Women with large kohl-lined eyes, dancers in vibrant costumes and flower-bedecked hair — women who, whether presented as goddesses or as mortals, are conscious of their own power, dignity and beauty — that was Madhuboni Chatterjee’s recent exhibition, Shree, at Gallery Gold.
Known to Calcuttans so far as an acclaimed Bharatnatyam exponent (empanelled with the ICCR as a national level performer), Madhuboni has been scripting, directing and choreographing offbeat shows like Annya Aami, Ranga Nayaker Janya, Vaishnav Padavali and others. She has also been running the Jahnavi Centre for Performing Arts. But with painters for parents, expressing herself in two dimensions must have been a natural extension of her creativity.
One of her first paintings had been that of Nandini, whom she found herself drawing while conceiving the dance drama version of Tagore’s Raktakarabi for her group, Jahnavi. The painting had become her point of reference for the moods and meanings she wished to communicate on stage. So at various points of time from 2007 onwards, she drew Ganga, Durga or Kali, using acrylic paints and oil pastels on canvas and handmade paper that gradually grew into this debut show.
The works are gorgeous and decorative, like folk painting. And like folk painters, Madhuboni does not care for borders — her Ganesh Janani has the same wide eyes as those of the woman gossiping with her friend and, like the latter, she carries an earthenware pot to bring water from the river. If Madhuboni’s Durga and Kali adopt familiar dancers’ poses and wield weapons with an artistic flourish, her Gopaler maa sits by her blue-skinned infant sleeping sweetly on a mat. As if to celebrate the rare moment of peace, she folds a paan into her mouth. Madhuboni’s Radha, like a tomboyish village girl, balances herself on one leg on a swing while her Shree sits on the ground under a tree — the epitome of beauty bedecked with pink lotus buds.
Quite a few of the ‘ordinary’ women wear the typical frilled blouses one associates with the women in Tagore’s works. They stand or sit alone with sad, soulful eyes in rooms with checkered floor or peer through windows. Caged, Me and My Pet and Breakfast are some examples.
Madhuboni has the required restrain in her works — nothing is overdone in this exhibition. But she would do well to give her work more variety. What about old women, women who are ugly or dressed in rags, women who smoke cigarettes, play the guitar or run the State — they don’t find space in Shree. The eyes too seem clichéd; even with more experience it seems unlikely that they could be used to communicate deep or subtle human emotions. Madhuboni is now building a stage performance on Draupadi. How that gets reflected in her paintings remains to be seen.