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Kalam Patua, Kalighat Pata
Address: Sanhati Pally, New Hospital Road, P.O. & PS. Rampurhat,
Birbhum - 731224
West Bengal
Kalam Patua is the first patachitra artist who can lay claim to having reinvented the Kalighat style of painting in the modern idiom. 

Born on November 1, 1962, in Jhilli village in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, Kalam Patua`s artistic sensibilities were honed from a very young age. With both his paternal grandfather and uncle, the late Baidyanath Patua, being patachitra artists, and a maternal uncle, Gopal Chitrakar a patachitra artist of Ayas village in Birbhum, the talented Kalam easily absorbed the art forms that were part of his daily life. Not surprisingly, Kalam was only 12 when he started assisting his paternal uncle who also made clay idols. 

Initially assigned to only painting the bodies which required thicker strokes, Kalam quickly graduated to painting the faces which require fine, deft strokes by the time he was 13. Kalam narrates that the intermediate  coat of sago glue that is applied after the paint and before the varnish has to be applied swiftly and skilfully, so that the painted facial features do not run. This too he mastered merely by observation and quickly became his uncle`s chief assistant, not only in idol painting but also in patachitra painting. 

Beginning with copying calendar art, the first scroll pata that Kalam painted was on the divine cow Kapila. He was about 15 years old and his rigorous training under both his uncles continued for two to three years. His paternal uncle would stress on the drawing and his strokes, while his maternal uncle influenced the speed at which he painted. Patuas from the village who would come to Baidyanath for help with their paintings, would be passed on to Kalam . (It should be borne in mind that not all patuas paint or painted: some composed, some sang, some painted, and some did all - a patachitra is and was often a joint activity.)

Meanwhile, Kalam completed school in 1981 and joined the Industrial Training Institute. He subsequently received employment at the local post office. His reputation as a folk artist started spreading at about the same time, thanks to encouragement from people like folklorist Pulakendu Sinha who impressed upon him the importance of the patachitra. With further encouragement from the late Manik Sarkar, who was Deputy Director of Information and Cultural Affairs, West Bengal, Kalam began participating in workshops and competitions. He stood 3rd in a competition held at Medinipur in1987,  where people felt  that his work had been influenced by the painter Jamini Roy.  Kalam however had not even heard about the painter, nor set eyes on his paintings. 

As his reputation for his finely detailed patachitra paintings grew, he began to be invited to participate in prestigious national events like the India International Trade Fair, Apna Utsav designed by Rajiv Sethi and other handicraft fairs and workshops across the country.  

Kalam had in the meanwhile, thanks to an encouraging bureaucrat, Samir Roy Choudhury, visited Jamini Roy`s home and seen his works and it was here that he first got to hear about the influence of the Kalighat school of patachitra on Roy`s paintings. Intrigued by this style, Kalam began to visit Kalighat in search of painters.  

In the beginning, Kalam`s paintings were more in the Birbhum tradition, but this gradually evolved into a mix of both the Birbhum and Murshidabad schools. However, as his reputation spread, Kalam found to his dismay that it did not go down well with patuas of the two districts and was the cause of much unpleasantness. It was then that he took the decision to break away from his original traditional form, primarily based on folktales, gods and epics and develop his own individual  style. 

Moving away from Bangla patachitra, Kalam started experimenting with the Kalighat style. Kalam owes his tryst with Kalighat paintings to two individuals. Dr. Asish  Kumar  Chakraborty, the then Curator of the Gurusaday Dutta Museum of Folk Art, encouraged Kalam to study in detail the original Kalighat paintings in the museum`s collection to understand colouring techniques. It took Kalam two years to master the form and by 1989, he had started selling his Kalighat patachitras. But it was Jyotindra Jain, the renowned art historian and acknowledged expert  on Kalighat paintings, who added the final touch. Impressed with Kalam`s authentic style, Jain gave him both valuable guidance and thick newsprint with which to perfect his art. 

Kalam had begun with recreating the themes of the babus and bibis, borrowing directly from the Kalighat paintings of yore, but soon moved to a modern idiom.  Like his nineteenth century ancestors who depicted their own contemporary urban life in their works (babus and bibis), Kalam`s work began to reflect urban everyday life as observed  in the back-lanes of Calcutta.  

Recognition and appreciation followed. He appeared on national TV and in 1990, he was commissioned to paint a scroll illustrating the story of the French Revolution by the Alliance Francaise in Kolkata. Around this time he also experimented with several contemporary subjects such as ‘dowry death’ and ‘communal violence’ and was later, also part of a patachitra workshop on the 9/11 tragedy. 

Kalam was sent by Jain to participate in an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Canada in 2000. He subsequently exhibited at a Chicago museum in 2002. His works have been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, as well as at a group show in Paris. In 2003, he had a solo show at Gallery Espace, New Delhi. In 2012, Mousumi Roy Chowdhury, with an IFA grant, wrote a book on Kalam Patua, tracing his journey "from a practitioner of the traditional painting of Patuas to his transition as painter whose work is displayed in modern art galleries, particularly after the revival of the Kalighat pat in the 1990’s."

Meanwhile, inspired by Kalam`s success, a few patuas from Medinipur  had also started successfully painting in the Kalighat style. In 2012-13, in a collaborative venture between the V&A and Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, an exhibition on Kalighat Paintings took place on a national level. Co-curated by Suhashini Sinha of the Asian Dept at the V&A, the exhibition combined the best examples of the V&A`s own collection with those from the Victoria Memorial Hall and included contemporary Kalighat paintings from modern practising artists. Kalam`s works and that of three others, Anwar, Ranjit and Uttam Chitrakar were part of this exhibition. This was the first exhibition to show the V&A’s collection of Kalighat paintings in India while the VMH holds the single largest collection of Kalighat paintings in the world. The exhibition was a resounding success, but sadly, the new artists waiting in the sidelines were completely ignored. Neither were they introduced to the public, nor did the press mention them. This hurt  Kalam deeply. 

In spite of all the appreciation and encouragement that came his way , Kalam has only won a single award so far - the Aditya Vikram Birla Kala Kiran Puraskar in 2003-04. Winning state or national awards, according to Kalam, requires "networking" and he has thus never applied for one.  

Kalam`s Kalighat style paintings are no less in any respect from the best ones of this genre. Like the great paintings of the Kalighat tradition, his efforts are insightful and  provocative.  He has taken the conceptual aspects of Kalighat art and reinterpreted them, making Kalighat vital and relevant in the present.  His works are a part of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi , the V&A, London, the Liverpool museum, U.K. , the Museum of Sacred Art Belgium and in several private collections in India and abroad. His works have been showcased in Shanghai and at the Kalpa Vriksh  exhibition in Queensland, between November 2015 and April 2016, where he was featured along with other contemporary artists whose work draws on local traditions from across India. More recently, he has participated at the Serendipity Festival in Goa in December 2016.

Images
Kalam Patua : India Gate
Kalam Patua : My Post Office
Kalam Patua : Opening
Kalam Patua : Fish seller
Kalam Patua : Kartik
Kalam Patua : Lakshmi
Kalam Patua : Motshogondha
Kalam Patua : Sheepish Lover
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