Painting the Path to Empowerment Today Monimala is a celebrated painter who has made ace entrepreneurship with her art .

By Baishali Mukherjee

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Monimala Chitrakar, is a traditional artist from Naya village in Paschim Medinipue district of West Bengal. Chitrakar means painter and in Naya everyone is a painter or Chitrakar. An intricate tapestry of music and visual art is what makes Naya more than just a village. The nondescript hamlet is home to around 300 Chitrakars or Patuas, a unique tribe of folk artists who are painters, lyricists, singers and performers - all in one. The folk painting called Patachitra is a cultural tradition of India that draws inspiration from the mythological tales of India. Every household is a workshop and from five years to fifty artists abound in Naya.

Inheriting Art as legacy

Monimala too was exposed to this art environ since birth. A paint brush and paper was her first toy and she played with it to glory. "I was 5 when I started accompanying Dukhushyam, a veteran and legendary Patachitra painter and my mother's maternal uncle, as he travelled with his paintings. My role was to sing songs which are an integral part of the paintings. Patuas paint stories in picture frames on long scrolls of cloth and sings the story while unfurling the scroll," informs folk artist.

Making art the tool for entrepreneurship

Today Monimala is 44 years old, a celebrated painter who has made ace entrepreneurship with her art and has travelled far and wide with her master pieces. Patachitra art captured the attention of the West and researchers started visiting the village since early 90's. Monimala's potential was indentified and she career as an artist kicked off. At the age of 15 she attended her first exhibition in Bhopal at Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya. That was the beginning and she never looked back. In the last 17 years she has participated in different art forums, exhibitions, symposiums and workshops in Kerala, Mysore, Mumbai, Surat, and Delhi.

Monimala distinguishes her art by creating a distinct style of her own, something that has received rave reviews at home and recognition in foreign shores. "After some years I started improvising my art as I got little bored. Pictures in the newspapers fascinated me and I used to replicate them in Patachitra art. This has eventually created a niche for me," informs the mother of six professional painters trained under her.

Crossing boundaries the born painter spread her wings further and visited Brown University in Boston in 2005 to exhibit her art and to demonstrate the techniques of this unique art form to the students. Since then she has made her presence felt in the art-spheres of New Zealand, Australia, Bangkok and Europe.

Harnessing art for social cause

Under the guidance of the leading artists like Monimala, the painters of Naya village have started using natural colours extracted from different vegetables, fruits and flowers. The repertoire has also widened from Mythology. "Travelling made us aware of the social issues and we thought of reflecting that through our painting. Our canvas now captures themes ranging from human trafficking, protection of biodiversity, life stories of eminent persons to terrorist attacks on World Trade Centre at New York or Taj at Mumbai," enthused Monimala. The painters are not only painting and singing on new themes but have also made new forays. They are designing apparels, stationery items and home décor products with Patachitra motifs and have a built a resource centre inside the village to exhibit their creations.

Facilitating collective entrepreneurship

The recognition and success of the painters of Monimala's stature has attracted attention of the art connoisseurs all over the world and visitors from home and abroad come to participate the annual village fair named POTMaya held in November. The village decks up with colours and motifs and offer a good scope to learn about mythology and extracting natural colour and collect some great work. Monimala along with other senior artists of Naya trains the next generation in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Medinipur and facilitates art based livelihood for these budding painters. A village that thrives on art both aesthetically and professionally emphatically upholds the potential of heritage art in today's context.

More colours to your canvas!

Baishali Mukherjee

Former Freelancer

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