Saturday 22 February 2014


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Vinita Dasgupta, 30

A large figurative portrait of a frail, distraught-looking lady set against the backdrop of Pattachitra paintings from Raghurajpur in Odisha adorns the wall at artist Vinita Dasgupta’s first solo show titled Storytellers. Although all her works on display were sold out, this is one piece that Dasgupta says she will never sell. “This is a portrait of my dida (grandmother) and she is my storyteller,” says the 30-year-old artist.

The series of paintings depicts a new pictorial style and artistic practice that she developed three years ago after visiting Raghurajpur. Although the village is known for its heritage of Pattachitra paintings that date back to 5 BC, to the artist, it is a cradle of early childhood memories and stories that her grandmother used to tell her. Much like the Pattachitra paintings that depict tales from Hindu mythology in a pictorial form, her grandmother too would narrate mythological stories and folk tales. As Dasgupta grew up and graduated from Delhi College of Arts, the memories of Raghurajpur faded, but not the influence of her grandmother, who continues to be an inspiration for her work.

“The biggest strength of a woman is her power to love,” says the artist. “And it starts with the ability to love oneself.” That’s one of the lessons that her mother and her grandmother taught her. No wonder Dasgupta’s early works have a deeply autobiographical touch. She used self-portraits to create metaphors of herself and her realisation of womanhood. These early works are characterised by broad, free-flowing brush strokes. “Here was a woman who painted like a man and that is what drew me to her work,” says curator Rahul Bhattacharya. “But that style comes naturally to her.” And she never changes her style until she gets bored of it.

Although a personal connect with Raghurajpur drew her to the village at first, the craftsmanship, detailing and precision of the folk painters inspired her to incorporate elements of their work into hers. “It was these artists who helped me realise that something ‘popular’ could also be deeply rooted in discipline and have a strong cultural dialogue,” she says. Since then, Dasgupta has adopted a more controlled technique and introduced new compositional elements in her work.
Artist : Vinita Dasgupta         Photo: Vijay Pandey

Although initially she transposed motifs from the village onto the borders of paintings depicting popular personalities, they are now deeply entrenched in her artwork. For her latest series, the artist has painted Pattachitrakathas on small pieces of canvas, rolled them to create small scrolls and used them to create an intricate detailing in her latest series of portraits. “I have seen Vinita sitting in the corner making canvas rolls for hours together,” says Bhattacharya, who feels that Dasgupta’s drive to create art combined with her fidgetiness converts her art into a meditative practice. “What makes her work unique is that it is contemporary, yet embodies our heritage in the form of scrolls,” says artist Niladri Paul.

Although Dasgupta has never had trouble selling her work, the detailing in her work is time-consuming; a single piece of work can take her up to three months to complete. Her works can be bought for Rs 1-5 lakh. Though there are times when she has to struggle to make ends meet, that is about to change with her first solo show being a runaway hit. Perhaps she can now put her energies into refining her work.

(Report courtesy Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 7, Dated 15 February 2014)

Re telling a story teller:

The early works of the artist reveal a deep love for expressing an autobiographical narrative.  Often using portraits; she created metaphors of herself and her realization of womanhood. Even at that point one can locate an attraction towards popular culture. Thus it was not surprising that her work has focused on fashion, cinema and popular icons. However, over a period one could notice many changes in terms of medium, style and technique. Her natural flair is towards a modernist gestural approach to figuration, but possibly the artist felt that that style came too easily for her. In an effort to challenge herself  ,Dasgupta began ajourney into a more controlled technique, and began to introduce various compositional elements in her works. As the artist was going through a re-visitation of her personal understanding of style and technique, she also became more interested in telling stories about the world and her social empathies and engagements…

Yet the search continued, she discovered that to work with popular imagery she needed to re-present them with greater conceptual layering.  The gestural modernist within her can only be deconstructed through a practice connected with tradition and discipline. Her (re) discovery of Raghurajpur folk painting tradition finally leadsto this search finding a resting place from where she can explore future directions. How do craft, storytelling and meditative practice become carriers of contemporary concepts?  This body of work ‘The Story Tellers’ marks an  important turning point in her journey, specially reflecting a sustained engagement with technique, inspiration and concept.

Odishahas been a part of the artist’s childhood, and that nostalgia has played an important role in Dasgupta being able to culturally respond to it’s artistic tradition. The Raghurajpur folk painting tradition also offered her adifferent access to the ‘popular’, a ‘popular’ that was deeplyentrenched in a disciplined and controlled approach to art. This art making is robust, colorful and yet deeply in dialogue with the culture of contemporaneity. The philosophy of craftsmanship attracted her deeply along with its notions of detailing, precision and the ‘handmade’. Moreover, Raghurajpur offered her an escape from the noise of mainstream popular culture as well as an alternative understanding of the narrative possibilities of art making. Since her (re) visit to Raghurajpur about three years ago, newer pictorial style and artistic practice slowly began to find space in her works. Initially it was just motifs coming into the borders of her paintings depicting Bollywood and popular personalities...and slowly it entered deep, deep into the artwork itself. 

The encounter with Raghurajpur did not lead her throw away her personal love for the urban popular traditions, instead what resulted is a complex layering of both. Taking photographs of the Raghurajpur paintings,the artist painstakinglymakesnumerous canvas rolls and usesthem to make portraits of painters, performers and story tellersto make her world. Paint is given at a final layer of detailing that helps the artist to develop a language that challenges the boundaries of painting. This merging of boundaries makes her a child of postmodern eclecticism and also gives her meditative therapy of craftmanship that her soul has been looking for.

Apart from the artist’s natural flair for figuration and an ability to strike a chord with portraiture, what makes her current body of works significant is the possibilities of enquiries that they open and the complex layering of folk and urban they embody. This layering of folk and urban also mirrors the zone between art and craft that mark the physicality of her works. The inspiration behind these rolls has been earrings she discovered where in Coke and Fanta cans were cut and rolled. This dismembering and creation of a new identity opened up the possibilities for Dasgupta to assimilate the Raghurajpur paintings into her works and yet mask them. Over the last two years apart from the painters and performers of Raghurajpur, other prominent personalities have come in her artworks...almost as a continuation of her earlier subject matter. However even though sometimes these popular mainstream icons enter her work, their representation has completely changed. There is a fragmentation and realignment that happens, this breaks their iconicity and positions them within the vulnerability of popular storytelling.

As she moves deeper into understanding and practicing this direction in her practice, she is also beginning to realize that within this idiom there is a great possibility of conceptual fine-tuning and experimentation. These works have captured the imagination of viewers, yet the artist is looking for more, eager to walk a tightrope between making her practice more deeply personal, and universal. The journey is to entrench her works deep into the dialog of contemporary, yet go deeper into her love for craft and the handmade. The Storytellers is standing on the edge, rooted and yet ready to take off.

Rahul Bhattacharya
Curator and Writer

(From the solo exhibition : Story teller- stories told and retold… )