Kolkata: Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Milkmaid’ elegantly depicts the domestic world. A demure maid pouring milk, entirely engrossed in her work. Vermeer made her immortal on canvas. Who knew it would grace the walls of a tea stall in Behala? From Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ (Der Kuss in German), American conceptual artist and collagist Barbara Kruger’s work, to India’s iconic modernist sculptor Ramkinkar Baij, all will find a home in a Behala neighbourhood for the next three days, courtesy Behala Art Fest 2022. And don’t miss the Satyajit Ray mural and anti-war art piece. Starting February 25, the Behala Art Fest will continue till February 27. Organized by Behala Nutan Sangha and Kolkata artist Sanatan Dinda, around 28 artists have collaborated to make the event a success. Dinda wants to take art beyond museum and onto streets. In fact, that was the intention to start Behala Art Fest three years ago.
From the walls, roads to the houses, one would find street art, graffiti, and installations in this Behala para. “We want to take art beyond museum and onto the streets. We wanted the public to feel close to art,” says Dinda, the convener of the event.
Today, Behala Art Fest has gained popularity among the art lovers in the city. Kolkata’s street art has also seen an exponential growth in the past few years with several eateries, narrow lanes, college campus and neighbourhood being decked up with artsy murals. But Dinda doesn’t credit “drawing anything on the wall” as street art.
“Without reason, just drawing anything and everything on the wall doesn’t mean street art. Art is an experience. I am proud that Behala Art Fest is a first-of-its-kind event, which is curated. We select a theme every year. This year, it’s ‘Light and Darkness’. Given the political turmoil across the world, we are somewhere trapped in the middle of light and darkness,” he says.
England-based street artist Banksy has been making political commentaries for decades now. But are we playing safe, we ask the Kolkata-based artist? To this, Dinda brings the reference of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ where we find a couple with their bodies embracing in a patch of wildflowers. “Have we forgotten how to love? Especially outside Bengal, moral policing has become a serious concern. A group of people will come and tell you the dos and don’ts on Valentine’s Day. Here, we have amalgamated Klimt’s famous painting ‘The Kiss’ and robotic soldiers holding guns and aiming at the couple. Vermeer’s Milkmaid has become an inspiration for an ordinary woman running a tea shop here. Anti-war finds a bold mention. We have not merely selected Satyajit Ray’s characters, but the women in his films. He spoke through his female characters and you will find Apu, Durga, Sarbajaya, Indir Thakrun and Charulata here. The painting of Hirak Raja is symbolic. Every art piece has been created with a lot of thought. In the case of Banksy, he painted in the middle of the night without anyone knowing. We can still speak up in front of so many surveillance cameras. Yes, we have to take the permission of the people before painting the walls,” says the artist.
Dinda has kept himself away from art galleries for the past one decade, but Kolkata saw an art boom a few years ago. The rich invested in art like a future security. Art fairs were popular where original pieces were sold at lesser-known prices. Ask him if the market slowed down and Dinda will hit back at the ‘elites’. “It’s unfortunate that most poets and authors have made themselves ‘elite’. They think they belong to a different ‘class’. But art is for everyone. The bridge needs to be broken and we at Behala Art Fest do that. Here, art is not restricted to the galleries,” he says.
He further adds, “At Behala Art Fest, there are no paintings. We have sculptures and installations. So, we are directly hitting the consumer society. Here, you cannot sell the street art nor can you document them.”
So, isn’t Sanatan Dinda a celeb, we ask? “No. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity,” he shoots back. “Had it been the case, I wouldn’t have left the galleries, white cube and worked on the streets. If I am called a hero or celebrity, then it’s the public,” he adds.
But then, Dinda knows the artists need to survive. “Art need not always have to be sold. But artists need their livelihood. 25 years ago, I wondered what would happen to the Art College passouts. Through Durga Puja, I provided them with a platform. Now, whether they will return to the mainstream is not my responsibility. Today, Durga Puja has become mainstream art,” says Dinda, who started the concept of theme-based puja in Kolkata.