An ex-corporate employee turned educationist turned art entrepreneur, Raktima Mitra’s tryst with art and traditional art forms grew with proceeding time. It was in her desires of desire to do something greater for India and its art forms. Being an ardent lover of art, she soon created a group along with her sister and called it World of Wonders also WOW. This venture today successfully deals in handmade Patachitra products like trays, coasters, key rings, canvas paintings, dupattas, blouses, sarees, jewelry, vases, pots, etc.
WOW uses different art forms for its creations but specifically explores the artworks of Bengal. Raktima has been indulging herself to work with the local artisans of Rural Bengal. After visiting various districts of Bengal like Midnapore, Purulia, and Bankura, one thing is clear to her. The rural artforms from these places need to reach out across India and cross borders to various foreign countries. This is much needed for the sustainability of the art form and its carriers. The artisans already lead miserable lives facing adversities and WOW wanted to be their only hope.
WOW was formed as a group of 7 artisans from Bengal of which a few have malignant cancer and some are physically disabled. Their disability however doesn’t come in the way of their expertise of art forms of Bengal. Humble beginnings since 2018, WOW has since shared its sales proceeds with organizations like CINI, CRY, and two local groups as well who feed the needy locals.
Raktima also particularly found ‘Patachitra’ to be an interesting subject and started to implement the same in her different art pieces. ‘Patachitra’ is basically an old traditional art form of Odisha which is also very popular in West Bengal. This art form in Bengal is a component of narrative art. It is also considered as a traditional and mythological heritage of West Bengal. One of the best-known painters of Bengal, Sri Jamini Roy who initially used to paint in the western style was later influenced by the Bengal ‘Patachitra’.
Of her many visits to Birbhum and Midnapore, she came across this art form way back in 2010 and fell in love with it. Raktima was awestruck by the combination of colors. The Bengal ‘Patachitra’ in particular, has a different type of motif and aspects that unrolled the Bengali culture using the mythological epic and the natural colors. ‘Chalchitra’ is a part of Bengal Patachitra which is normally used to create the background of the Durga Pratima (idol).
Bengal Patua artists carry the occupational surname of ‘Chitrakar’. They are either Hindus or Muslims. They mainly reside in the districts of Birbhum, Midnapore, Bankura, and Murshidabad. The Patuas normally visit villages and go from house to house with their bags of scrolls and sing songs. In return for their services, they are paid either in cash or in kind. Due to this pandemic situation, their movements have been restricted and they are being forced to remain in their respective houses. This has led to extreme poverty and the dearth of food in these regions.
The Chitrakars use their talent to create beautiful pieces of art and sculpture. Thereby, this particular art form has gained immense popularity in Western countries too. WOW uses this art form in designing pots, vases, sarees, stoles, furniture, jewelry, lampshades, and other innumerable items. World of Wonders is fortunate to have a few of these extremely talented artisans in their team. In order to gather more knowledge and expertise, they have been regularly conducting meetings, training sessions, and workshops together.
WOW has combined Patachitra along with other art forms like Madhubani, Mandala, Kalamkari, Gond to create unique designs for mirrors, ceramic plates, coasters, trays, dupattas, sarees, blouses, jewelry, and T-shirts. They used ‘Patachitra’ (narrative form) to decorate a Puja Pandal in Kolkata last year and people from abroad who visited the Pandal had appreciated their work. They had also designed pots, hand fans, plates, glasses, lamps, incense burners, and trays for two different Pandals during Durga Puja. WOW got successful enough to set a trend!
Due to COVID – 19 and India being under lockdown and still unlocking slowly. These artisans have no work and no fresh orders are being placed since no transport is available. They are all in poor condition and are looking for options elsewhere. Raktima recently came to know that two of her Chitrakars are looking for jobs outside Bengal or even abroad. Their work has stopped entirely and they are not getting any orders. It’s an art form that Bengal is proud of and hopefully, our country realizes that we need to spread a word around. As far as the well being of these artisans is concerned, the local authorities are supplying food at times but not on a regular basis. The artisans are facing the brunt of the pandemic situation.
“Our group achieved a milestone when our artworks based on Patachitra were sent to Bangladesh, USA, and Singapore last year and were highly appreciated. Everything was going on well and then COVID happened! I called up my fellow artisans at Midnapore and Birbhum to enquire about their well being after the massive storm Amphun in Bengal and came to know that their houses are in bad shape and they are in a huge crisis of food and other essentials.”
She appeals to all the readers here, “I shall be thankful if my dear friends put a step forward in helping these extremely talented and creative artists so that they survive and can again contribute to this rich cultural heritage.”
World Of Wonders have recently started working with them again so that they feel encouraged and do not even think of leaving Bengal, or else, it would ruin the entire art community. I am hopeful that one day the entire World would say ‘WOW Bengal’ ‘WOW India’! Raktima wants her dream of a WOW Bengal and WOW India, to be carried forward by her son who is also an ardent art lover just like her and an integral part of her group.
WinningStree always runs her own race and so is Raktima Mitra! We wish Raktima and her initiative WOW all the best!