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Artist and myth

Aditya Basak is holding an exhibition after several years in Calcutta, and once again at Akar Prakar. Basak has for the past few years been drawing inspiration from the 19th century. His last exhibition was on the printing press and how Bengal showed the way back then. This time too he goes back to the past and draws on personal history for the paintings, videos and installations being exhibited in this show titled Myth-Making.

Death dominates most of his works as he remembers the British-made famine of 1942 and the Holocaust and the Japanese bombings in Calcutta. He quotes 19th century popular illustrations and paintings to go back to the past. He is also displaying smaller drawings where he has appropriated famous popular prints and betrays a dark sense of humour.

Cityscape

The pen-and-ink drawings of Thomas Henriot, the French artist now exhibiting his work at the Harrington Street Arts Centre, bring alive the fantasy life of some great cities which he has explored and discovered for himself. Henriot, no doubt, depicts in detail some easily-identifiable iconic buildings and picturesque ruins in cities as diverse as Calcutta, Harlem, Morocco, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Havana and Benaras, but his flamboyant imagination turns them into dark and brooding dreamscapes, the perfect setting for a diva to burst into a song.

His drawings are large — some almost wall-to-wall and most of them composed of strips of paper placed side by side in perfect alignment. From a distance they may be mistaken for black-and-white blowups, but in close-up, the details are fascinating. The intricate details of florid and elaborate plaster designs, honeycomb jalis, fretwork and cast iron in ink are revealed through the washes of black paint that churn around and over the buildings. The buildings look as mysterious as the palace of the Beast in Jean Cocteau’s silent Le Belle et la Bęte.

The drawings are also displayed like rolls of newsprint stretched across the hall of the gallery. In these, he depicts slices of life in Havana. This city with its colonial buildings, he discovered, was very similar to Calcutta with its Leftist not-so-distant past. Here the voice of Fidel Castro is still heard, although he has disappeared from public life. The figure of a beautiful black man is the leitmotif in these works. The drama of black and white turns a fallen tree into a symbol of chaos with its whirlpool of swirling pigment. It is his ability to blur the lines between abstract and real that make Thomas Henriot’s work — presented by Calcutta Arts Club — so remarkable.

Soumitra Chatterjee performs a play at St. Xavier’s Institution, Panihati, as part of a three-day carnival. Picture by B. Halder

Contributed by Soumitra Das