Art

This Tripura school and gallery marks its sixth year at the ongoing India Art Festival in Delhi

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Nitai Das has long been representing both himself — as well as the various folk and tribal artists he brings — under the Kala Bhawan banner

At the ongoing India Art Festival, a two-part stall near the back rows is occupied by a gallery called Kala Bhawan in Tripura. A far cry from the 30-odd galleries from the metro cities, Kala Bhawan is an independent school and gallery run by Delhi-based Nitai Das, who works with Doordarshan (DD).

His mother Shanti, a musician, had started the school in 1966, a year before he was born. “It was a very small school at the time and she used to charge only ₹5 a month for music and art classes. But I loved everything about them,” he recalls. It was when Nitai returned after he’d graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Santiniketan in West Bengal that he began to get involved, first by teaching art, and slowly taking over the operation, later building a third floor space for the gallery.

Over the course of his 26-year-employment with DD, Nitai has also been growing his own art practice, having had solo shows at the likes of the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai (2009), the Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata (2010), and the Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi (2011).

This is his sixth time participating in the festival, representing both himself as well as the various folk and tribal artists he brings under the Kala Bhawan banner. Sitting in his booth amidst his acrylic-on-canvases, Nitai talks about his future plans for this school, located in Ranirbazar, about half an hour away from Agartala.

Edited excerpts from a conversation:

Why did you start working with DD?

Around 1991 I was taking care of the school full time, when Doordarshan was opening its operations in the state. They needed someone who could read and write Hindi. I applied, got it, and have been working with them since 1993.

My first thought when I got the job was that, ‘Okay, great I’ll have enough money to run Kala Bhawan well.’

Who has been looking after the school since you moved out?

This Tripura school and gallery marks its sixth year at the ongoing India Art Festival in Delhi

I’ve put my younger brother, Gour Das in charge. He’s a singer too. He’s now also introduced mainstream education. Our parent organisation is called Pragya Shanti, with Kala Bhawan as the arts wing. There are now 450 students.

What art have you brought with you to the India Art Festival?

I have brought in a total of 43 artists, focusing on tribal art forms. This includes people from various states. There are tribal artists from Tripura like Swapan Deb Barman, and from Assam like Nilakshi Bezbaruah.

I have some more from Bhopal too. I’ve made a little gallery with the works of all these artists. If I can manage to sell, then I give them the money.

How often do you go back to the school?

I go back home twice a year. Every January, from whatever is left of our income — usually this is about ₹20-25,000, not more — we give an award to honour practising artists, who are 80 years and over. We haven’t been able to do this over the last three years because we are doing construction and repairs at the school.

But we are re-starting the awards in January 2020. I’m also currently making sculptures to install at the school’s premises — artists, authors, freedom fighters — we will put up their busts along the school’s compound walls.

India Art Festival, on till 17 November, Thyagaraj Stadium, near INA Market

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:00:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/nitai-das-of-kala-bhawan-gallery-and-school-marks-six-years-at-india-art-festival-in-delhi/article29991158.ece

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