Breaking Free with Kali: last show in New Delhi

Kolkata artist Pritam Das’ hand-painted artworks, which have been published as a graphic novel about artistic freedom, now hang at a Delhi gallery. Today is the exhibition’s last day last show.
Artworks from Jai Kali Android Wali
Artworks from Jai Kali Android Wali

In the fictional city of Talkata, Mr Raghu runs an educational institution known for its mechanical approach. He prioritises numbers—be it students’ scores or placements —over everything else. Raghu’s demeanour is mechanical both at work and home; he considers no one his equal, not even his wife. Enter Bose, an artist of this institution. An avid viewer of a TV series on the goddess Kali on his Android phone, he seeks to break free from the confines of numbers and pursue his own creative path. One day, Bose has a vivid dream of Kali emerging from his Android phone and communicating with him. Terrified yet inspired, he depicts Kali in a painting and shares it on social media. The artwork goes viral, catching the attention of Raghu’s wife, who, captivated by the painting, rebels against Raghu, taking a stand against his superior attitude. Witnessing this reaction, Raghu is rattled and demands Bose remove the post or leave his job.

This narrative sets the stage for the 36-year-old Kolkata-based artist Pritam Das’s graphic novel, Jai Kali Android Wali, the longest narration yet published by Pagal Canvas, a non-profit publishing house, currently exhibiting at Delhi’s Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art.

Violation and creation

Das drew inspiration from an incident in 2017 when he was teaching at a design institute in Ahmedabad. “In 2017, while working as a faculty member, a colleague of mine uploaded his artwork on social media. When it quickly went viral, the administration demanded its removal. This incident served as the inspiration for my graphic novel,” explains Das. The violation of an artist’s personal space was the catalyst for Das to embark on this creative endeavour.

Jai Kali Android Wali serves as a critique of the education system, illustrating how institutional expectations stifle artistic freedom. Das, who had been drawing and painting since the age of eight, began sketching the project in 2017, aiming to convey the infringement on artists’ personal space and the imposition of societal norms.

Artworks from Jai Kali Android Wali
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The novel also reflects Das’s personal experiences and beliefs. He highlights the struggle to break free from the monotony of a 9-to-5 job, paralleling his own background in art.

The use of “thumbs” as symbols in the novel represents the robotic nature of the institution, where even attendance is marked with thumbprints, symbolising a rigid, systematic approach.

Inspire, create, innovate

Pagal Canvas, founded in 2017 by Mohit Mahato and Anand Shenoy of Bengaluru, saw potential in Das’ comic and transformed it into a book. Mahato explains that the original hand-painted works were reformatted into a book. “In this digital age, seeing hand-painted works is a rare sight, and witnessing the process of turning it into a book was rewarding. We decided that we wanted to exhibit the original artworks alongside the book launch,” says Mahato.

Through Jai Kali Android Wali, Das not only urges individuals to break free from societal norms and embrace creativity but also hints at what he says is “the dawn of a new era”. He uses the narrative of Kali, a strong and distinct goddess, to symbolise liberation from mundane routines.

Artworks from Jai Kali Android Wali
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“Coming from a Bengali household, goddess Kali is someone we have always looked up to for strength. With this choice, I aimed to convey that Kali not only liberated an artist from his mundane existence but also emancipated Mr Raghu’s wife through the power of art. Art should initiate dialogue and inspire change, which is the essence of my graphic novel,” he says.

The Jai Kali Android Wali exhibition ends today at the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, Lado Sarai, from 11 am to 6 pm

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