Women in the Art Works of Chittaprosad

If we peek into the history of fine arts, women have always been found at the central focus. The God and Goddess are an important part of culture, and kings are the things of history, so they are found in works of art frequently but with a context, but countless images of unfamiliar women were used to portray them more as a body, that too in different postures. The case with other countries was the same; the only difference is the extent of exposure of the body. Whereas in western countries the image of a nude woman is presented with photographic reality, here, in regional art streams like Kangada, Rajasthani, Mughal,etc., the portraits of women are famous for their distinctive features, being in a flat and two-dimensional image, where, traditionally, in Indian art, humility and modesty, decency and effort to cover the body with shyness are the parameters of feminine beauty rather than the nude image of a woman. (Picture 1 – ‘Kishangarh ki bani-thhani’) Both are the legacy of a feudal system. To mention here the portrait made by Goya (1746-1828) (Picture 2) as the artist of the court to the king of Spain and the portrait (4) made by Hemen Majumdar (1871-1948) for an Indian king are important. Contextually, the paintings of Raja Ravi Verma cannot be ignored because they also belong to the feudal caste. However, it should be noted that though the roots of these pictures are the same, in spite of similarities, the distinctions are delineated with splendid excellence. I do not mean to say that this tendency was found only in the art of the last century.Let us not discuss the streams which were already doubtful but we cannot ignore many modern artists with the so-called progressive artists from the Progressive Artists Group like Ara, Husain, and Souza, etc. who could not keep themselves free from this complex. Even today, in modern Indian art the (male) artists do not intend to change their view in the matter of half of the population of earth but follow this tradition with full conviction.

<> Nevertheless, women are the vital, significant and dynamic entity of society. One cannot imagine a society without women; then how can we ignore their presence and participation in every important struggle and decisions. Only Marxist artists understood the importance of their role in society. They presented her as equal to the man. Accordingly they depicted woman as essential being in struggle of life and the struggle for the rights of human beings. In fact, the artists involved in the people’s movements had seen the continuous and gradual development of this view in society. For instance, whether it is the Telangana Peasants’ movement or the Tebhaga movement; the Quit India movement of 1942 or the revolt of Naxalite peasants, on every front women not only fought shoulder to shoulder with men to carry the struggle forward but never went on the back foot at the time of sacrifice.

Undoubtedly, the people’s movements are the source for developing art for the sake of the common people. That is why, whenever the struggle for the liberation of the common people flares up, this art for the common people is elevated or enhanced with more influential and evocative strength. Not only the fine arts but the creation ofother genres such as drama, people’s song (jangeet) and literature with the lofty face of the common people’s interest could be possible only in such conditions. After 1936 artists from Pic 4 different genres turned towards the Marxist ideology and cautiously and consciously intervened in the changing political circumstances; this was an unprecedented event in cultural history. During this passage of time, there were many artists who were not leftists but were undoubtedly progressive, so the aspects of the common men’s interest in their works were not less important than in the works of Marxists’ artists. This is the irony of every political organisation of progressive ideology where the pseudo-progressive artists were many in number. In fact artists generally belong to such a special class of educated intellectuals who are normally not associated directly with oppressed people. They know the formidability of oppression but are far from the experience of being oppressed. In spite of knowing all the roads and paths of liberation they confine their responsibility and commitment towards common people to expressing their opinion about the basic principles of that movement. In the huge group of Marxist artists, there were many so-called educated intellectuals who, if they had an opportunity they would compromise with the system as wellbeing smart enough to find a reason to justify their association with the system as well their decision to leave the movement. Undoubtedly, these artists did great harm to the progressive cultural movement.

This deception could be seen very clearly in the founder artists of Progressive Artists Group in the world of art and painting. The national and international critics and agents of arts are tangled up to establish significant artists like Souza as committed to the common people only to recognise the Marxist and progressive face of his personality. Even he was projected as though he contributed to the freedom struggle of India. Undoubtedly, it is true that he came close to the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), Calcutta group and the Communist Party, but he was closer to some foreign and Persian art collectors than to IPTA and others.

He had laid down an intact plan to set himself up in the art market. Out of that first in 1946, he took up membership of the Communist Party and then in 1947, he formed an association with the party’s help that was consequently recognized as progressive. Then, in 1948, just after fulfilling their prerogatives, ‘he separated himself’ from the party for‘seeking free expression (which was impossible with the party)’.Being an intellectual and educated; Souza had promulgated and propagated a unique meaning and approach to being progressive, which was very novel to the market.The Progressive Artists Group, in its progressive stand, had always campaigned against Neo Indian Painting (near 1900) and which continued even after independence. But he never mentioned that Rabindranath Tagore had already established his art (1931-41) as a strong substitute to the neo Indian art and had proven his progressiveness in the Calcutta Group by his principles and behaviour in 1943.

