But both of the ‘religions’ are incorporated into their living practice; or, we can attribute it as: being subverted by their subalternity. Scholars understand this sense of practice as ‘living traditions’. This understanding diverts a researcher channeling his/her consciousness through the big ‘manhole’ to heaven. Heaven in the sense utopia of hierarchy where every aspect of hierarchy will be omnipotent but everyone even the subalterns would be happy forever. It is a fall but falling upwards, i.e. towards ‘high’.
    Researcher or folklorist from his/her high cultural subjective position cannot cope up with this everyday ever reconstructing “physics’ of folk culture. The ideology, which offers him/her the subjective authority, gets constant challenges and threats from the living practices of folk discourse. The situation becomes like as if one jump into it and doesn’t know how to come out without ideological transformations. Or in other words, to lose one’s singular subjectivity to the plural-shared and always manipulating subjectivity of folk/monoritarian consciousness. It manipulates in the sense it subverts, if not the dominant ideology but also its own consciousness. It reminds us of Gramsci: Opposing Raffaele Corso’s attribution of the folklore as “contemporary pre-history” Gramsci writes: “the minor arts have always been tied to the major arts and had been dependent upon them thus folklore has always been tied to the culture of the dominant class and, in its own way, has drawn from it the motives which have then become inserted into combinations with the previous traditions. Besides, there is nothing more contradictory and fragmentary than folklore.”

    But in the field of minor practices (in this project; practices of chitrakaras of Naya village) it is always working in a dynamics. It shows the functioning of continuous variables. Here in my analysis works of Dukhushyam Chitrakar most eminent from that village with all the disjuncture of formal as well as contextual concerns enlivens his practice to always in a position of “becoming”. All through his practice he varied his subject and making of narration addressing different social, political and environmental issues.
    Although most of the narratives are derived from the convention (like the mythological ones) and other cultural agencies of majoritarian concerns (like the HIV pata), some of them (i.e. Congress Biplabi: split of Congress, Jibankahini: autobiography) are self-generated and shows all the marks of individual subjective agency. These variables are not some kind of fixed categories; rather function in continuous overlaps and in contestations and put the question of subjectivity in complex. In my understanding he remained the most influential agency (as an example as well as a teacher) to contemporarize the present practice of his community.
    Probably this contemporariness of their minoritarian consciousness is most important factor behind the continuous engagement from majoritarian cultural agencies into the exceptional growth of the community as practicing chitrakaras.
    In other words we need to notice their incredible ability to adopt their life as well as practice to the changing conditions continuously. What is striking about the Patuas/Chitrakaras is their incredible resilient, their ability to adapt their art form to modern exigencies by addressing issues of current interest. It is no wonder, then, that they have survived to some degree, even though many Patuas have been forced into other occupations. Many urban Patuas sing no more, but they do continue to work with their hands as wall painters, image -makers, signboard painters, and so on (Siddiqui1982). Those who continue to perform the hereditary occupation of the caste, [recorded as OBC] as many in Naya indeed do, find themselves sitting on the concrete sidewalks of Kolkata, in lobbies of five-star hotels, and at crafts fairs all around India and even abroad selling scrolls rather than singing about them. In other words, as traditional patronage has declined, Patuas have had to explore new venues and entice new audiences. To be successful at this, they also continue to compose about new themes.

    Modern Life and Changes:

    In his book VILLAGE OF PAINTERS: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal, which came out as a product of five year long whole hearted research and fieldwork living with the Patuas of Naya village, Frank J. Korom gives an appropriate picture of the changes in the practice and the community as well:
    It is no understatement to say that modernity has resulted in a substantial loss of traditional patronage from rural audiences, which means that the Patuas must now seek out new ways to market their craft (Hauser 1994, 2002). The most noticeable change is that instead of using the scrolls as a prop for the performance of the tune, Patuas are now selling the scrolls. In other words, no longer are the song performances central to the economic dimension of the tradition, and some painters does not even bother new songs, just new scrolls. One Patua in Naya said, "Foreigners don't understand
    Bengali anyway, so why bother. They just want the pat." Patuas with this short of attitude are now mass-producing scrolls for popular consumption.
    Some, such as Gurupada, Manu, Svarna, and Rani do continue to innovate and compose. Gurupada and Manu even keep notebooks in which they compose their songs. After completing the verses, they paint the accompanying scroll. Svarna and Rani, in contrast, being virtually illiterate, compose in their heads, or have a literate male relative write it down. But since they cannot read, it does them little good to have a new song on paper.
    In all of the cases, whether oral or written, a narrative is first constructed, after which it is committed to canvas. Many Bengali intellectuals believe that the tradition is waning as a result and will not survive another generation (e.g., McCutchion 1989). But is this really the case? I do not believe that it is.
    Comparing with the conditions of Orissa patachitra Korom evaluates the future of this genre from West Bengal.
    Much recent ethnographic literature on material culture has focused on the effect that globalization and transnationalism (Appadurai 1996) have had on the production and consumption of traditional arts (e.g., Marcus and Myers 1195; Steiner 1994). By and large, these studies indicate that traditional art forms are subject to mass production and commodification when they are excised from local contexts for the purpose of international trade and display. The result of such “traffic in culture” varies from place to place, but one thing generally found to be true by the investigators is that the local production of art becomes competitive and contested when it enters the international arena. In the Indian context, Helle Bundaawrd's (1996, 1998) studies of Orissa's patta citra (leaf picture) tradition provide useful insights into the arenas within which meanings and values are constructed. She moves beyond the local and regional dimensions of the tradition to discuss elite discourses that have occurred on national and international levels ever since official awards were initiated to recognize the aesthetic value and artistic merit of the genre. Such a global scenario of competition stimulated by artistic fame and economic potential has led both cooperation and conflict in Orissa, Which has further resulted in ongoing formation of what she refers to as contested art worlds. I see the same kind of thing happening in Naya, where, due to stiff competition, all sorts of conflicts arise within the Patua community over issues of patronage, jealousy, innovation, and even ownership, ever since intellectual property rights became an issue in India
    (Korom: 2006).
    The traffic in Indian art is by no means new (Davis 1907), but it has increased considerably in modern times since the Festival of India toured the United States in 1985-1986 (Kurin 1988). Since then, Indian festivals have occurred in many nations of European Union, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, which has exposed numerous local artists to potentially new audiences and markets. These brief visits in turn have conditioned the way that local artists now cope with modernity in India (e.g., targeting tourists as potential patrons). The Patuas of Naya with whom I have worked are a good case in point because a small number of them have been abroad. Gurupada has visited the United States, Spain, and Italy. Dukhushyam has been to Australia, while Svarna and her brother Manu visited Sweden (Haglund and Malmestrom 2003). Rani has been to Scotland. In each instance, they returned home a little wiser and a little wealthier. These trips have inspired them to continue experimenting with their tradition. But it has also inspired jealousy in those less fortunate Patuas who have not received international invitations. Moreover, an increasing number of what we might call "cultural brokers", such as members of the West Bengal Crafts Council and NGOs like Bangla, are collaborating with Patuas to devise alternative materials on which to paint (e.g., T-shirts, lampshades) and to create new contexts for marketing their tradition (e.g., folk festivals, crafts fairs, and hotels). Inevitably, this has led to commodification, but also more diversity and a certain amount of economic empowerment that has allowed some of Naya's Patuas to renovate and live somehow better life.
    Nongovernmental organization (NGOs) have also collaborated with Patuas to compose songs on themes such as AIDS prevention, dowry deaths, the importance of literacy and education, rural hygiene, tsunami relief, and a variety of other pressing social issues. Yet outsiders are not responsible for initiating all of the new materials in Patua repertoire.

