The Telegraph
Saturday , February 1 , 2014
CIMA Gallary


Darkness is the singular ingredient of his paintings. Consequently, black is the dominant colour. There are some obvious references to the babu culture of late 19th and early 20th centuries, but these are only passing references. The fragments of popular prints — gaslights, aircraft, parachutes, Japanese bombings in Calcutta, horse and carriage and nautch — mostly in silhouette or flashes of colour are there. So are the dolphins diving in and out of the waters of the Hooghly — harking back to pre-industrial times when pollution had not exterminated much of the abundant aquatic life in our rivers.

Death is the most powerful presence in his large paintings. The dogs of war are unleashed and they leave behind a trail of destruction. Death is represented by the mountains of skulls at Nazi concentration camps and the corpses lying scattered on the streets of Calcutta which had witnessed the famine of 1942 resulting from the dehumanizing British administrative policies. While the Holocaust shook the world, the famine of 1942 has almost turned into a footnote of history. Basak’s striking paintings could remind readers of the illustration of the mountains of skulls in a Thakurmar Jhuli yarn. There is a touch of gallows humour in a smaller painting of a mug bearing the imprints of skulls as if it were a souvenir sold at some memorial of a genocide.

Basak is a collector of bazaar prints, and he has put to good use the ones churned out by the Battala presses. His sense of humour comes to the fore as he has blacked out parts of enlarged photocopies of these prints to create silhouettes in reverse of objects and animals one associates with Calcutta of yore. The vulture, pet cat, and the lantern are all there. Revealed inside them are the actual Battala prints — or at least sections of these not blacked out.Thus the deities, which were an integral part of the almanacs printed in the Battala area, peek out of sections of the prints untouched by black. The configuration of the spooky black shapes with the gods inside them is rather quaint. As if the ghosts of the past have invaded the paper on which the artist has created them.