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Framed
May 10, 2019

Artist And The Environment: Bapi Das

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

An ex-autorickshaw driver, Das painstakingly embroiders subtle details of the world that he observed through the side view mirror

Living and working in Kolkata, 39-year-old Bapi Das constantly discovers new inspirations for his art. He used to navigate the city as an auto rickshaw driver, and is currently a municipal worker employed as a gardener by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). Creatively, Das painstakingly embroiders subtle details of the world — slices of life as seen from behind the wheel of his auto rickshaw. And, one can examine the finer points of his artwork by looking at them through a magnifying glass that is generally placed near the exhibits. His latest exhibition — A needle, stitch and many tales…by Bapi Das was at the Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hyderabad, earlier this month.

On his passion for the arts
Since my childhood, I have had a keen interest in drawing. Due to personal reasons, I dropped out of school and left my art practice. But 12 years later, I met artist Avijit Dutta who guided my vision as I entered the unfamiliar territory of picture composition. I was later introduced to ‘thread paintings’ at Ava Art Gallery, Darjeeling and adopted embroidery as a tool of self-expression after seeing these needlework portraits.

I have devised a method wherein I carefully pull out threads from a woven material, which are then used in my creations. I use women’s dupattas in particular as they have very fine threads that are ideal for intricate patterns.

On the importance of the autorickshaw in his narratives
My journey is still rooted in my past experiences and time spent exploring the roads while driving the auto rickshaw. My works consider external factors, and they focus on the windshield that frames my images and defines my trajectory as an artist. I capture with photo-realistic detail, whatever I see in front of me — the desolate road at night, the windshield splattered with rain, droplets of water catching the street light.

On his connect with the cityscape of his birthplace
I was born and brought up there, and my attachment to Kolkata goes beyond words. What really inspires me is how the city is developing. In some of my frames, you see the evolution of its night lights as seen from the streets, and For someone who grew up in poverty and darkness, these lights hold out hope. I compose dream-like episodes — they are my way of mapping out my memories through the terrain. And the road maps of Missing Route are symbolic of the city’s transition and the efforts of the auto drivers’ union that sought out routes where they could make more money. The rear-view mirror, with the drawing of a map, symbolises the element of uncertainty and suspense in the life of a traveller. On the other hand, the detailed section depicted on a circular mirror shows the relaxed stance of the driver.

On his most noteworthy creation
My most memorable artwork is ID Proof (2018) and it portrays the truth of my life — it is my self-portrait. As an auto rickshaw driver, I struggled a lot, and I was constantly searching for my destination. The front of the artwork comes with details of a standard postal stamp, whereas the back represents my true reality — one of emptiness and the search for myself.

Read part 1 with Santha K.V. here.

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