I have a complaint of the historians: if they have accepted Souza, Husain, Gade and Ara as progressive, what adjective would they use for Chittaprosad, Zainul Abedin, Ramkinkar Baij, Somnath Hore, Quamrul Hassan,etc.Chittaprosad joined the people and the people’s movement personally and established new parameters and values of progressive art, but on the other hand Souza insulted women by portraying them with the temperament of sexual perversity and Husain painted gods and goddesses because they are the best and most popular commodity in the Indian art market. Raza entered the world art market with the wish to trap foreign customers in the web of tantra; in fact the artists of the Progressive Artists Group were not progressive in their art or in their commitments. Unfortunately, the system with all its market interests not only ignored the real progressive artists, but declared some artists progressive who were not and thereby distorted the real history. Consequently, true progressive artists have been sent into oblivion.

All other common people’s artists like Chittaprosad, Zainul Abedin, etc. discarded the feudal and narrow values of the tradition of Indian art works and established the life and struggles of common men at the centre of their paintings,and they delineated women in a completely new incarnation. In Somnath Hore’s paintings, women are harvesting with farmer fighters in the fields, confronting the landlords with lathis, and participating in processions. We know about the Santhal women in the paintings of Ram Kinkar;they are full of energy and enthusiasm going to their work all alone. Similarly, like men,the women of Chittaprosad are competent components of society. He also introduced their militant faces in his sketches. He recognised the woman as a mother in his portraits, who contributed more than man in producing the next generation.

Women are at the nucleus in the innumerable paintings of Chittaprosad, but the assignment of women’s class status is absolutely clear in his art works. They are represented either as a wife of a farmer or a partner in labour or a mother of a child labourer or an independent woman who is cutting rocks or stones. Unlike Husain, there is no apple- polishing or sycophancy in portraying a woman as a tyrannical and oppressive woman prime minister of the emergency as the goddess Durga, nor, does he discover progressiveness in creating commotion in the market by insulting woman, painting her as a means of sexual orgies, as Souza does. Is this progressive? Chittaprosad is so different that he can never be analysed and evaluated by the elite art critics fostered by the government and rich with their lame language. How can they analyse him if they are completely ignorant of that class which is depicted in Chittaprosad’s works of art?

Chittaprosad depicted women as performing their important roles, not as a commodity to entertain man. They are either in labour or giving birth to a child (7). Only a committed artist like Chittaprosad can create that scene. It was the height of his commitment towards the oppressed class and his imagination which made it an invaluable piece of art. Like most of his black-and-white pictures as in this lino cut picture, we can see the rhythmic lines. According to the demands of an event, the birth of a child is restricted to the dark corner of the room, and three women are busy performing their duty to bring the child into this world. The only lantern is fighting with the darkness of the room. The description of the atmosphere inside and outside is delineated meticulously. In the history of Indian art, such a meticulous description of reality has been found only in the sixteenth- century Mughal art of Basawan, in the portraits of the artists in the court of Akbar. These paintings are not like photographs, where we simply find superficial presentations of reality, but are significant for their creativity and imagination.

The All India Kisan Sabha’s Vijaywada Conference was important to the Communist Party for many reasons. In this conference, the photographs of Sunil Janah and Chittaprosad’s black- and-white portraitures based on the famine in Bengal were exhibited. The then general secretary P.C. Joshi wrote a long article, ‘The Pen Portrait of the Vijaywada Conference in the Midst of Patriotic Peasants’ in the ‘People’s War’ issue 9 April, 1944.
Chittaprosad also attended the conference and made many portraits at this conference, which are published with the article of P.C. Joshi. He especially painted the women participants in the conference. From this series, there is a picture of an Andhra woman with a child in her lap (8) who participated in the conference. At the very outset, it seems highly simple in its content and form, but the main attention should be given to the fact that earlier, peasant women never had any position in the history of Indian art. This fact provokes a question whether any other famous artists had attended such conferences?

Apart from different sessions, he painted some extraordinary pictures of women participants involved in gossiping, understanding the well-being of each other, in one sketch,(9) some peasants were taking rest in a mango orchard; oxen were untied from the cart and were chewing the cud. The pleasure of attending the conference can be understood easily in seeing two women, one of them with a child on her lap, at the right side of the picture. They are lost in discussion of their pleasures and pains. This picture looks like a gathering of villagers at a fair rather than a political party’s conference.

In another picture which is more or less similar to this picture, (10) women participants of a conference are looking at a portrait with enthusiasm. It is a portrait of the martyr Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (1923-1941), who was in the front rank of a Soviet armed confrontation against a fascist attack. Zoya was caught in the field by the German army and became a prey of the atrocities of the German army officers, and finally she was hanged to die.
 
The majority of Chittaprosad’s works are either created with black ink and brush/ pen or are carved in wood or lino cut. Besides these, there are many pictures made with water colours, pastels, and oil colours on paper and on canvas. In a painting of women and the peasant movement we find a group of people who came to the city from the village by bullock-cart to participate in a political demonstration in Mumbai, where the mother with her suckling is most important because it demarcated her political commitment.

