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    Volume 9 Issue 5 | January 29, 2010|

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Kalidas’s Kalei doscopic World

Fayza Haq

Alluvial Dairy-1, Acrylic & Mixed on wood, 2008.

Kalidas Karmakar, an artist nonpareil, was trained in various local and foreign capitals, like Kolkata, Dhaka, New York and Paris. His latest solo exhibit, Dhaka-Paris-Dhaka, a retrospective, is scheduled to begin on February 5, at the Alliance Francaise Gallery, where his first solo exhibit was held decades back. Self-effacing, but bold and brave, Kalidas Karmakar, speaks about his goal on how to bring joie de vivre, the world over. Speaking at the Alliance Gallery -- with only a cup of coffee to fortify him on that wintry evening-- Karmakar traced his work; events in his life; his teachers, and the element of camaraderie of the people around him. His latest display is to mark 50 years of Alliance Francais. The numerous celebrations for a year, to mark this feat, ends with Karmakar's display the coming month. The Director of World-over Alliance is expected to open this function. This is a vital cultural exchange between Bangladesh and France, as Karmakar puts it.

Stressing on his Parisian education, in 1979, Karmakar speaks of the first exhibition, ever in "La Gallerie", Alliance Francaise. His professional journey begins from there: "Before this, there was no professional artist's display at that venue. At first, in Poland, with a scholarship from 1976-'79, I learnt printmaking. In France studying under Professor SW Hayter, the father of modern graphic art, who invented the viscosity process, in 1930, in Paris. The process is called 'multi colour etching', in a single impression. Before this technique, artists had to use many plates for this etching process. With the help of this technique, graphic art was popular, worldwide."

Karmakar has always desired to bring this technique to Bangladesh -- a third world country -- where people are art lovers, nevertheless. Local people, with limited income but love for art, could then have posters for their pleasure. This is what has aimed at, Karmakar says. "Going to Paris, with a "Superior" French government scholarship, he studied for four years, at 'Artelier -17' owned by Hayter. This was an international centre for in Paris. He was the only Bangladeshi artist, being the third artist from the subcontinent. Returning to Dhaka in 1985, he set up "Artelier '71", which began in Dhanmondi, in Road 7. This moved to his place at Eskaton. Since last November, this was reopened on a bigger scale, and was renamed "Cosmos Centre", in Malibagh, and is meant to be an international place for graphic art. Thus French technique and aesthetics is brought to Dhaka in a permanent way. This is meant to broaden the horizon of the younger generation of Bangladesh.

Asked which country was vital for him, in his formative years, Karmakar said, “As an artist, the best time in my life was in Paris. If one considers the world art movement, Paris is the hub. All the new art movements began here centuries back Since Louis IV. The French society has always encouraged something avant garde, and feathered an artist -- whether he/she being a musician, painter, writer. The French have remained open-minded and warm for artists through the ages.

Alluvial Dairy-2
Acrylic & Mixed on paper, 2008.
Alluvial Dairy-10
Acrylic & Mixed on paper, 2008.
Alluvial Dairy-5
Acrylic & Mixed on paper, 2008.


When he went to Japan in 1987 on a fellowship, he learnt traditional Japanese handmade paper making and traditional wood-block printmaking called "Mokohangha". Different skins from different trees are used in this. These techniques were developed after World War II. In this the Japanese interpreted their new philosophy, feelings and aesthetics, said Karmakar.

Touching his stay in Poland, where he went with a Polish government scholarship, Karmakar said that his stay there for three years certainly helped him progress confidently. In this way his quest for perfection got its East European seal. There he met people with openness of heart, and individuals who helped him on to study. Though it was often cold in temperature, as Karmakar put it, the people had warmth of heart. He could gather his past education and experiences, and in this hub of culture -- reaching out to centuries in the past-- and connecting with modern ways of interpreting life around, his life was blessed and harmonies.

Alluvial Dairy-9
Acrylic & Mixed on paper, 2008.
Alluvial Dairy-4
Acrylic & Mixed on paper, 2008.


Kalidas Karmakar

Summing up the vicissitudes of his life, Karmakar said that he had no financial umbrella over him, when he tried to bring up two motherless girls in a manner befitting to a father with his own dreams. Other individuals, whom he knows, have university education, paint at leisure and become artists of local and foreign fame. “I quit my government job in 1976 as the chief designer for the "Parjoton Corporation,” he says. “My every day life was one blazing hell on earth. My family life was shattered beyond repair during the Liberation Movement. Nevertheless, I had my burning energy. My daughters, Kaya and Konka, have been the source of comfort, inspiration and joy. They never blocked my way in my artistic life. When they received my letters in Dhaka, at the home for orphans, Bharat Biddesheri, their teachers reported to me that my two girls clutched on to my letters and found comfort and security, as they tried to go to sleep.”

"Samples of my retrospective work makes the exhibit today at the Alliance Francaise gallery,” he adds. “The peace and pleasure that I get in helping Keya (who has studied in France) and Konka to get on with their respective professional lives give me incredible happiness. I believe that women should have careers of their own. 'My cup runneth over', when I think of what I leave behind on this earth, when I'm not there any more."

What Karmakar wants, at this stage of his life, is to build niches for promising young artists to have superior knowledge of the art in both the east and went. He wishes to build a solid bridge, so to put it, for artists today, to have best of both worlds. He wants these endeavouring artists to exchange ideas and thoughts. This is so that they can eventually take pride in their country.

Karmakar has made his name in paints, prints, collage, sculpture in mixed media and installations, he now moves on with his short spells of respite. Hats off to this bold and brave artist who will never rest on his laurels. His viewers believe that he will not rest -- even when his ashes need to be thrown in water -- going by traditional and stereotyped beliefs. Karmakar's soul will surely guard the art world in Bangladesh.

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