A Tale of Two Cities: Artist conveys binary between hometown and latter-day metropolitan setup
Ahead of his ongoing solo show, Kolkata-based artist, Arjun Das, tells us how the livelihoods in his hometown in Jharkhand and present-day Bara Bazar inspire his art
Hailing from the Giridih district of Jharkhand, and a resident of Kolkata, Arjun Das first developed his stories to tell in a local dhaba (restaurant), where he was able to closely observe the lifestyle of a subset of the migrant population. Sitting in front of hand-written notes and reference photographs from Bara Bazar in Kolkata pinned on an artboard, he tells us, “Where I belong, that is, in my village, all of us would marry off early and once the family cannot take the responsibility of its children anymore, the kids move to adjacent towns and cities, where they work as cashiers, clerks, and attendants at eateries and do whatever they can to make ends meet.”
“Most marginalised communities relocate for financial reasons. There is a speck of hope even amidst giving up everything in search of a livelihood, although very few people get permanent work, and even when they do, the work conditions are unsafe,” Arjun adds. He attended a government school in his hometown until class five, at which point he moved to Kolkata and was accepted into a different school starting from the sixth grade. After graduating, he understood that, while he was focused on building a career, he desired to pursue a profession in visual arts. Then, taking the plunge and deciding to chase his creative discipline, he enrolled himself at Rabindra Bharati University while continuing to work at the dhaba.
In Hyderabad, Land of the Leal, his ongoing solo art show is showcased at Dhi Artspace. We realise that he is drawn towards raw and honest storytelling that is illustrated through and amplified by art since the title of his exhibit is taken from an eponymous traditional Scottish song by the folk band Silly Wizard. In Land of the Leal, Arjun broadens his creative medium beyond wood sculptures. He also chisels metal, stone, coal, terracotta roof tiles, and asphalt in his abstract art — to illustrate and represent elements crucial to the city worker’s everyday reality.
“I like exploring the commonplace through sculptural art,” Arjun shares. Growing up, Arjun says that his childhood fortified and reinstated his art greatly. During the Diwali and chhat puja, the spectrum of colours and sparkle of lights would mesmerise and push him to collect the earth pigments from the alpana design and use it to sketch the life he saw around him on the porch and parapet at his home. “That’s what got me interested in art. Also, back in Kolkata at the guest house above the restaurant where I used to work – there lived a businessman from Mumbai who loved the sketches and portraits I drew of my co-workers during leisure time and encouraged me to go to an art college,” he tells us.
Reflecting on the life he once led in his hometown, he recalls his people conflicted by the wish to fulfil their dream of success amidst the social hindrances which befall them. With this, his art expresses stories of the émigré's day-to-day banal reality. Heart-to-heart conversations with the people from Bara Bazar, the fish-eye view of vintage Kolkata and an overarching sense of nostalgic longing elevates his pieces.
At Dhi Artspace in Ameerpet today, January 6.