Unrolling the scrolls: Patachitra artists experimenting with contemporary themes

Fish is considered to be very auspicious to various countries and cultures. It is known to bring in fortune and this could be one of the reasons that this marine creature finds mention in so many folktales and fables. An interesting folk song (Pater Gaan) on fish is the Maacher Biye (marriage of the fish) which is sung by Patachitra artists of West Bengal.

Sonali Chitrakar from Naya village in Medinipur, West Bengal sings and unfurls the scroll to explain about the Maacher Biye painting. The painting depicts that aDariyan Maachh (Dariyan Fish) is getting married and there is a gathering of all other fishes of the pond who accompany him in his marital procession. The bride and groom are carried in a palanquin. As the story progresses it depicts that the other fishes (different types of fishes) perform diverse activities at the procession. For example, the Koi fish is shown playing the tabla, another guitar, Katla fish is shown playing the harmonium, Soal playing the flute and so on. Further, the painting depicts that the ecstatic procession comes to an end as a large Boal fish that gets left out of the marriage party is very angry and threatens the small fishes that he would devour all of them. Sonali draws a parallel between the small fishes and poor; and Boal fish and the powerful and explains that this story allegorically presents the deplorable condition of the rural masses.

Patachitra or scroll painting is a notable tribal folk art form from the tribal villages of West Bengal. Each Patachitra artist (known as Potuas) is a storyteller, poet, painter, musician and singer. Their creativity comprises the conception and interpretation of a theme or narrative, its oral enunciation and its pictorial narrative. The oral and visual are integral to each other and cannot be separated.

Traditionally Patachitra were painted on handmade papers in the scroll form and backed with cloth. Indigenous plants and minerals including turmeric, vermillion, and burnt rice were used for colour and sap of the bel (wood-apple) fruit was used as mordant.

Says Sonali, “Earlier we used to depict only cultural and religious stories but contemporary artists have started improvising from traditional stories and they depict relevant social themes and incidents like the Tsunami, 9/11 attack, the story of Nirbhaya in their art. We have also started painting on new mediums such as T-shirts, dupattas, scarves and even pottery.