Bangla folk art beyond borders

A brass-work of Sukanta Banik. Photo: Prothom Alo
A brass-work of Sukanta Banik. Photo: Prothom Alo

Two artists have highlighted Bangla folk art at a global level. These artists have no formal training from any institution.

Shambhu Acharya, from Munshiganj, has given Bengal's patachitra (a folk art form) new life while Sukanta Banik from Dhamrai has revived metal craft. They have brought back the richness of the country’s art and culture. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina and the former British prime minister Tony Blair jointly inaugurated the Bangladesh Festival with Shambhu's patachitra in London in 1999.

Sukanta was determined to take the metal craft of Dhamrai to the world stage. Acharya, whose family comes from Thakurbari of Kalindipara in Munshiganj, has been practising the patachitra tradition of for over 450 years.

A Potchitra by Shambhu Acharya. Photo: Prothom Alo
A Potchitra by Shambhu Acharya. Photo: Prothom Alo

On 9 April he was working at home. His son Abhishek Acharya was with him. While working he talked to this correspondent.

It was in 1977. Artist Tofael Ahmed the visited Asutosh Museum and noticed a patachitra painting which was described as the "only Gazir Pata of both of Bengal". He wondered about this as he did not know that there was a patachitra painter in Bangladesh. After returning home, he sought out Durjon Ali from Narsingdi who had a patachitra. Durjon Ali said he bought it from Sudhir Acharya from Munshiganj. Sudhir Acharya is father of Shambhu Acharya. Since then, the fame of patachitra of Acharya family started to spread.

Sukanta Banik. Photo: Prothom Alo
Sukanta Banik. Photo: Prothom Alo

Shambhu told Prothom Alo that he mixes modern thought with tradition as a subject in his pata painting.

Sukanta Banik’s brass craft

Sukanta Banik’s old house located in Dhamrai is laden with artifacts of brass. The house is being used as both factory and showroom.

“This is my family business over the last two centuries. I am the fifth generation of my family involved in the business,” Sukanta said.

He said the once thriving business faced obstacles for the first time in 1947. The business was hit hard again in 1971 with a brief better time again from 1978 to 1990.

“The industry started to slump again since 1990 as the fiber, stainless steel, aluminium and ceramic made goods took over the place of brass.”

The industry is also hit hard by lack of qualified artisans as they moved on to other professions. Sukanta had 22 artisans in 2006 while only 6 are still working in the industry.

In the face of such difficulties, Sukanta, a political science graduate, did not flinch from taking up his ancestral business.

Sukanta went to the US with a cultural delegation in 2001, where he displayed his works. The US embassy in 2002 granted him $14,300 to preserve brass-metal craft.

Shambhu Acharya. Photo: Prothom Alo
Shambhu Acharya. Photo: Prothom Alo

He made a documentary with this fund which was screened and acclaimed in Switzerland in 2007.

The mold by which sculptures are made in Sukanta’s factory is called ‘lost works method.’ The method is unique as no more than one sculpture can be made by this method.

Sukanta said, Dhamrai’s brass metal goods are popular in Europe, Australia and the US. Statues of Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu, Radha-Krishna are particularly popular among the foreigners. 

Sukanta’s dream is to transform a part of the house into a museum. It is being refurbished for the purpose.

Artist Hashem Khan told Prothom Alo, “Sukanta’s endeavor is praiseworthy. Brass work is important part of our heritage. It is our duty to preserve this industry.”

* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Galib Ashraf.