Women in Chittaprosad’s portraitswork shoulder to shoulder with men and are not physically weak. He respectfully delineated their laborious faces ripening in the struggle of life. In a significant painting, Chittaprosad painted the farmers of the Garo mountains. This was first published with the prose work of people’s poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay. In the Garo Mountains the wild boars are a great challenge to crops in the fields. In the painting, the group of farmers is furnished with swords and spears, and is going to hunt wild boars. In this picture, a woman with weapons, like the men, is also going to save the crop from the wild boars. Similarly, in another picture (13) a woman sharing the work with her fellow men is wearing a patched sari; in another picture (14) he illustrated a group of labour where, without any discrimination, men and women are working

Apart from the pictures depicting women in the role of sharing labour with men, he portrayed many where only women, either singly or in a group, are labouring or struggling; one of them is a unique depiction of a group labour of women pushing a truck full of stones to bring it across the ascending slope of the mountain.

There are some lino cuts (16 & 17) of labourer women by Chittaprosad where he depicted extraordinary women doing ordinary jobs. In the first linocut, three Christian women are going to the market to sell chickens, on the way they sit to take a breather and are talking to each other intimately. It is a black-and-white picture, but its texture is noteworthy because the black complexion of the women and their bright dresses make the mood of the picture colourful. In another picture, he sketched a mother building a road with her small child tied on her back, and she has come upon a woman selling fruit on the road side with her two children; one on her lap and the other a girl sitting beside her. This picture clearly shows the sympathetic and sensitive approach of the artist.

This woodcut (18) is important for the texture where he illustrated Marathi women going back home from their job by tram. (This picture belongs to that time when the trams ran in Mumbai.) In the tram, the conductor is the only man; all the rest are women talking to each other.

By incorporating mothers in his art, Pic 14 Chittaprosad has paid tribute to those mothers who are neglected in our art and society because they belong to the lower class due to their financial and social status. There is a linocut (19) of a Marathi woman with a child in her lap created in 1956, and similarly in another portrait, there is a mother with her two children. In this remarkable but natural picture, the eyes of the mother and children draw one’s attention and unexpectedly they recall the style of Jamini Roy.

Besides all this art work, there are some memorable paintings on serious issues. In 1948, the army of the Nizam of Hyderabad, his goondas and the army of independent India carried out outrageous atrocities on the revolutionary poor farmers of Telangana. Peasants were killed in large numbers, their houses were burnt and their women were raped. This brutality is depicted with sensitivity in the poetic work ‘Udyini’ written by Ganginini.

<> Chittaprosad made a sketch for this poetic work with his dark ink pen (21). The subtle description of that shocking incident keeps it alive in the memory of viewers. Even in today’s India these kinds of fierce atrocities are continued. Therefore, this picture of Chittaprosad shows a black history which, unfortunately, is relevant even today.

<> On May Day 1947, he made a portrait of Mother India (22) which illustrated the entire history of the freedom struggle in which a woman with her child in her lap had passed through the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh, the oppression by the English during the Quit India movement and the destruction in the Bengal famine and now she is standing at the start of freedom where the English are ready to go back to their country with their baggage.
This was a significant moment in Indian history, which was realised and depicted in real perspective. When we see this picture, it must not be forgotten that at the time Pic 18 of the transfer of power, the people’s artists played a prominent role. However, the irony of is this is that in 1947 some ambitious and selfish artists had made a thoughtful conspiracy with art traders to present ‘progressiveness’ as a brand and constituted the ‘Progressive Artist Group’. Because of this forged act, a large group of common people’s artists were lost in oblivion.

After six decades of independence, art work has become just the intellectual debauchery of rich people of the metropolises. Most of the artists believe that Indian art is the art of metropolitan cities, and this is gradually diminishing the interest of the common men in art work. The attempt to divide art work in two parts is still in progress. One is the higher art of the rich class and the other is the popular art of the lower class, which is unscientific as well as dangerous to society. Today, to understand the art work of Chittaprosad is much more indispensable than in the past. The process of dividing society into states, regions, metros, tribal areas, on the basis of language, culture, economic and sociological basis has become a dangerous compulsion for the present ruling system. Chittaprosad picturised such labouring classes, which are integrated with each other due to the affinity in their problems, oppression and struggles. Therefore, the responsibility of conception and perception of the concept and assessment of Indian art cannot be given to art traders, government academies and self-esteemed art critics. Certainly, ‘contemporary’ Indian art is an incomplete and unscientific concept which can be developed in the right direction by the intervention of people-oriented artists.

Translated from the Hindi by Archana.

Source: Ashok Bhowmick, ’Takat Adhi Duniya Ki’, Madhya Pradesh Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Indore, 2012, pp. 15-33.

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