Rubbish to all, but art material for teacher - Academy exhibition boost to Katum Kutum artist

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  • Published 1.08.13

For the past two decades, Utpal Kumar Chakrabarty has been scouring the riverbanks and tea gardens of north Bengal looking for driftwood and dead branches of shrubs and trees and crafting them into odd shapes.

His craft was displayed at the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta. The 55-year-old school teacher is glad that his effort at Katum Kutum is being appreciated.

“It is a great feeling that at last the Academy of Fine Arts gave me an opportunity to exhibit my Katum Kutum items at their gallery between July 25 and July 31. I have been writing to them for the past five years,” Chakrabarty said.

The art of Katum Kutum means finding life in apparently lifeless objects.

His art was first exhibited in 1999 at Karunamoyee High School, where he teaches. “It was the silver jubilee of our school. It was my first opportunity to exhibit my creations,” the teacher of political science said.

In 2005, he displayed his figures at the Cooch Behar Palace Festival organised by the state tourism department. At the 2006 Teesta-Ganga Utsav he had a solo exhibition at Ramkinkar Hall, in Siliguri.

Chakrabarty said how he was inspired by the work of Abanindranath Tagore. “Aban Thakur’s contribution to the Bengal School of Art and his Katum Kutum work that instilled life into dead wood and branches was very attractive. I began collecting driftwood from riverbanks, especially in the Dooars, and even the base of dead tea bushes. I think it all began in 1992,” the artist said.

His home in Ashrampara here is full of his creations, about 350 pieces: intricately crafted birds of prey, human figures and abstract shapes.

“I try to think about the shape that naturally comes to these scattered pieces of branches or roots. I just chip away to bring out what I see in these that I collect. It is a relaxing way to spend time between teaching and looking after my family,” Chakrabarty said.

He said that his wife and daughter were supportive. Daughter Upasana, a first-year student of Bengali in Thakur Panchanan Barma Mahila Mahavidyalaya, thinks her father is unique.

“As long as I can remember I have watched my father chipping away with his chisel and hammer. It is the only addiction he has,” she said.

Wife Swapna is happy about the art exhibition in Calcutta. “I have always supported him and he in turn asks for my opinion when he is working on a piece,” she said.

Pradip Das, a painter and member of the Fine Arts Academy, said that Chakrabarty’s work was up there with the best.

“Many people try Katum Kutum but Utpal’s work definitely falls in the category of art. We are proud that his work will be exhibited in Calcutta,” he said.