March 3, 2017

Chittaprosad's Alpona

        Chittaprosad Bhattacharya (India, 1915-1978) chose not to use his surname because of his rejection of the caste system in India.  He was a radical leftist political artist who used art to raise awareness of social issues, and used printmaking as propaganda for the masses.  In places where literacy is low and multiple languages are spoken, art is particularly effective at spreading ideas.  As I’ve mentioned before, angry propaganda is not appealing to me, but later in his life Chittaprosad became increasingly interested in movements to promote peace and aid children, and these are topics that certainly resonate much more with me.  I can’t find dates for any of the pieces I’m sharing today - work intended for mass distribution is seldom signed or dated - but judging from the subject matter, I’m guessing these are all later works.
        The first one is called “Alpona,” which is the traditional drawing of designs on the ground during special occasions.  You can see the woman drawing her design with sand or rice paste from her bowl, as other women and children look on.  It seems to me, however, that there’s a hint of a double meaning here, with the beautiful wealth of designs Chittaprosad uses in his wood block prints.  Like relief printmaking, alpona (or alpana) is most often done in white on a dark background, and like the patterns Chittaprosad clearly revels in, it can represent auspicious elements or be purely abstract.
        The mother and children in the second piece are quite stylized in a style very similar to the first.  They look more like archetypes than a portrait of specific people, and the piece includes several symbols, too, such as a dove, a flower, a sheaf of rice, and the boy playing a flute.  Once again I really like the patterns of the saris, the boldness of the carving, and the almost cuneiform look of the grass.
        I’ve chosen this third piece because it’s a little different, a wide landscape with more of a look of a specific place.  I especially like the water buffalo, of course, but there are lots of little details in the background, including tiny flying birds.  Almost all Chittaprosad’s prints seem to include birds!  There are children here again, too, and like the other pieces I’ve chosen it gives an impression of peace and sufficiency.  May all the world’s children enjoy these things!

[Pictures: Alpona, wood block print by Chittaprosad;
Mother and Children, wood block print by Chittaprosad (Images from Art alinda);
Untitled, wood block print by Chittaprosad (Image from Saffron Art).]

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