Sarbjit Sen

Arts Practice
2017-2018

Grant Period: over one year

Sarbjit Sen studied English Literature at Calcutta University. He is a well-known cartoonist/graphic artist and filmmaker. He has been a regular contributor of comic strips/ cartoons to leading dailies like The Statesman, The Economic Times, Ajkal in Kolkata; Doinik Janakantha, Dhaka and China Daily, Beijing over the last two decades. He won a national award for the Best Comics on Environment in 1994. Painting in Time, his debut film on the tradition of Thangka painting in Sikkim, won a national award as the Best Film on Art & Culture Category in 1995. The Adventures of Timpa, his first comic book was exhibited in Switzerland and has been re-launched by Comic Con India. His work on partition has been published in This Side, That Side a partition anthology by Yoda Press. His short graphic novels have been published in Drighangchoo, India’s first graphic arts magazine. Carbon Chronicles, a non-fiction Bengali comic on climate politics was published in Kolkata Book Fair (2012) and is being translated in English. The Divine Escape, a graphic narrative on Supreme Court’s verdict on Bhopal Gas Tragedy has been accepted as an exhibit at the Mangasia: Wonderland of Asian Comics exhibition, Barbican Centre, London. Sarbajit also teaches at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata as guest faculty.

Sarbajit’s new project, tentatively titled ‘Ramblings’, is a quasi-autobiographical graphic narrative. It is imagined as a walk through his life amidst the surroundings he grew up in, while reflecting on and examining the history of the left government in West Bengal. The long popular struggle of the left movement began before independence and continued through the early decades of reign by national bourgeois-landlord parties. In the federal structure of India, where power traditionally rested at the Centre, a local government of the people was considered a major achievement in the late seventies. Sarbajit’s generation grew up dreaming of a socialist revolution fuelled by land reforms in Bengal’s villages; and the strong influence of Soviet literature. There was hardly any divide between the ‘personal’ and the ‘political’ as every domestic conversation was a microcosm of the world outside and vice versa. He witnessed very closely the tumultuous events that shaped Bengal’s history during those decades like the Naxalbari movement, Bangladesh war, the surge of refugees, conflicts between the various left factions, State repression and the ultimate rise of a ‘party society’. But he also lived through the same left government later giving in to coercion, petty corruption, and finally to corporate capital and special economic zones. And finally in 2011, he witnessed the fall of this government 34 years after coming to power.

According to him, “My purpose is not to write a very coherent history of the left movement in West Bengal. ‘History’ for that matter is not a definitive monolithic structure – the only sanctum sanctorum constructed in an ascending order. History always holds in it many small, unsung, ignored or forgotten no-histories.” He wants to examine the entire period of the left government and the formation and fall of the ‘middleclass mindscape’ that coincides with this period. The non linear narrative will be formed based on stories and anecdotes of the many fractured and marginal voices and their various associations with this period. The ebb and flow of the narrative go back and forth to open up and delve deeper in the various vortices of histories. Sarbajit sees himself as a social scientist with the lens of a graphic storyteller who is attempting to narrate a complex, fragmented history through his medium. His analysis will inspect the sociology of an era that began led by people’s movements, but succumbed to those very struggles and democracy becoming a ritual, with a complacent Hindu upper caste intellectual leadership disconnected from the masses representing Bengal. The work will have multiple styles depending on the various stories he chooses to narrate. He will use mostly black, white and red as colours and the minimal text will be in English for a wider readership.

It is a unique attempt at visual storytelling and a sociological study of the middle class mindscape that is under threat all over the world with the rise of the right wing and global capital. It is also an artistic attempt to capture marginal voices in history while looking at autobiographical reference points. The outcome of the project will be a book. Sarbajit is already in discussion with possible publishers for publication and distribution. Rough sketches, unfinished pages, photographic and textual documentation and the manuscript of the book will be deposited as deliverables.