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The Indian artist Arjun Das left his native village in the Giridih district of Jharkhand at the age of eleven to move with his brothers to Kolkata, where he began working as a scullery boy. Like the other families of the village built on the edge of a thick jungle unfortunately stripped by reckless cuts, not even his family was able to get him to study because the school was very far away and they couldn’t afford a bicycle.
During breaks at work, Arjun began to draw to the amazement of everyone and especially of a restaurant customer of whom he had painted a portrait who advised him to enroll in an art school. The artist was the only one from the entire rural area of his district to finish his studies in visual arts at Rabindra Bharati University, Tagore’s university.
I was able to see his works in an exhibition organized in Switzerland, where he stayed as an artist in residence, as well as in Belgium.
Drawings or miniatures
These are drawings or miniatures made on wrapping paper dedicated to tea towels, sandals, vests, humble things belonging to the poorest people in India. In fact, his interest is aimed above all at the manual workers who live in the slums of Kolkata and who every day go to the largest market in the megalopolis to offer themselves as a workforce with their own tools that they always carry with them: hammers, tongs, pickaxes, clubs.
The artist began to frequent them daily, often spending the night in cubbyholes where up to eight people could sleep, drawing and listening to their stories, and feeling both an “outsider” and an “insider”. Even the sculptures and bas-reliefs are small in size, not because Das does not feel the greatness of the effort to survive the harshness of everyday life of those who belong to the lowest classes of the Indian system, but to force those who look to carefully observe that poverty full of dignity and those objects full of history. Represented are simple tools, faded dothi, old flip-flops that protected feet used to walking kilometers, or glimpses of the miserable huts.
He recreates them with artistic skill and enough heart to be able to communicate the human vastness of those small worlds. He uses only recycled material, carves with extraordinary skill pieces of wood found in the slums to give life to microscopic scenes that perfectly reproduce the rickety interiors of the slums with worn switches and exposed pipes on which plastic containers and toothbrushes are hung. teeth. Or he recreates a rope bed from his village in which the work tools hidden underneath allude to the harsh lockdown due to the pandemic.