    Feminism in Patua Repertoire:

    The growing presence and emerging renounce of women artists in the Patua community is internally revolutionizing the field as observed by some recent scholars of the practice such as Frank J. Korom. Observing the subversive interpretation of some poignant verses where the wayfaring wife disillusioned by modernity is shown punished by the Yama, which clearly shows moralistic orthodoxy of the male biases of the Patua repertoire, by women Patuas of Naya, he writes: “Perhaps female empowerment is still only a desire for Patua women, since there are many paradoxes in Patua theory and practice…. Nonetheless, the very fact that women explained the narrative to me in a subversive way suggests that they are already walking down the road of liberation.”(Korom: 2006, p-77).

    Frame and aim of the present curatorial project:

    Twelve Chitrakars from Naya are selected as representative of the community for the workshop and exhibition. The group consists of almost equal numbers of women and men practitioner of well renounce. The workshop would be attended by invited eminent and young artists of Baroda to make the project interactive with the art practices of Baroda. Every day evening there would be performances of Patas, group and individual both the modes of performance would be interpreted or translated by competent persons with a sound knowledge of Patua repertoire. Two or three narratives would be dealt with every day, completing almost all the major narratives in practice. At least two variations would be performed to manifest the changes happens in each performances. Along with the scrolls there would be subsequent numbers of square Patas in display that would be framed properly and would serve the usual gallery orientation.
    Some of the lost narrative such as once very popular story of Monohar Fansira would be recollected with reference to two variations of the same subject documented from Gurusaday Museum, Kolkata in the ten day long workshop. Some of the new themes like stories of Baroda could also be invoked depending upon the interest of the participating Chitrakaras.
    In a sense this would be an attempt to revitalize the Patua practice faced by the new challenges at the gallery conditions of Baroda and its majoritarian field. In this consequence spectators would also get more interactive opportunity to understand the nuances of the practice and its performative possibilities.
    Through this project the rising gap between major and minor practices of this kind, could be transgressed to understand and to become conscious about the contemporary developments as well as the post modernity of the Patua repertoire.
    [i] See the catalogue essay by Jyotindra Jain.
    [ii] (Bedias, the beneric name of a number of vagrant gypsy-like groups, of whom it is difficult to say whether they can properly be described as castes. The following groups are included under the name (1) Babajia, Lava, or Patwa, pedlars and mountebanks professing to be Mohomedans, but singing songs in praise of Rama and Lakshmana…,.(2) Bazigar…[acrobats], (3) Mal [a hillman or wrestler], (4) Mir-shikar [hunter], (5) Samperia [snake- charmers], (6) Shandars [most orderly and industrious of the Bediya division, makers of shana ,combs made of split bamboo and seasoned wood; {at present iron is also used, shana through which threads are arrenged, is the crucial component of handlooms}. Of late years they have all become converts to Islam, but Mohomedans do not admit them into their society, and refuse to intermarry, to eat, and to pray with them], (7) Rasia Bedias [maker of zinc ornaments, anklets, bracelets, and collars for neck (hansli).]. From A Servey Report by H.H. Resley; Govet. Of India ; 1892-1896.}

    [iii] Gilles Deleuze, ‘Language: Major and Minor’, Deleuze Reader
    [iv] see Tarapada Santra “Patua o Patachitra, Medinipur, Hawrah o Chchobbish Porgana”

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