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When Indian folklore meets western comics

celestial-realm Celestial Realm

Inspired by Indian folklore and western cowboy comics, Nandan Purkayastha, an alumni of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Delhi, is conducting a solo show titled 'Festive Fantasy' in the capital. The exhibition is being held at Gallerie Ganesha, Greater Kailash II, New Delhi from October 21 to November 14, 2016. 

Nandan-purkayastha Nandan Purkayastha

Goddess Durga is the central figure in many of this 30-year-old Kolkata-based Assamese artist's monochrome drawings and paintings. The Durga idol, asuras (demons), tiger, birds and human figures all come together in colourful canvases created by Purkayastha, who uses the rotring ballpoint pen for these intricately detailed patterns. All his characters can be spotted in flowing garments, floating in air and sharing space with flora and fauna, all intertwined with each other to form a surreal dreamscape of magical realism.

“I was born in Tinsukhia in Assam and was surrounded by folklore. I was extremely fond of reading western cowboy comics. In my work, you will stories that have emerged from the east but the drawing style is inspired by western comics. Durga Puja and Bihu were part of my childhood in Assam, so, they always form part of my work,” says Purkayastha, about his inspiration behind both his monochrome drawings and paintings. 

When Indian folklore meets western comics Devotion-II, pen and ink on paper

His paintings like Celestial Realm and Devotion focus on Durga Puja festivities and rituals, ranging from creation of the idols to their immersion. “There is an entire ceremony associated with the creation of these idols, from collection of clay to decorating the idol.” 

In the same work, one can also spot myriad other figures—Raavan (the demon king), for instance. It is this dichotomy in human nature that Purkayastha also seeks to show through the recurring motif of masks in many works. “Masks are used by different people for different things. A clown uses a mask to make people laugh, while some use it to hide their real emotions. There is a mask for everyone.”

The impact of his training in fashion is evident in the use of the rotring ballpoint pen, the clothes and hairstyle of figures, and the contours of birds and beasts, which are derived both from mythological and modern stories. Motifs from nature form an integral part of his work as well, as do human figures that portray different expressions and sentiments.

“The tiger has been part of my mythological series in which I explore Goddess Durga. Buddha came at a time of contemplation between projects,” says Purkayastha. Talking about his black and white pen and ink drawing titled 'The Enlightened', he says, “We are surrounded by so much chaos in our daily lives and what can help us is meditation. The meditative quality about Buddha attracts me.”

'Dominatrical Wits' is a work inspired by his trip to Amsterdam where his visit to the iconic red light area made him observe how beauty can dominate people’s minds. 'Solomon', on the other hand, depicts a writer or a thinker whose imagination can create both beautiful and disturbing characters. “It is always about how we perceive things. Someone may see religion in my work, others may see a larger narrative of strength and beauty.”

When Indian folklore meets western comics Insomnia, acrylic on canvas

Apart from his canvases inundated by figures, he is also showcasing a body of abstract works, inspired by his travels to Spain and France. “I saw Picasso’s cubist works for the first time, but I wanted to create something that combined my fascination with colour with my own roots.” His abstract works, like 'Reminiscence' and 'Insomnia', hence, have a tribal form that comes from “being exposed to the tribal way of life” in Assam.

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