Monday, 30th October 2017

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In Midnapore, US 1963 echo

Exchange programme makes a daughter's 'dream'

By SUBHAJOY ROY in Calcutta
  • Published 14.02.18

Calcutta: Maris Jones's father was in the 1963 Washington march made famous by Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech.

More than 50 years later and several thousand miles away, Maris was reintroduced to the force of that Lincoln Memorial moment during a meeting with a patachitra artist in West Midnapore's Pingla village.

Maris, who is in Bengal as part of an exchange programme, was intrigued to know that Manu Chitrakar's work prominently features, among other things, the civil rights leader and his story of struggle and victory.

"I realised after meeting this man in Pingla that marginalised communities can cultivate solidarity (by drawing inspiration far from their milieu). The people of Pingla must have felt the story of Martin Luther King Jr, that is why they have also composed a song about him," Maris, whose roots are in the Bahamas, said on Tuesday at the American Center.

Manu, who paints scrolls that illustrate his musical narratives, said over phone from Pingla later that Martin Luther King Jr had featured in many of his performances.

"I have sold seven paintings of him and a few have been published in a book," he told Metro.

Besides Pingla, Maris's cultural pit stops in Bengal have included Bishnupur in Bankura, Satkahania village of Burdwan and Joydev-Kenduli near Bolpur in Santiniketan.

She is part of a group of five Americans who have spent about a fortnight in the state, interacting with various communities and learning about their cultures.

Two of the visitors work at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington DC. The others are students and professionals with a keen interest in heritage and culture.

Somnath Karmakar, a dokra artisan from Bikna in Bankura, spoke about the suggestions his community had received from the Americans about documentation and display. "They advised us to record and preserve the techniques of veteran artisans for future use," he said.

Some folk artistes from the state are scheduled to travel to Washington DC in July for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Jamie Dragon, public affairs officer in the US consulate general in Calcutta and director of the American Center, said funds for the exchange programme came from the US Department of State. "We played the role of the local co-ordinator and helped find a local partner in for this exchange."