When Surajit Biswas graduated from Visva-Bharati in 2014, earning a master’s degree in painting, he knew he was going to Baroda. Several of his seniors at the university had moved there and even he, while paying a visit to them, had discovered for himself that the city was more conducive to struggling artists like him.
“There are frequent camps and exhibitions, and there are ample studio spaces — the culture in Baroda is generally favourable for artists, especially those who have just graduated and are looking for platforms to hone their skills,” Mr. Biswas, 40, told The Hindu.
After about five years in that city, where he continues to be based, the artist decided to create a bit of Baroda in Santiniketan for the benefit of art students in Bengal. He started a project called Hidden Artist Initiative, under which he rented a house in a village, Boner Pukur Danga, and set up Bhumi-Kriya, offering space and ambience — for free — to artists who lack those ingredients at home.
“I don’t think I am doing something great. I am a struggling artist myself but I am doing this out of passion. I want to give budding artists in Bengal a platform to learn and grow. Santiniketan is a great place to be but only as long as you are a student of Visva-Bharati; once you graduate there are hardly any opportunities. The Hidden Artist Initiative, in fact, can serve as a connection between Baroda and Bengal,” Mr. Biswas said.
“We started in 2019 and shortly after that COVID-19 struck, but even then, the response has been incredible. Back then, the posts on our Facebook page had not even 50 views, but now the number of views is usually more than 1,000, sometimes even a few thousand. If I had a facility like this when I graduated, I would have probably never left Bengal,” said the artist, who hails from Shyam Nagar near Kolkata.
Not just anyone can walk into Bhumi Kriya. Aspirants need to apply and there is a screening process for which Mr. Biswas engages fellow artists. Successful applicants can not only make use of the space and the calm ambience but also benefit from the guidance of senior art students and teachers from Visva-Bharati, who drop by often. “That is the advantage of being located in Santiniketan. I only have to put up posters and teachers and senior students from the university are kind enough to respond. They are in and out of the place,” he said.
Among the most recent activities hosted at Bhumi Kriya is an ‘adda session’ with Pulak Dutta, a retired professor of graphics at Visva-Bharati, and a paper-making workshop by Sanchayan Ghosh, an associate professor in the department of painting at the university. March is likely to be a busy month, with several workshops and open-studio sessions postponed due to the pandemic to be held at the time.
“The idea behind my initiative is very simple. If, instead of waiting for big opportunities to come their way, artists can come forward to share their learning and experiences with one another, something beautiful can be created out of that gesture,” Mr. Biswas said.