Kolkata’s skyline recently got a lot more artistic. The CESC Patuli substation is now home to a 75-feet mural — the city’s tallest. The wall has been painted to represent and highlight the work of the artisans of Kumartuli — creating a strikingly vibrant image that compels passers-by to stop and take notice.
The mural was created by Pune-based artist Afzan Pirzade and commissioned by St+art India (an organisation that creates public art projects), in partnership with Asian Paints, in December 2021. “St+art India had run an online campaign asking people to volunteer naked walls that could be beautified. The CESC Substation in Patuli was ultimately selected, and they roped me in,” says Pirzade.
A closer lookCourtesy: Afzan Pirzade
While the original idea was to do something around lights, since the building belongs to CESC, this was soon put aside in favour of something more specific to Kolkata. So, Pirzade decided that he wanted to select something that would instill a sense of pride in people. After scouring the internet, Pirzade came across the magic of Kumartuli. “I had never heard of or seen something like this before. Outside Kolkata, we appreciate Durga Puja, but we never get to know the people that make the idols,” he says.
Pirzade was so drawn to these artisans that he found himself in Kumartuli the day after his arrival in Kolkata. “I decided to study the artisans, their community and culture. Their process fascinated me, because it is extremely similar to what is taught in art schools. I was mesmerised by how these artisans have a culture of generational learning where they are taught by their fathers, who were in turn taught by theirs. I knew then that I couldn’t choose any other topic for the mural,” he says.
(L-R) Afzan Pirzade, Rohma and Rahul with one of the Kumartuli artisans who became an inspiration for the muralCourtesy: Afzan Pirzade
Pirzade began working on the design in his hotel room, while the wall was being prepared for a makeover. His goal was to get the artisans the appreciation they deserve and came up with a design inspired by the traditional colours and clay used in Kumartuli.
“We managed to create the entire mural in 17 days, despite rain playing spoilsport for three days. I had really great assistants in Rohma, an artist from Delhi and Rahul Chakraborty, who is from Kolkata and doubled up as project manager,” he informs.
Great art can bring people together, and sometimes even make them collide. “One day, I was working on the mural’s higher levels when I heard a commotion. I looked down and saw people fighting. Rahul later told me that two pedestrians, coming from opposite directions, were so lost looking at it that they bumped into each other. I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not,” he laughs.
He adds that the experience of creating a mural in Kolkata has him convinced of the city’s potential. “Kolkata deserves an art colony inside the main city. The walls need to have some character, which will not only help tourism, but also instill pride in residents,” he says. He also reveals a dream of creating a mural on The 42, Kolkata’s tallest building. “I really hope that I get the chance to do more murals on the city’s rich art and culture,” he says.