OUTRAGE, SOCIOPOLITICS AND SATIRE IN THE ART OF CHITTAPROSAD
When Jane and I moved to India in 1993, we were struck by the casual genius that surrounded us [...] We first came across Chittaprosad’s works in the mid-1990s. His importance rang out clearly like a bell on a cold morning at daybreak. Here is a man fired by passion to record the pain and turmoil that surrounded him. His ability to combine sensitivity for the suffering and raw anger at the elite set him apart as a distinctive talent.
Bengal in the mid-twentieth century was the eye of the storm of change blowing through India. It nurtured a host of sensitive and thoughtful artists who felt compelled to respond to the turmoil and tragedy around them: Ganesh Pyne, Prokash Karmakar, Somnath Hore and Chittaprosad. Chittaprosad stands out as an icon. His fury and empathy flows on the surface for all to see but runs deep with the power to slice into the viewer’s consciousness.
Our collection of Chittaprosad gives great pleasure to all who see it. His images take you on an accelerated journey into the epicentre of the revolt that started with the Mutiny and would have exploded into revolution had the colonialists not withdrawn. Chittaprosad’s images are a visual force of nature – more powerful when he weeps for his subjects than when he draws with a clenched fist. As a colonial administrator, I would have looked at these images with fear sensing that the game was over. In austere black and white here is a man who with an economical use of pen and ink manages to convey the anguish of a nation in a simple direct way with the power to move the multitude.
-Kito de Boer
Chittaprosad Bhattacharya was a pioneer of highly-politicized, socio-responsive art in India. Working predominantly with paper, using ink or the linocut process, his images are graphically impactful and bristle with emotion. Each of his works is a response to the horrors and burning injustices he witnessed firsthand in Bengal. The images have an immediacy and specificity that give them a journalistic quality, comparable to the work of celebrated war photographers like Don McCullins. They are often harrowingly candid, particularly his early works from the 1940s that focus on the Bengal Famine and the Quit India movement. However, the artist is perhaps most well-known for his political ‘cartoons’, which combine scorn with satire in images that radiate immediacy and gestalt. As a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) from 1936, Chittaprosad's political sympathies give each of his political cartoons a didactic quality. During the 1940s and 50s, Chittaprosad became a visual mouthpiece for the CPI, the disenfranchised laborers of Bengal. Each work represents a protest or political statement about issues that resonated with the masses, which was particularly relavent in the lead up to independence and turmoil created in the wake of Partition.
Later works from the 1970s follow the Bangladesh War and quest for independence. Lot 460 is a rare large scale example of a work in color that depicts the horrors of war. In a clear homage to Picasso’s Guernica, painted in 1937, Chittaprosad draws a comparison between the bloodshed and civilian collateral damage endured in the Bangladeshi War and the Spanish War of Independence.
Chittaprosad's works are anti-colonial, anti-imperial, and aimed to provoke those responsible for the injustices he acutely portrays. However, they resonate with too much veracity and social realism to be considered as propaganda. These images represent significant social commentary and are a historical record not only of events during the formation of nation states, but also of the spirit of Bengal, its courage and conviction even in the hardest of times.