Prof. Subhendu Dasgupta, former professor of Economics at Kolkata University, was earlier supported by IFA to collect cartoons from 1874 to 2009 and document the works of 67 cartoonists. These cartoons were painstakingly gathered fi'om libraries in West Bengal and Dhaka from more than 45 newspapers, periodicals and special issue journals. This grant supports Prof. Dasgupta, to write and publish a book on the history of Bengali cartoons that appeared from the late 19lh century to post independence India that will trace the development of cartoons as an art form. The grant will also enable Prof. Dasgupta to conclude his efforts to collect and digitise the cartoons from that period.
“No other art form,” Prof. Dasgupta remarks, “has been able to influence the Bengali political and social arena as cartoons have. They are an extremely important component of Bengal’s political and social history. Cartooning is an independent art form. It has its own style and crafi which have undergone transformations through time. However, mainstream art history has always accorded an outcast status to cartoons, and denied the visual form a place in the history of art. Thanks to this apathy, there is a sore lack of basic documentation of cartoon history in genéral, and Bengali cartoons (especially in West Bengal) in particular.”
The history of Bengali cartoons is closely connected to the history of India’s struggle for independence. During the freedom movement, Bengali cartoons were repeatedly used for political and social commentary. Apart from providing entertainment, cartoons served the purpose of mobiljsing opinion, raising issues, and fostering debates, protests and criticism. In the post-independence era as well, cartoons have played a significant role in the formation of Bengali identity.
Prof. Dasgupta’s book will look at the relationship between public life and cannons while paying particular attention to individual cartoonists whose work has contribUted significantly to developing the art form. He will also examine the creation of unique characters by several cartoonists, and will attempt to ascertain the popularity and contemporary influences of those characters on public life. The analysis of style is an important aspect of his research and Prof. Dasgupta will write in detail on the relationship between text and visual. Further, he proposes to interview cartoonists, analyse and interpret their work, distinguish and comment on drawing styles and carry out a comparative study of the different styles of depiction.
In his book Prof. Dasgupta will also show how the cartoon served, through the early pioneering publications such as Basantak, as a commentary on colonial domination, forms of self-representation, and most importantly, on the modernisation process. Starting in the late 19th century when the first significant cartoon production appeared, the book will be profusely illustrated with images and cover the post independence period as well, when the cartoon came to hold a different brief—the critique of national reconstruction rather than alien rule. The book will be roughly divided into six chapters with the final one focusing on women in Bangla cartoons. Prof. Dasgupta will look at representation of women in the cartoons of the time. “Even though most cartoons were liberal and progressive, the way they represented women continued to be orthodox and conventional,” says Prof. Dasgupta. This chapter will critique the patriarchal undertones of the cartoons.
Chhatim, a well known Bengali publisher, has in principle agreed to print Prof. Dasgupta’s book. However, since this book will have a large number of images of cartoons, the publisher has suggested that Prof. Dasgupta employ the services of a professional book designer and a printing consultant. Given the high cost of publishing an image-heavy book, that too in Bengali, a publication subsidy has been written into this grant. Additionally, Prof. Dasgupta will collect cartoons by about 40 cartoonists whom he discovered after the completion of the first phase. He will conduct additional interviews with some cartoonists from Bengal that will enable him to address questions of form and style while writing the book.
Prof. Dasgupta had diligently scanned and digitised close to 1,832 cartoon illustrations with the first grant. Not all the cartoons he had collected could be digitised due to budgetary limitations. This grant will, therefore, also enable him to complete the work of digitising his earlier collection of cartoons. The newly digitised collection will join the digitised images that he has already deposited at the archives of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. Finally, Prof. Dasgupta plans to curate an exhibition on Bangla cartoons as well as prepare a comprehensive catalogue on the contents of the exhibition. This endeavour will be supported by the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2010-0-020
Grantee Name : Subhendu Dasgupta
Programme : Arts Research & Documentation
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 15-03-2011
End Date : 15-03-2013
Duration : Two years
Grant Amount : 3,67,000
Geographical Area of Work : West Bengal
Disciplinary Field of Work : Visual Arts
Language : Bengali (Bangla)