KIAC exhibit ‘The Magic of Making’ celebrates ancient art of Bengal Patachitra at India Art Fair 2022
In Bengal, the Patachitra was primarily a bardic trend which also had stylistic variations in different districts
Kolkata Institute of Art Conservation (KIAC) is committed to providing services of conservation and restoration of historic and artistic works. An exhibit titled ‘The Magic of Making: Journey of Bengal Patachitra’ was recently put on display by the KIAC as part of the India Art Fair 2022. Patachitra, the Sanskrit word, at large, refers to the various illuminations and other forms of painted surface in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist arts which traditionally used to be done on cloth or Patta.
Developed through the pre-historic period until the emergence of regional trends, Pat played an important role, not only as a mode of entertainment but an instrument of cultural unification. “Traditionally, Patachitras were long scrolls that would say touch down from the ceilings all the way to the floors. And these artists were patronized by king to go spread awareness about certain things,” explains Keerat Garcha, Heritage & Art Conservator, Kolkata Centre for Creativity.
In Bengal, the Patachitra was primarily a bardic trend which also had stylistic variations in different districts. The greenery and abundance of vegetation provided plentiful choices for the Patuas to make paints from plants, clay and stones. Though the Patuas are traditionally trained to narrate mythological stories through the audio-visual medium, the creative art form is also being used as communication for development, creates ways for improving health, nutrition and other key social issues. The artists have integrated contemporary themes in their paintings and are also commissioned to paint wide range of topics like women rights, child rights, health, literacy and environment conservation to name a few. “Something can happen out of a miserable environment as well like they had not been in practice for a very long time and it was during the pandemic that their importance within the community got highlighted,” reveals Garcha.
The Patuas explored their immediate environment for making their own paints. For instance, GhusumMati, a type of clay especially available near the ponds, for white, black from burnt rice, yellow from turmeric etc. Gum obtained from the bael fruit is used as the binder and coconut shell as containers. The bark of Arjun tree is used for giving surface coat which fixes the paints as well as modifies the aesthetic appearance by providing a brown tint. The basic pencil line drawings are filled in with colour. Outlines of the paintings are then drawn with paint and brush. The paintings are dried naturally. A layer of recycled soft fabric is pasted on the reverse side of the paper to make the scroll stronger. “Typically the Patuas would take out the scroll, start singing a story, and go on and on about whatever the practice encourages them to do. And they would feel a lot of responsibility towards the community while doing so. More often than not they would always ask for food in return and not money. That’s the kind of relationship they shared with the viewers in terms of engagement,” explains Garcha.
The conservators from the KIAC visited the village Naya in the district of West Midnapore, which is known for accommodating the Patua or Chitrakar families, to explore the magical world of Patachitra, the rich heritage and the phenomenal artistry involved in its making. “We were fortunate enough to spend four days with the community and learn everything about it,” rejoices Garcha. “Now what’s happening is that these scrolls are not in wide practice anymore. Although, they are being collected, they are not in practice anymore. As a result, the stories are being lost. Many few people know about these scrolls and as a conservator we are trying to be well informed before we take important decisions about these artworks. A lot of art historians have tried to recollect these things from them but I feel as an art conservator we need to engage more in asking the right questions,” sums up Garcha.