A Santhal village as a poet saw it - Exhibition of Bishnu De paintings and collection of folk art

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By SOUMITRA DAS
  • Published 28.07.05
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Long before the word globalisation was even dreamt of, the intelligentsia in Calcutta were citizens of the world. They kept themselves abreast of the latest developments in the fields of arts and ideas in the West. They remained rooted, though this awareness and consciousness of what was going on in the rest of the world gave them the freedom to effortlessly traverse several worlds, both physical and mental.

Bishnu De was one of the leading personalities of those times who could call the world his own backyard. His poetry and other writings reflected this consciousness.

His interest in the visual arts was as keen as his involvement with literature. Unbeknown to many, he had tried his hand at painting so that he could have a closer acquaintance with the creative process.

People in Calcutta got the opportunity to see the poet?s paintings for the first time at an exhibition mounted at Bangiya Sahitya Parishat. De?s collection of folk art is also on view here.

Bishnu De?s experiments with paint and brush was a well-kept secret. Even those close to him, such as artist Shanu Lahiri, was surprised when confronted with his creative output, though it is known that her own brother, renowned artist Nirode Mazumdar, would get pieces of canvas for the poet from well-known paint shops.

Bishnu De was closely associated with artists. It is said that one of his first essays was on the visual arts and besides, he was very friendly with Jamini Roy, about whom he had written several insightful pieces.

Bishnu De was ?the friend, philosopher and guide? of the Calcutta Group of artists formed in the 1940s. In 1945, he began to visit the hamlet Rikhiya, near Deoghar, in the Santhal Parganas, now in Jharkhand.

The tiny village that became his second home was encircled by the Trikut hills, and the undulating red grounds were punctuated with hillocks and humps. The vividness with which the poet transferred his impressions of the stark beauty of the region demonstrates that untrained though he was, he had quite a flair for painting.

His admiration for post-impressionist and modern painters such as Cezanne and Matisse comes across in his compositions, that have the discipline of geometry, and in his use of vibrant reds and blues and yellows. Although he used oils, the colours are earthy and are still bright in spite of the age of these works.

The poet?s collection of folk art is quite remarkable. There are Durga heads, Lakshmi saras or plates, innumerable clay and lac elephants, dolls, beautiful wood carvings and tiny Jagannath images from Orissa. We also see a portrait painted by Nirode Mazumdar, a sketch of his head by Satyajit Ray and stylish photographs of the poet.