From rare gems to historical documents, London has long played home to myriad treasures from its former colonies in the Indian sub-continent.
The latest to arrive in the British capital is one of India’s most important art forms, by way of an exclusive and rare exhibition of paintings native to arguably the country’s most important cultural hub – Calcutta.
Kalighat Paintings, or ‘Kalighat Patachitra’ to give the form its local nomenclature, is believed to have originated in the second half of the 19th Century adjacent to Calcutta’s world famous Kali Temple, near a place called ‘Kalighat’ – a landing on a tributary of the River Ganges which gave rise to the name of the city.
The paintings were said to have been coveted by the British – who ruled over India from Calcutta at the time – and who also promoted the art form which is widely considered India’s first expression of modern art.
Created by a group of artists called ‘Patuas’ (“Painters on Cloth”), the paintings are marked by strong lines, long, almost contiguous brush strokes, vibrant colours and visual rhythm.
It is said that the Patuas were skilled artists from rural parts of Kolkatta who specialized in tapestry-like paintings created on long scrolls of handmade paper – often stretching to more than 20 feet in length.
These artists were drawn to the increasingly popular tourist destination that Kalighat was becoming, plying their trade and creating stunning ‘Kalighat Patachitra’.
“This is a fascinating form of art which draws on the growing urban culture around the Kali temple of Kalighat, on the fascinating colonial interaction between Sahib and Bengali babu culture, on the meteoric rise of theatre and the entry of performing women and actresses”, said Sangeeta Datta, founder of the exhibition’s organizer Baithak UK.
A selection of these paintings, some dating back to the early 20th Century, will be on display as part of the exhibition ‘Bengal Popular Art: Kalighat Patachitra’ to be held at London’s Nehru Centre from 14 – 18 September.
Among the highlights of the festival is a celebration of Bengali music featuring music from the Golden Age of Bengali cinema.