Pat paintings by Uttam Chitrakar, depicting nautch girls in beard and man looking into mirror to find the reflection of a woman resurface the matters of queer identities.
A self-taught artist, Chitrakar has been working on many commercial projects on pat painting besides selling his works in Hosto Shilpo Mela in Kolkata, a handicraft fair run by the state of West Bengal in past.
Bengal Pat is relatively young tradition of art inspired from Kalighat paintings when the scroll painters switched from painting in a narrative style to single pictures depicting the stories that were sung on the streets the songs that balladeer sung on the streets about the past events and incidents of the places and also about the wars, fights, Kings and their kingdoms, incidents, and tragedies, artists use the colours made from spices, leaves, flowers, earth, soot, etc. Most of the paintings only used the traditional colors of Bengal. The traditional colors of Bengal are red, green, black, indigo, deep yellow to orange, and brown.
His recent work drew inspiration from the photographs taken by Kolkata-based visual artist and photographer Swarup Dutta Dutta’s which involved looking at natural bodies, away from the highly-sexualised manner.
After having conversations with him on what is supposed to be an contentious subject Chitrakar came up with a series of artwork such as a man looking into a mirror and seeing the reflection of a woman. The artist is enquiring from viewers to consider what the layered experiences of queerness might be, such as in another painting where the figure holds up a mirror, only to see their perfect reflection thrown back at them.
Artists practicing have eventually improvised the Pat painting in secular themes, serving as a visual socio-cultural commentary of the times. Baro Market in Bengal, like many other establishments across the country, has showcased contemporary craft practices, and Chitrakar’s works are among them.