The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the subject of several artworks at an ongoing art festival in the city.
Spunky anti-war cartoons and colourful canvases have been among the top draws at the open-air fair on the northwestern flank of the Nandan-Rabindra Sadan compound, part of the Charu Kala Utsav organised by the information and cultural department of the state government.
A stall set up by Cartoon Dol, a Kolkata-based cartoonists’ collective, has a wall dedicated to anti-war illustrations.
One of them shows Russian President Vladimir Putin holding two female miniature figurines named Ukraine and Crimea, both crying. Five similar miniatures are lined up at the bottom of the picture. They are called Belarus, Lithuania, Maltova, Georgia and Others.
All of them have grim facial expressions. Putin is dressed like Rasputin, the mystical adviser in the court of Czar Nicholas II and the alleged lover of the tsarina.
“We have grown up on a steady diet of Soviet tales and illustrations from Raduga (a publishing house) and other sources. I have tried to follow that template. When Putin assumed power, the Soviet Union had disintegrated. But he wants to leave a Russian imprint on all countries that were once part of the union. The illustration depicts the old expansionist Russia,” said Rituparno Basu, a founding-member of Cartoon Dol.
The work also draws from the song Rasputin by Boney M, said Basu.
Another work, a watercolour, based on Matryoshka dolls, shows an illustration of Putin inside a doll and that of Joseph Stalin beside him. The work is titled Putalin.
Sanjay Kamilya, who is pursuing master’s from the The Government College of Art and Craft, said the “autocratic trait” unites Putin and Stalin.
“Cartoonists are chroniclers. They have portrayed their reactions to what is happening around them,” said Basu, a schoolteacher. The collective is an eclectic mix of people from various backgrounds.
At the fair, scores of stalls have been set up, most of them by artists' collectives in Kolkata and from districts including Murshidabad, Hooghly, Paschim Medinipur and the two 24-Parganas.
The works, mosty paintings and some installations, are on sale.
The Charu Kala festival, being held from March 8-13, also includes exhibitions — at the galleries of the adjoining Gaganendra Shilpa Pradarshashala — of the works of past and present artists, from Haren Das and Somnath Hore to Shuvaprasanna and Jogen Chowdhury.
But the carnivalesque atmosphere at the open-air fair set it apart from the other exhibitions.
When The Telegraph visited the fair on Thursday afternoon, the area, buzzing with artists and visitors, was like a kaleidoscope of colours. A handful of artists were in the middle of painting.
Outside the stall of Kalijug, another artists’ collective, another man was giving finishing touches to an acrylic-on-canvas.
The canvas showed a sky crowded with bomber jets. The ground had children, some on wheelchairs, holding out a blue-and-yellow flag, the colour of the Ukrainian flag. The ground is also full of sunflowers in full bloom. Sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, have emerged as a global symbol of the country’s resistance to Russian aggression.
“The sunflower is a symbol of life. Even while facing death and destruction, the faces of the children are cheerful. They refuse to bow to despondency,” said Prabal Chand Boral, the painter.
Space is limited at the venue. “So we encourage artists to form a collective and set up stalls,” said Hareet Basu, member of the state Charu Kala Parshad.