Make in India: Meet Patua artists Moyna and Joydeb Chitrakar

Gretchen Ferrao-Walker
·2-min read
Patua scroll painters
Patua artists Moyna and Joydeb Chitrakar with Tsunami.

“When my mother was out, I would sneak in to paint – as soon as I saw her, I would run away,” laughs Moyna Chitrakar, recalling her earliest experiences with art. A Patua scroll painter, like her parents, she learned the craft from her mother, Gauri Chitrakar. Patua, a performative art of storytelling, is practised by the eponymous artisan community who reside in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, and in parts of Bangladesh. Traditionally, Patua artists and songwriters (like Moyna’s father) travelled between villages, passing down folklore via song and graphic art on pats (scrolls).

“My mummy received the President’s Award for her paintings. At the age of five, I learnt the songs from her; at six I started doing small tasks like filling in borders on paintings,” she says. Moyna gradually evolved to sketching, scripting and performing her art.

With time, the scrolls also became a medium for comment and introspection on current affairs. The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2006, for instance, inspired Moyna and her husband, Joydeb, to create a song and picture scroll in memory of the victims of this natural disaster. Joydeb is from a family of idol makers; after he married Moyna, the two started working together. Their work caught the eye of independent publisher Tara Books who, for the first time ever, turned the patua scroll into a book. The resultant Tsunami (2009) is handcrafted; its screen-printed graphics unfold in a scroll format. “[Tara Books founder] Geeta madam has made my life; people across the world now know about my work,” exclaims the artist from Nirbhaypur in West Bengal.

Since Tsunami, the Patua couple have collaborated with Tara Books on bestselling, graphic novel Sita's Ramayana (2010) and picture book The Enduring Ark (2013).

The dyes used on the scrolls are hand-made by the artists using organic materials; household goods and fabrics are painted with sourced, water-resistant colours.
The dyes used on the scrolls are hand-made by the artists using organic materials; household goods and fabrics are painted with sourced, water-resistant colours.

With a majority of their commissions coming from across India and the world, the lockdown has foiled the Chitrakars’ plans for 2020. Moyna mentions a cancelled trip to attend a show in London, featuring her art; work is on hold for a school in Bengaluru and projects in Maharashtra and Bihar. For now, the duo is busy interpreting their daily life on art scrolls, home décor products and fabrics.

See more of Moyna and Joydeb Chitrakar’s work at Tara Books. Connect with the artists at +91-9732510500.

Images: Courtesy Tara Books; the artists