Samit Das’ ‘Political Cartoons from Bengal 1950-70’- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

Gandhiji is an octopus, a reluctant bride and Frankenstein. Netaji is in different attire – Macbeth, Hamlet and a nurse. Sardar Patel is a school teacher who pulls an insulting Netaji to his ear. Jinnah, Gandhi and Netaji ride a giraffe to reach the moon to calm a crying India.

This is the satirical tone of about 150 cartoons shown last month in an exhibition entitled Political Cartoons from Bengal 1950-70 at the India International Center in Delhi. The man behind the display of digital prints, published in magazines, journals and newspapers in pre- and post-partition Bengal, is curator, collector and researcher Samit Das.

Samit Das

On the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, these personalities have risen from the dead to haunt contemporary politics as “fascism, Indo-China-Pakistani border issues, caste system, not to mention communalism, are still alive be,” says the 52-year-old. For those who missed the exhibition, the Kala Bhavana-trained artist will soon come up with a book and an online flipbook about the political cartoons.

The show featured the works of cartoonists and illustrators Saila Narayan Chakraborty, Debiprasad Roy Choudhury, Kutty, Chandi Lahiri, Rebati Bushan, Amal Chakraborty. “While browsing my collection, I discovered something else. Well-known Bengali artists and illustrators of the era such as Saila, Binoy Krishna Basu and sculptor Debi Prosad Roychowdhury (a wry comment on the artsy crowd) all contributed cartoons. They had a strong political voice,” says the curator.

In addition to the famous caricatures of Gaganendranath Tagore, which did not spare his uncle Rabindranath, the cartoons also featured such personalities as Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Cyril Radcliffe, the man who divided the Indian subcontinent.

Das from Delhi is an avid collector of books on art writing, art reproduction and publications and magazines such as Prabasi, Bangashri, Taruner Swapna and Masik Basumati which appeared from the 1930s to the early 1970s. “In the 1970s and 1980s, the weekly Desh, published from Kolkata, featured a column entitled Sunandar Journal, often written by the literati Sunil Gangopadhyay. It carried cartoons. The books in my collection reflected the zeitgeist, the controversies, political struggles and struggles between the Center and the state governments, and the rise of communism in the 1970s.

As I flipped through these papers, I came across many illustrations and cartoons, some of which I had shown,” says Das, who has also curated several exhibitions in the past, including Architecture of Santiniketan: Tagore’s Concept of Space in 2017.

Hand-drawn cartoons are rare these days, says Das. “They have been replaced by memes generated by mobile apps, software and artificial intelligence-based programs. Once an indispensable part of daily newspapers, cartoons have practically disappeared,” he laments. Hopefully the book he plans to publish this year will bring to restore the glory of this witty, yet profound art form.

Gandhiji is an octopus, a reluctant bride and Frankenstein. Netaji is in different attire – Macbeth, Hamlet and a nurse. Sardar Patel is a school teacher who pulls an insulting Netaji to his ear. Jinnah, Gandhi and Netaji ride a giraffe to reach the moon to calm a crying India. This is the satirical tone of about 150 cartoons shown last month in an exhibition entitled Political Cartoons from Bengal 1950-70 at the India International Center in Delhi. The man behind the display of digital prints, published in magazines, journals and newspapers in pre- and post-partition Bengal, is curator, collector and researcher Samit Das. Samit Das On the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, these personalities have risen from the dead to haunt contemporary politics as “fascism, Indo-China-Pakistani border issues, caste system, not to mention communalism, still be alive,” says the 52-year-old. For those who missed the exhibition, the Kala Bhavana-trained artist will soon come up with a book and an online flipbook about the political cartoons. The show featured the works of cartoonists and illustrators Saila Narayan Chakraborty, Debiprasad Roy Choudhury, Kutty, Chandi Lahiri, Rebati Bushan, Amal Chakraborty. “While browsing my collection, I discovered something else. Well-known Bengali artists and illustrators of the era such as Saila, Binoy Krishna Basu and sculptor Debi Prosad Roychowdhury (a wry comment on the artsy crowd) all contributed cartoons. They had a strong political voice,” says the curator. In addition to the famous caricatures of Gaganendranath Tagore, which did not spare his uncle Rabindranath, the cartoons also featured such personalities as Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Cyril Radcliffe, the man who divided the Indian subcontinent in two. Das from Delhi is an avid collector of books on art writing, art reproduction and publications and magazines such as Prabasi, Bangashri, Taruner Swapna and Masik Basumati which appeared from the 1930s to the early 1970s. “In the 1970s and 1980s, the weekly Desh, published from Kolkata, had a column entitled Sunandar Journal, which was often written by the literati Sunil Gangopadhyay. It carried cartoons. The books in my collection reflected the zeitgeist, the controversies, political struggles and struggles between the Center and the state governments, and the rise of communism in the 1970s. While flipping through these papers, I came across many illustrations and cartoons, some of which I had shown,” says Das, who has also curated several exhibitions in the past, including Architecture of Santiniketan: Tagore’s Concept of Space in 2017. Featuring hand-drawn cartoons are rare these days, says Das. “They have been replaced by memes generated by mobile apps, software and artificial intelligence-based programs. Once an indispensable part of daily newspapers, cartoons have practically disappeared,” he laments. Hopefully the book he plans to publish this year will bring to restore the glory of this witty, yet profound art form.

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