I went to the handcraft fair at sector 34 and that’s where I met him. His name was Santanu Alu and he had come here from West Bengal. He did mosaic art, which is also classified at stencil art. However, instead of using ink and paper cut outs, he used wood as the medium of stencils. He had a small shop setup with a number of his artworks hanging everywhere around him. A plenty of his artworks were still packed in the boxes, from which I deduced he didn’t have much of a sale down here.
After looking at his art, I tried speaking to him in Hindi, hoping to strike some conversation. He responded well and we had a good conversation. The very first thing I said was if I could click some photographs to use at the website along with the article I intended to write about him. He asked me why would he mind? I said so that someone doesn’t copy his work. He said it keeps happening all the time and now it doesn’t matter much to him. The casual way with which he said it, was ironic. The guy had been a victim of art plagiarism too many times. And so with his permission, I went ahead and clicked photographs.
I asked him how he started making these artworks, to which he replied that he never really thought of this as a career move, but he was always a bit artistic since his childhood. He used to make “stuff” every now and then just to please himself. Then later, he gifted a stencil/mosaic art to a Bank Manager in his town. The manager was very impressed at his work and advised him to think about making it his profession. Santanu didn’t come from a resourceful family and hence it wasn’t possible for him to invest into this life. The Manager further advised him to get his Craft Artisan Card made from the Govt. Santanu did exactly that and the Manager got him a loan of 2 lacks to start his workshop. Santanu utilized all the money and started making stencil art for a living.
Later he started getting invitations from NZCC (North Zone Culture Center) and Indian Handcraft Association to exhibit and sell his artworks at various exhibitions across India. He told me that when these organizations invite him, he get paid for his traveling expenses and even lodgings along with stipend. But when an individual society like the fair in Chandigarh invite him, he only gets the stall for free and the rest he has to manage on his own.
Santanu Alu in his Stall
A 3-piece Art of a Woman’s Journey in Life
The Rabindranath Tagore Art which impressed me the most
“So, how has been your sale here in Chandigarh?” I asked, to which he shook his head in negative with a sad expression at his face, “People here have no respect for art”. To which I retorted back that it wasn’t really true. It was just that his timing was wrong and he had been selling the wrong products to Punjabies. He had decided to visit Chandigarh in January, which truly is the end of our shopping spree. Punjabies begin their shopping near Diwali and carry it on towards New Year. By January most of them have finished their surplus funds. And secondly most of the art available was of Southern interest. Who will buy a Bharat Natyam Mudra here? I advised him to make some Bhangra stencils as an experiment and see how it sold. The best would be to make stencils of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji. For those works, he could even charge triple than his normal routine. I could see that idea had clicked with him. He said he would go to the cyber cafe that very day and will get prints of Bhangra and Sikh gurus.
“Is it always the same or you do manage to sell your artworks”, I asked again. “Oh I sell a lot in Mumbai and South”, he said. According to him he sold all his artworks within 4 days at an exhibition at Mumbai.
I really wish he went to the Cyber cafe. He really deserves to have made some sales here. I purchased a very artistic Rabindranath Tagore stencil for a meager sum of 350/- Being an artist myself, I know that it was not the proper price for a hand made craft. It should have sold for at least 1000/- Well, i can’t really deny the truth of his statement. Art always had a back seat over here in Punjab.