Mamata Banerjee with Jogen Chowdhury and Shuvaprasanna at the exhibition of her paintings on Wednesday. (Amit Datta)
Mamata Banerjee the artist may be an amateur by her own admission but as a politician, she is definitely a pro. The chief minister lost no opportunity in defending herself and her party’s image at the inauguration of her fourth solo exhibition of paintings on Wednesday.
The evening took on a political hue with a reference to extortion allegations against Trinamul workers caught on tape demanding bribes for illegal activities. “Ami churi kore party chalabo na (I won’t steal to run the party), that is my objective....If I wished, I could get Rs 50,000 as pension but I haven’t taken anything till date. For 23 years I have been with Parliament but never used the executive class. Instead, I’ve saved the government lakhs. I don’t expect gratitude for that. It’s my social responsibility,” Mamata said.
Announcing that a part of the proceeds from the exhibition-cum-sale, A Dreamer’s Creation, would be used for the panchayat elections, she said: “This painting exhibition is serving two purposes — political and public.”
“There is need for electoral reforms and, at the same time, as an individual, I try not to raise money from common people,” said the chief minister known for her populist stand on price hikes and revenue collection. “The panchayat elections are coming up and we don’t have money. I know that a lot of people might be willing to give us money if I ask for it but instead if I can create a fund from the sale of my paintings and use that to make posters and flags, that too is a thought.”
Funds collected from her exhibitions in 2005 and 2007 had been handed over for charity, including the benefit of families in Nandigram. In 2011, a part of the proceeds went to the chief minister’s relief fund.
If Mamata the politician was at her eloquent best, Mamata the artist was all humility. “This is just casual work. It comes from a habit of scribbling during meetings….Fifteen minutes-e shob kora (All of them are done in 15 minutes),” Mamata said. “I hope you enjoy the paintings. Colour dekhle mon bhalo thake ar egulo shob tension-free paintings.”
Persuaded to speak by Jogen Chowdhury and Shuvaprasanna, Mamata recalled her early days as an artist. “I picked up the paintbrush around 2005 or 2006 and was encouraged by Shuvada and Jogenda. It’s my nesha not pesha.”
Among the first-day browsers was hairstyling expert June Tomkyns. “I can’t get over her use of colours. I think they look fabulous. My dream is to own one of her paintings,” smiled June, who chose a painting titled Dream of Night. “I think I’d like to put it up in my salon where everyone can see.” She promised to be back on Thursday to finalise her buy.
Then there were regulars like Kashinath Koley and his wife and first-timers like Prosenjit and Sharbari Sinha. “We like her colourful and abstract work with nature. And since it’s by the chief minister, the painting assumes a different value altogether!” said the Sinhas from Belur.
The exhibition-cum-sale will be open at Town Hall till January 18.