The Singing Painters of Naya

CLICK ON THE PAINTINGS TO SEE DETAIL Painting and singing stories told in scrolls (patas in Bengali) goes back to ancient times in India. For generations hereditary painter-singers (Patuas or Chitrakars) have been practicing their craft in the Midnapur district of West Bengal. This website introduces the viewer to the village of Naya, 3 hours from Calcutta, where many Chitrakar women have recently taken up the Patua craft. Patuas are Muslims, and they tell the stories of Muslim saints (pirs and fakirs) as well as Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and offer devotion to saints at Muslim shrines. In the past they used to wander from village to village, receiving rice, vegetables and coins for their recital. They would unroll a scroll, a frame at a time, and sing their own compositions. But competition from other media eroded this way of life and nowadays the Patuas are trying to adapt to changing conditions. Recently the Chitrakar women of Naya village formed a scroll painters’ cooperative. Anthropologists/filmmakers Lina Fruzzetti, Akos Ostor and Aditi Nath Sarkar have directed a film Singing Pictures about the women artists lives and work. The exhibition web site: COMMENTARIES HIV / AIDS Dimensions (cm): 284 x 56 Artist/Singer: Swarna Chitrakar Listen, everyone, pay attention. I would like to talk about HIV AIDS HIV came from the west & has infected hundreds in India. It is not an infectious disease. It spreads from 4 things: Using the same syringe for addiction, using the same syringe for injection; from pregnant HIV carrier women. Or having unprotected sex with ‘infected’ women In case these 4 things are taken care of, HIV will not occur. That is why I request the Doctors; the syringes for injection should be changed. In case of blood transfusion, the blood has to be checked first. If a pregnant mother carries a baby, it can be born infected. I appeal to all Indians to use Nirodh condoms. If anybody has AIDS, don’t keep it secret. Get admitted to the district hospital. You can test your blood in confidence paying Rs 10 in VCTC centers. Scroll Painting: Bin Laden – 11 September, Santal life (The beginning image is of the two planes and the WTC) Artist: Lutfa Chitrakar My name is Lufta, and I was born in Banpura—although my parental home is in Paskura. My grandmother took me and my sister away from my parents at a very young age. My parents had divorced each other and were in no position to care for us. And although my grandmother was poor, she managed to struggle to provide milk, barley, sago and rice to nurture us. Later, my mother remarried and took my sister away from me and my grandmother. I suppose that in that way I had a fractured childhood without a traditional family. After I grew a little older, I told her I wanted to live with my father. By then, he had married a woman and settled in a community called Tata. After I left my grandmother, I met a distant cousin of mine who also lived in Tata, and he took me to my father. I stayed in my father’s home for about six months and learned about him and the life that he had built for himself. He had a large plot of farming land, and he cultivated it year-round by farming rice, potatoes and wheat during their respective seasons. Sadly, while I lived with him, my step-mother used to abuse me to the point of torture. She would make me work all day without time to rest or eat—as if I were an animal. She would command me to sow seeds when it was time for rice crops; she’d make me haul bales of hay everywhere. During the potato season, she’d send me to gather potatoes from the field. Then she would ask me to work in the fields to harvest nuts, and I would have to turn over all of my harvest to her. Beyond working on my father’s land, I would sow potato seeds and till the fields that belonged to other members of the community. So much work! And yet I could never satisfy her despite my hard work. The abuse and enslavement was so horrible that I considered returning to my grandmother’s home. I told my cousin who had brought me there one day that I was sick of staying there, and he helped me to escape and return to my grandmother. Before I left Tata, my grandmother heard of my troubles and came to my father to take me home. She was so old at that point but loved me so much and it seemed as if she would do anything to ensure my welfare. She told me one day that she wasn’t able to feed me anymore, and I would have to work as well. She put me to work as a maid in a neighbor’s home. I had to wash dishes, clothes, sweep, and clean the cowshed there. I was able to get a couple of meals everyday, torn clothes to wear, and a little bit of money. One day, my grandmother suddenly showed up at the home where I was working. I asked her if something had happened, and she told me that she had arranged my marriage. I explained to her that I couldn’t marry just yet—I was so young! And when I refused, she explained to me that she was so old, and that she didn’t want to die without making sure I was married. She told me no one else would care enough about me to make sure that I got married. So, with that, I couldn’t refuse. After all, she was the wom an that had dedicated herself to raising me. So I married when I was about fifteen years old. Soon after, I had two sons and a daughter. As far as scroll painting and singing went, my husband taught me a great deal. In the beginning he didn’t want to, though. He had a tremendous objection to my going out to paint or sing. One time, the opportunity arose for me to participate in a program in Calcutta. The fair there dealt with various diseases like malaria, HIV, typhoid, and others, and their prevention. I was asked to sing, but my husband didn’t allow me to go. At the time, he rationalized his restriction by saying that we hardly knew anything about scroll painting and singing. He told me that I shouldn’t exert myself and make such an effort by traveling such a distance. So I stayed at home, and looking back on it, I regret passing up the opportunity.But I joined the training center and learned to paint and sing in the women’s committee. The members of the women’s committee would go everywhere to participate in fairs, paint scrolls, show them, sing songs, and their husbands always cooperated with them—they would never stop their wives. But I’ve never had the opportunity to learn the songs that the committee women sing or to paint the scrolls that they make because my husband won’t allow me to go anywhere. He and I started off very poor, but now we are managing. Both of us sing and paint scrolls—he has softened a lot and allowed me to participate from time to time. He goes to other villages to make money by showing our scrolls and singing. I don’t go out too much, but we share what he makes. I do wish that I had the freedoms that other women in the committee have, but I suppose I understand my husband’s reasoning for limiting my participation. CREDITS FOR EXHIBITION AND WEB SITE: This site was developed in conjunction with the exhibit Singing Pictures: Art and Performance of Naya's Women, which opens July 5th 2007. Special thanks to the National Museum of Ethnology in Lisbon, Portugal for their involvement with the exhibit, which opened from 5 July 2007 through 6 January 2008. Ákos Östör, Professor of Anthropology & Film Studies, Wesleyan University Lina Fruzzetti, Professor of Anthropology, Brown University Special thanks to Aditi Nath Sarkar* for his contributions from long-term fieldwork in Naya Village. Graphics / Coding – Jason Lalor A Book about Story Scrolls in Bengal: Village of Painters: Narrative Scrolls from West Bengal (Paperback) by Frank J. Korom (Author), Paul J. Smutko (Photographer)