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Saturday, May 2, 2009


(Pic: One of the works on exhibition)

Indian Participation In The 'Not Alone – An International Project Of Make Art Stop Aids’ Exhibition.

The Patta Chitra collection is a series of scrolls from India’s traditional arts brought to the Durban Art Gallery by its curator, Ms. Nandita Palchoudhuri. A National Board Member of the India Foundation for the Arts and an international expert on folk art, she is bringing with her a ‘Patua’ singer called Gurupada Chitrakar who narrates the story of the scrolls.

This project grows out of a tradition to reach illiterate communities and is usually used to tell the stories of the deities. However, Nandita, together with an American organization, "Make Art Stop Aids" now uses this tradition to paint stories about Aids prevention, and this is then "sung" to communities. The works are exhibited at the Durban Art Gallery together with many other works from four countries in the exhibition Not Alone – An International project of Make Art/Stop Aids.

The visit of the pair from India has been sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi and eThewini Municipality. During their stay in Durban from May 5 to10, 2009, Nandita and Gurupada will visit the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies in Mtubatuba.

Story Telling through painted scrolls is an age-old practice of village folk in different parts of India. Before the advent of cinema the ingenious artisans devised a method of presenting the moving image with an audio accompaniment. In West Bengal the form is known as “Jorano –Pat” and is found in significant concentration in the Midnapore District.

Taking themes from the dramatic mythology of India, stories are illustrated in a sequence of frames on a long sheet of paper backed with cloth, which is rolled into a scroll. An accompanying song is created, telling the story, frame by frame. Travelling from village to village, The painter-lyricist-singer sits before a large audience and sing out these stories while unrolling the Scroll. He is paid in terms of food or money. For hundreds of years this has not only been a means of entertainment but also education and information.

The Patuas of Medinipur are an endogamous caste whose religion and customs lie between Hinduism and Islam. While they follow Muslim custom for life-marking ceremonies, they paint primarily Hindu stories, and observe a number of Hindu rituals.

This performance genre once drew its stories from the great Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and other traditional narratives. In recent years, however, local nongovernmental organizations have begun commissioning scrolls addressing health issues such as polio vaccination or the prevention of diarrhoea. Other scrolls have told of the evils of dowry deaths and female infanticide or dealt with how to overcome illiteracy. This set the stage for the most recent development in Patua performance: the use of scroll painting and singing for HIV/AIDS education.

Nandita Palchoudhuri, a folk arts curator based in Kolkata, became concerned that Patua scroll painting was dying out due to competition from television and also the collapse of the system of patronage that traditionally supported it. Some of the best artists sought alternative employment in furniture making, the gem-cutting industry, or farming. In 2001, Palchoudhuri approached Rani Chitrakar and her husband, Shamsundar, with the idea that they produce HIV/AIDS scrolls.

A few years later in 2004, Dr. David Gere of the UCLA partnered Nandita Palchoudhuri to devise a new arts-based intervention program which has since been implemented in two districts of West Bengal with great success. In each village, two Patua—one man and one woman—join a pair of community health workers at least one of whom is HIV-positive. Together they make multiple visits to villages, performing the Scroll that focus on themes of HIV transmission, stigmatization, testimonials of AIDS patients, condom use and access to medications and love with responsibility.

HIV Scrolls currently being used in rural Bengal as a part of an HIV awareness program are displayed at the exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery.

Gurupada Chitrakar,a National award winning traditional Patua Painter and a member of the intervention group, will be available in Durban to demonstrate the traditional painting and perform songs with explanations from Curator, Nandita Palchoudhuri. More information from the Durban Art Gallery on 031 311 2262.