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Artist with a mission dead

Calcutta, Dec. 12: Badhan Das, who died yesterday at 58, was better known for his serene and contemplative abstract paintings and sculptural pieces in ceramics and pottery. But besides being an artist he was a social activist who tried to preserve, revive and encourage the practice of the folk culture of the Santhals in the villages of Santiniketan.

Das (picture above) was also at the forefront of the movement to promote the use of the Bengali language in every sphere of life. The memorial in Curzon Park installed by the Bhasha Sahid Smarak Samity was designed by him.

A tall, well-built man with bright eyes and a flowing beard and mane, he laughed spontaneously and was not to be inhibited by middle-class mores. Das was born in a remote village of the Barak valley of Assam in 1944. He was a sickly, introverted child who spent a lot of time sketching in the jungles.

The heady Sixties with its movements against the Vietnam war and the bloody Naxalite upsurge made a strong impression on his young mind. In 1966, he passed out of the Government College of Art & Culture, where he later became a teacher. He became involved in Marxist politics and developed a strong belief in the social activism through art. His early works were figurative and narrative in nature.

He later became disenchanted with the reformatory role of art. He turned out to be an individualist. The final break came in the 1990s when his work became reflective and non-figurative. In most of his last works, that were almost in monochrome, there seemed to be the quest for a new reality.

His body will be kept at the Government College of Art & Craft between 3 pm and 4 pm for friends and admirers to pay their last respects on Friday, when he will be cremated.

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