ANNIV SPL:  Swadhin Ganguly re-thinks folk art today

The artist responsible for several instagrammable cafes and puja pandals around Kolkata talks about folk art and giving his own touch to it
Swadhin Ganguly (R) and his artwork (L)
Swadhin Ganguly (R) and his artwork (L)

Artist Swadhin Ganguly draws inspiration from folk arts and reinvents them with his touch. Starting out as an accountant by profession, this self made artist has been gifting the City of Joy some very impressive acfes and puja pandals besides commissioned artworks. Reflecting on North Kolkata's Baundule to South Kolkata's Dastaan and Pour Over, all the cafes have his unique artistic touch. Swadhin has also been instrumental in imagining this year's Lake Town Sarbojonin pandal and the recent Raas Mela pandal in Midnapore. Indulge talks to him about surviving as an original  independent artist in an era of easy replication. 

What is your design philosophy?

I work with folk arts and its revival. If I keep it traditional it will be a copy. So, I draw from tradition but modify it according to my understanding. I started off with house wall paintings. It feels nice to invite people by saying I live in that house which has a painting on the wall. From there, I expanded to alpona, café murals, puja pandals, and more.

Do you recall the days when you started out?

The struggle was with me. I learn every day and collaborate with others to brainstorm what new art can we bring to the city. Art was a liability for me. When I chose it as a career, it was important to what my future generation would take away from my work.

How do you use your design aesthetics to create today’s ‘instagrammable cafes’?

Sometimes I get a blank canvas and sometimes a theme. But I do not shift from my genre. If I’m working for a Mughlai restaurant, the figural anatomy doesn’t change but maybe their attire or ambience changes as per theme. I record the place and draw up a storyline. Say, I’m seeing Shiv, Durga, and Ganesh as a family. Like my father used to cool a glass of milk before giving me, Shiv would do the same here through the art.

What is your work process?

I work for 8-9 hours and complete the work in a day. I believe I might not have that frame of mind the next day and the continuation might be different.

What are some cafes that you have painted for?

I have painted inside cafes like Baundule Café, Melting Pot in Salt Lake, Dastaan and Pour Over in Ballygunge, Chirontoni in Kankurgachi, Arshinagar and Chaibari in Madhyamgram, and Wanderlust Ink in Keshtopur, which is probably the only tattoo studio with Indian folk genre interiors.

How do you contribute to Durga Puja pandals?

Either I do part artwork or the entire pandal. This year I worked at Lake Town Sarbojonin. We sat with a basic briefing – the committee, lights, décor, and us- around two months ago.

Today’s fashion is adapting folk in it. What is your take?

I work very exclusively. Since many times people don’t have access to the artists, they ask people available to create something for them. But principally I think this is wrong because I am standing in the way of someone’s livelihood who is the original creator of the work. For that, I discuss the possibilities of modification adding to my genre, and then creating something.

Any trends that you have noticed?

We have digital access due to which most work is a resemblance of something already available online. There’s a difference between referencing online and referencing, studying, adding your own expertise, and creating something new.

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