A Short Interview with Swarna Chitrakar

Posted on October 28, 2019 , by Sreyashi Basu

Swarna Chitrakar is a renowned Patachitra artist from Naya village of Pingla block in West Bengal’s Medinipur (West Midnapore) district. Patachitra is an ancient tribal form of art autochthonous to this region of India. This art consists of a type of scroll painting which most commonly depict tales of hindu mythology.These multitalented artists, which are simultaneously lyricists and singers, sing and narrate these tales as they unfurl the scrolls.This folk artists’ community is called Patuas, and their songs are known as Poter Gaan in the Bengali language.

Greetings! How long have you been practicing this kind of art?

Patachitra is a family art passed on from generation to generation. We mostly paint about topics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.I’ve learnt the basics of how to paint and sing from my father …..from a young age.

What material do you paint on?

We used to paint on normal single paper, but now we use standard art paper and sow or glue these sheets to old scraps of sari and cloth with a glue-like paste of flour and water. We use different colours that are extracted from plants and natural food items.  Examples include burnt rice which give a characteristic black pigment, and neem leaves to give a green colour.

How did your work become recognized in foreign countries?

In 1994 , I received a State governmental award and in 1995 a district level award. In honor of receiving these prizes, I travelled numerous times between Kolkata and my home in Naya. Then from there slowly, my recognition grew as people started talking and spreading my news.

Where have you visited?

Within India – I have travelled to Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi to showcase my work. I’ve also been to America six times ,London twice, and once to Paris on the basis of numerous collaborations and to participate in residency programmes.

What contemporary topics have you explored?

I’ve painted on topics outside Ramayana and Mahabharata like HIV/AIDS, Honor killings of infant girls, arranged child marriages. Other works explore themes like women rights, the Nirbhaya rape case. I haven’t done any on TB so yes this would be my first.

Before this project did you know anything about Tuberculosis?

I’ve heard about TB definitely, but not in so much detail, no. TB has been known as a very scary thing to us. As I listen to what you have to say about the disease, and the fact that it can be treated and cured – I don’t feel as frightened to talk about it.

Do you think this kind of project will be fruitful to the community – In this case particularly children?

A lot of parents are illiterate as am I, and through Children, the scientific messages of this program can definitely reach homes of the ignorant communities. They know nothing about the disease, which is why spread of information between children is good and quite needed so that more people can be well informed.

The first video below is a “Patua Sangeet” ; which is a unique form of storytelling narrated through the Patachitra style artform. The painting is regarding the hindu Deity Lord Krishna who’s existence is largely associated with the Yamuna river.Yamuna is. a sacred river and the main tributary of the Goddess Ganga (Ganges), the holiest river in Hinduism. 

Krishna was believed to spend most of his youth in Vrindavan on the banks of Yamuna, playing the flute and playing with his lover Radha and the gopis on the banks.

To read more about Yamuna and Krishna : Puranic association with Krishna

This Parachitra narrates the historic tale of the Bengali Indigo Munity, speaking of the sufferings that Indigo farming caused to the farmers of the land. 

Credit : Banglanatok.com

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