For Swarna Chitrakar it is ‘art for livelihood’Baishali Mukherjee
Born at Naya village under Pingla block of Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal, Swarna Chitrakar belongs to a family of Patuas. The Patuas are scroll painters of a traditional art form called Patachitra from Bengal where the painters sing the story as they unfurl their scrolls. Earlier the artists mostly painted because they were passionate about the art form without it being commercially viable, and were often beleaguered with severe penury.
Economic stagnancies made Swarna’s parents marry her of early. Once at her in-laws village, Swarna
faced severe abuse and humility from her husband and his family. Enduring this plight for a year she went back to her parents and started reviving her painting skills that she learned from her father during childhood. Sheer dedication and effort yielded results and Swarna’s creations started getting recognition first at the district and then at the state level. In 1996 she was invited to participate at a grand fair in Kolkata. That was the beginning and the painter from Naya hasn’t looked back since. Swarna has now been reunited with her husband and lives a happy family life with five budding painter daughters.‘Pot’s (popular short name for Patachitra) created by Swarna has found place across the world in renowned Galleries and also as collectibles at the art collectors’ individual treasures. She now sets out for exhibitions or cultural exchange programs abroad three to four times a year. She has participated at major festivals in France, Germany, Australia, USA, Sweden, China, London, and all over India to showcase her creations. Art collectors and appreciators visit her village regularly for buying the artifacts or learning the techniques and also for getting acquainted with the life style of the Patuas.
Things have changed dramatically over the last one decade. From a nondescript village woman enmeshed in the rigmarole of an ordinary life to an acclaimed artist my journey was long and full of hurdles. However, I had confidence in my skills and worked hard to reach out my work to the outer world. Attending capacity building workshops and learning from multi media artists, both Indian and foreign, have helped me improvise my art to cater to the present day market. Traveling all over the world has also helped me broaden my vision as I learnt painting on new mediums which improved the repertoire of my art,
says Swarna who now paints on a diverse range of medium including cloth, clay and ceramic.
The changing times have also been deftly captured by Swarna in the ‘Pot’s. Improvising from traditional stories, today, she depicts incidents like the Tsunami and terrorist attacks on 9/11 in her art. Social themes like AIDs, child marriage, and child trafficking etc. have also found place in her creations. Swarna specialises in painting on issues related to women empowerment. She has painted on themes like female infanticide, trafficking of girls, the story of Nirbhaya and also sings songs composed by herself on these themes.
Over the years Swarna has emerged as a role model for the women of Naya. Many young women of the village are now pursuing their career in Patachitra art and are braving their way through years of subjugation, poverty and gender discrimination and achieving new heights through their artistic skills resulting in empowerment and safeguarding of their own traditional heritage. They too are travelling far and wide with their art and getting acclaimed as artists both nationally and internationally. The young girls are working together to run business enterprises with Patachitra paintings and diversified products.
It makes me happy to set an example for the fellow women of my village and inspire them to take up the traditional cultural heritage as a passion and profession,
enthuses Swarna, who is presently busy showcasing her object de art at NABC, USA.
Their art form has witnessed a revolution of colour and ideas. A visit to Naya will provide you the opportunity to get a real life experience about the art form, techniques and life styles of the Patuas.