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Hungry Bengal: art during the famine

How some of Bengal’s famed artists committed the famine to posterity

Gobardhan Ash
Somenath Hore
Zainul Abedin

Hungry Bengal: The famine of ’43 went largely unreported and undocumented. The Communist Party of India, however, did send artist Chittaprosad Bhattacharya and photographer Sunil Janah to tour Midnapore district, which was worst affected. Chittaprosad’s representations, stark and heavily annotated, came to constitute the pamphlet “Hungry Bengal”. The British seized and burnt all copies; only one survived 

Chittaprosad Bhattacharya

Bellycose: This sketch of a malnourished child is by Chittaprosad. The pot belly is a telltale sign of Kwashiorkor, a disease brought on by protein deficiency. The dateline reads Shreenagar, Bikrampur

ABP archive

Hole truth: Sculptor and printmaker Somenath Hore is known for his visual documentation and takes on the famine  

Family portrait: Zainul Abedin’s figures are sketelal in form, not sensibility. He would draw on packing paper with ink he made by burning charcoal

Shadow lives: Gobardhan Ash’s watercolours of the famine are awash with the pathos of the times. Ash was an art activist and in 1933 when some young artists of Calcutta formed a group called the Art Rebel Centre, he was the first secretary

Food street: This photograph of a mass kitchen is from the ABP archive. The food in these government kitchens, as historians have noted, was barely nutritious, not very hygienic, and often indigestible grains were used in place of rice, causing health issues to an already frail people  

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