Workshop on Kalighat Paintings at HEE MAA Public School organized by JK Arts Foundation

JK Arts Foundation, aims to bring to children especially from underprivileged backgrounds quality education through the integration of the values and lessons of formal education with the various tribal and other indigenous artistic traditions of India, which are now under threat of being forgotten. Hence, the Foundation aspires to achieve the dual aim of popularizing ‘Arts in Education’ in the educational mainstream of India on the one hand and reinvigorating the rich and varied artistic traditions of India among its future citizens on the other, through the use of technology. In pursuing this goal, the Foundation organized on 1 st August, 2022, an on-ground workshop on the Kalighat paintings at HEE MAA Public School in Jagti township, Jammu. Jagti township is a camp established by the Government of India in the year 2011 for the accommodation of scores of Kashmiri Pandits who were displaced from their homes.

The HEE MAA Public School which now stands proud in this township is the result of the endless struggles and labor of Shri Roshan Lal Bhat who has dedicated his life to provide education to the members of the township. Mr. Bhat was raised in a refugee camp called Mishriwala. Upon the request of the members of this camp, he established the Public School Mishriwala which started as seven small tents. The school moved to a rented building in 1996, and finally a building of its own was constructed in 2005. The school was finally granted the status of a 10 th standard school by the government in 2009. When the Jagti township was constructed, the members of the Mishriwala camp and other nearby camps were instructed to move and settle there. The process of establishing a school for the children of this new community began anew and HEE MAA Public School was established by Mr. Bhat in a rented building. The name of this school is inspired by Hindu mythology, HEE standing for Lord Ganesha and MAA standing for goddess Saraswati. This school was recognized up to the 8 th standard by J&K Board of Education in 2014 and was finally recognized up to the 10 th standard in 2017. A two-storeyed building has been constructed for the school, with a third storey being yet to be constructed.

As the session began, Geeta Vaishnavi, Founder of JK Arts Foundation, recounted a brief history of the major indigenous art forms f India, featuring among other aspects the lives and works of some individual artists who took to the world stage the Kalighat paintings. The principal topic of discussion was, of course, the Kalighat paintings, which was the main focus of the workshop. Kalighat painting as an indigenous art form emerged in nineteenth century Calcutta (now Kolkata in West Bengal) as a result of the cosmopolitan culture that had developed there as the center of British colonial dominance in India, drawing influences from Mughal miniature art, local folk art as well as aspects of Western art which adorned the city. The main subjects covered by the Kalighat artists varied with passing decades: beginning with images of gods, goddesses and mythical figures of the locally famous sects of Hinduism and eventually broadening its horizons to cover satirized popular versions of contemporary colonial Calcutta society (ex: the Europeanized babu, the domineering sahib, satires on contemporary events that captured the popular imagination etc.), prominent and popular historical figures and prominent contemporary figures across India (ex.: Rani Lakshmi Bai immediately after the Sepoy Mutiny). This genre of paintings eventually faded into obscurity in the early twentieth century with photography becoming more accessible and Western painting styles triggering a new artistic revolution among the city’s elites.

As a part of the workshop, a video was played explaining a step-by-step process on creating Kalighat paintings. Print-outs of Kalighat paintings were distributed among the participants and they were encouraged to create their own artwork taking inspiration from these print-outs. In the end, the session was a resounding success. The instructors succeeded to raise curiosity among the forty participating children about the Kalighat paintings themselves and the techniques they could employ to create such paintings. Hence, the Foundation was successful in reviving the memory of one of the most important genres of painting that had ornamented Indian soil, that too in a region far away from its place of origin in the minds of students some of whom might grow to appreciate the tradition. The management and faculty of HEE MAA Public School were also impressed and satisfied with the outcome of this workshop. Shri Roshan Lal Bhat, Founder and Principal of HEE MAA Public School, stated, “We are delighted to collaborate with JK Arts Foundation. Folk art of India is part of our heritage and we should include such art forms in the curriculum so that the children can learn about our country’s rich artistic heritage.” Zehnab Akhtar, a teacher in the school, said, “First time such an art workshop has been organized at our school. The children are enthusiastic to learn new folk art forms.”