Callous Metro Railway messes with Anjolie Ela's mural worth crores - Art work was covered by another painting hammered on top of it

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 20.02.08

What happens when an artist gifts a painting worth a few crores to the people of Calcutta through a government agency that could not be bothered about its worth? Chances are, the work of art is vandalised.

Calcutta’s Metro Railway did exactly that with a 20 ftx8 ft mural on fibreglass by Anjolie Ela Menon, which the Delhi-based artist had gifted to the people of Calcutta.

The original work, by the artist who is from Sovabazar, displayed at the head of a staircase in the Esplanade Metro station, was unveiled on November 21, 1993.

The mural was, inexplicably, covered by another painting hammered on top of it. It is only the artist’s chance discovery and subsequent intervention that has forced the resurrection of the mural — but not before two of the panels have been damaged.

“It should have been treated as an asset. The Metro Rail has... treated it with scant respect or regard. They had the gall to cover it,” the artist told Metro from Delhi.

A month ago, when the artist commissioned Ashok Karmakar to take a picture of this mural in five panels, for a two-volume book to be published on her work, the photographer discovered that the painting had “disappeared”, and been replaced by another work.

When Karmakar told Ela Menon about her missing mural, she wrote to the Metro Rail authorities in Calcutta.

J.K. Mitra, the chief operating manager of Metro Rail, told the artist her mural was in the store as it was “damaged”. The canvas, he claimed, was cracked. Later, it came to light that Ela Menon’s mural was never removed. “They had hammered another painting on top of it. Two of the panels are damaged,” she said, after inspecting Ashok Karmakar’s photographs of the mural.

“I believe art should be in the public domain. It is important to me that significant art should be seen by people in public places and not restricted to the drawing rooms of the very rich... I would like the work restored and properly backlit, like stained glass,” the artist added.

The large mural — which would by rough market estimates cost “a few crores” — shows how the railway network is a great unifier that brought together peoples of various communities.

Pranab Dutta, a public relations officer with Metro Rail, when contacted on Monday, went on the offensive: “You go ahead and write. It hardly matters, for we have come to an understanding with the artist. But why do you want to write a story now?”

This is precisely the attitude that artists like Paritosh Sen are peeved about. “They should have given proper respect to the mural. This happens because some bureaucrats who know nothing about art are given the power to make decisions. This has happened at Delhi airport, from where Satish Gujral’s and my works have disappeared. You can’t do anything but protest,” rued the veteran artist.

Sen went on to recount how once Satyajit Ray, Karuna Bandopadhyay and he had protested against the decoration of Rabindra Sadan. “The bureaucrats shot back: ‘Who is Satyajit Ray? He is only a director, what does he know about architecture? Who is Karuna Bandopadhyay? She is only an actress, what does she know about architecture? Who is Paritosh Sen? He is only an artist, what does he know about architecture?’ What can you say to that?”