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Art of the Villages

Artist Mrinal Mandal is the torch-bearer of a new kind of revolution in art. He is instrumental in initiating Chalchitra Academy in India, a project to revive forgotten villages while focusing on the indigenous art of the region, making the villagers socio-economically empowered and self-sufficient.

Art is said to have a sublime effect on our senses. Art has always been a way to instigate our imagination, make us reflect within, and inspires us in ways we never thought possible. But what if art is all this and more. Kolkata-based artist Mrinal Mandal teaches us that art can be used to inspire and provide a livelihood to an indigenous, and almost neglected human settlement.

Mrinal Mandal has a single-minded intent. That his intent is not to put the focus on himself or his art but on the art that has emerged from a village called Khwaabgaon near his hometown, reflects the deep passion for his birthplace and for the medium of art. This village, situated 4 km from Jhargram town was initially known as Lalbazar and was renamed by eminent academician, essayist, and author Sibaji Bandyopadhyay.

This beautiful village was chanced upon by Mrinal on his travels in search of folk art after he graduated from the Government Arts College, Kolkata. “In 2018, I chanced upon this village, surrounded by forests, and I immediately took a liking for it. I decided to make it a beautiful village by teaching art to its people,” he says.

“These people are from the Lodha tribe, once outlawed by the British. Traditionally, they are very shy people,” remembers Mrinal who then turned to art and drawings of their life to foster a bond with them.

Today, the residents of the village Khwaabgaon, or village of dreams, earn a decent income by selling paintings and handicrafts to tourists. It is therefore not a surprise that even tourists have started to visit Khwaabgaon, to take a look at the village itself, where the walls of most houses are akin to an art gallery, painted with works of art.

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Mrinal who lives in Jhargram commutes to Khwaabgaon on a daily basis and continues his weekly classes, where the villagers are being trained in various types of art and craft-work through special workshops. Kutum-katum, (handicrafts made from twigs) Kantha sewing, Alpina, eco print, machine sewing, pottery, wall painting, and training in other artistic things are being carried on here. All the walls of the village have been filled with vibrant paintings. What Mrinal has achieved is to make an entire village of fewer than 80 people have a dream, to create and then to monetise on that dream, which makes them motivated to come out of their cautious existence.

National and international artists have started visiting the village and Chalchitra Academy, as Mrinal has named his endeavour, Now that the Academy has gathered acclaim, Mrinal is moving on to a larger canvas. The Academy currently teaches 120 students arts and crafts, free of any cost.

“With the aim of improving the life and livelihood of the villagers, Chalchitra Academy is going to draft and embark upon a few more plans in the near future. For more than two years without any help from the government or any private agencies, and merely with the support and cooperation of the members and friends, art at Khwaabgaon has taken the form of a veritable movement. The waves of this movement have rippled into the Bay of Bengal, to the Arabian Sea, and thence far across the Indian Ocean,” he says.

“Khwaabgaon has recently been mentioned in a research paper at the Liverpool University of England. Internationally renowned artist Jogen Chowdhury has lent his support and enthusiasm to this work of Chalchitra Academy and has praised the work besides providing a certificate. International artist Tracy Lee Stum from the USA has been fascinated by this village while conducting workshops out there. She is in regular contact with the youth of the village,” recounts Mrinal.

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Interest has increased for Mrinal’s self-less work and two National Award-winning art directors Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray have joined hands with Mrinal. The artistic movement is not only about arousing people’s aesthetic consciousness or creating a sustainable livelihood through art. The people of the village, who had hitherto been deprived of minimum government facilities, are now beginning to access these facilities.

This is the success of the labour of Chalchitra Academy says Mrinal not without a hint of pride. “We have succeeded in drawing the attention of the government to these socioeconomically underprivileged people through this unique movement of ours.”

As Chalchitra Academy continues on its dream, Mrinal aims to target more such underprivileged, forgotten communities and create opportunities while giving them their basic needs.

“More villages like Khwaabgaon will be built side by side. But our power is limited. This type of work requires a lot of labour and money. If you see and truly appreciate our work, then do extend your hand of cooperation, sympathy and love. Stand by these disadvantaged people. Only then will our ideas and this artistic movement be truly successful.”

To get in touch with Mrinal and Chalchitra Academy, contact Mrinal on +919433245574