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The Garai Art Centre- Workshop & Institution near Kolkata built by a single family manifests the art of selling one’s creation

In the family of renowned sculptor Tarka Garai and his teacher wife Minakshi, all believe that if one is strong in her or his field, any artist can not only survive, but thrive like any  successful businessman.

The Garais have been artists for two generations. Tarak Garai is a renowned sculptor, and his wife, Minakshi Garai, both paints and teaches. Indranil, their son, runs his own architectural sculpting firm in Pune and Bangalore, while their daughter, Shashwati Garai Ghosh, is an Odissi exponent and teacher.

Standing out in Brahmapur’s Charunagar, an ordinary Kolkata neighbourhood, their imposing home-cum-studio is adorned by a massive terracotta one-piece mural depicting Krishna’s tribal upbringing, which is solely made by Tarak Garai.Every corner of this space seems to have been touched by the genius of its inhabitants.

The momennt you enter the Garai Art Centre, the reverbations of artistic souls come wafting in the your ears. Much of the courtyard now doubles up as Shashwati’s dance studio. Tarak’s massive workshop has taken over most of the garage. The walls are adorned by Tarak and Indranil’s sculptures. The paintings are all Tarak’s and Minakshi’s.

Though  Coming from non artistic  backgrounds the creativity and persistence of both Tarak, 80, and Minakshi, 75 eventually found a way of making itself manifest. As a kid, he would make thakurs (idols) out of sand and he remembers how the villagers would gather around and say, ‘Oi dyakh, Tarak ki korchhe!’ (Look at what Tarak is doing!’) Their encouragement would give him a lot of motivation. But all that was for pure joy. He didn’t even know one could do higher studies in art, let alone make a living from it.”

A teacher from Tarak’s school urged his father to get him into art achool to fulfil his dream, and his father, too, relented but agreed to pay for his education at Kala Bhavana, Visva-Bharati, but no help from him after graduating.”

Tarak and Minakshi met at Kala Bhavana. Santiniketan had had a “very profound impact” on him, Tarak says, “It was here that I met my mentor, Ramkinkar Baij. All our teachers were crucial in our journey. He never did small work. Everything had to be huge. In fact, even when he is buying vegetables, they need to be huge.

After working with an interior design firm for 2-3 years for a nominal wage, he left the job. The couple then used some of their original designs to set up a sari-printing business in Kolkata. But unfortunately a fire broke out in the shop ,Tarak immediately rushed there, but he came back dejected as everything from the machine to the products had all gone.

They started again from scratch, Tarak’s dedication to art seemed to pay off almost immediately. Within a month of his switch, he had made a huge wooden sculpture of Mahishasura, which the National Art Gallery bought for Rs 50,000.

This gave him more joy and creative fulfilment than orders worth lakhs he had bagged in my interior decoration days. As he kept working, he saw pieces that he sold for Rs 15 lakh being auctioned for crores, giving him even more validation. He sold a lot of my work, but has stopped doing so in the last 20 years.

Tarak’s artistic style is even reflected in his parenting. He tells My Kolkata, “Growing up in my village, I lived in close proximity to Santhal tribals. I was particularly fascinated by how the mothers brought up their kids.

Though he specialises in bronze, he also finds ways of moulding his ideas into terracotta, stone, fibreglass and wood. Minakshi talks about how tribal mothers have influenced Tarak at a yet more elemental level. “His work often shows a mother at work, while her child climbs and plays around her.

According to Minakshi, “Our families used to believe that ‘artist hole khete pabena’ (‘artists will never be able to earn enough to eat), but we have proved everyone wrong. This only shows that if one is strong in her or his field, any artist can not only survive, but thrive.”

Tarak stopped selling his sculptures 25 years ago and now archives over 300 of his works at Garai Art Centre. He wants to eventually consolidate his work at the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Images by Suvendu Das

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