Grant Period: Over one year and six months
For nearly two and a half centuries now, the image-makers of Kumartuli have continuously created elaborate, larger-than-life images of the numerous divinities of the Bengali Hindu pantheon. From within their homes/studios in North Calcutta, by the river Ganga, the Kumars’ fashion images according to the needs of the city’s ritual calendar. After use, these unbaked, sun-dried clay images are ceremonially immersed in the river to melt and mix with its origins. This ‘turnover’ in divinity, combined with the relatively inexpensive raw materials makes a somewhat marginal yearlong trade possible for the Kumars.
The Arts Research and Documentation programme supported professional free-lance photographer Dev Nayak and his research associate to photo-document Calcutta's Kumartuli potters' yearlong calendar of image making. While work on this continuing project has already yielded a base platform of 300 transparencies, our grant enabled the research-team to complete the documentation of the making of popular public sculpture and its use in ritual and festive environments.
Dev Nayak, principal investigator on this project, brought to light the art and lives of the potters’ of Kumartuli. Nayak’s photographs attempted to trace the metamorphosis in form and representation of the Kumars’ art. The public images produced by Kumartuli began to acquire a more naturalistic style of representation and composition under the influence of European Naturalistic and Neoclassical art imported by the British, later reinforced by artists trained in Calcutta’s art schools. Nayak’s ‘available-light’ photographic idiom hopes reflected these interesting changes in form. Nayak had begun photo-documenting the art of the Kumartuli in 1997, much before this grant was made. His work has yielded a base platform of 700 transparencies. Nayak built on this already existing documentation, to provide dense, accurate and aesthetically pleasing photographs that are also an affirmation of the bold inventiveness and adaptation of the Kumartulis’ art. Dev Nayak’s photographs became a testimony to the art of the Kumars. The project was a comprehensive documentation of the process of this craft – from readying the clay to the painting and costuming of the completed images. Most importantly though, Nayak’s photographic work focussed on capturing the work environment and ambiance of the Kumartuli potters.