Sani Das wants the respect sculptors in the country don't easily get
I knew that I wanted to become an artist quite early in life. It's what I've always really been passionate about. I have been working as a solo artist to create theme puja pandals since 2014. Unfortunately, though, even after a fairly successful career, I have been asked by many people what I do for a living.
I was influenced by my art teacher Sanjay Mitra, the only artist in my neighbourhood back then. One day, my class teacher noticed me doodling in my notebook. He talked to my mother and suggested that I go through formal training.
This is how my hidden talent got a direction and I began training under the guidance of my guru Sanjay Mitra since the age of nine. Thanks to his supervision, I went to win several awards in competitions.
As a typical Bengali, that too one from the City of Joy, I loved Durga puja. I was a total pandal-hopping enthusiast, observing the nuances of the decoration. Every year, it used to be a routine task for my father to take me to various puja pandals. He used to talk to me about the ideas behind the themes and the decorations.
I started getting hooked on to such work and came to know that many art college students worked in this field. Eventually, I started getting involved in the decoration work in our society's puja pandal. I used to be the only kid in the society who had a say in the selection of the idol from Kumartuli. It never mattered to me how late it would get to bring the idol home. A few years later, I started making idols myself.
One day while visiting the Kolkata Book Fair with my uncle, I came across a huge old building beside the Indian Museum. On asking him what it was, my uncle told me it was a place where artists received training — the Government College of Art and Craft, Kolkata.
I gathered more information about the institution and decided to get admitted there for higher studies. Unfortunately, I failed to get through the entrance exam on my first attempt and enrolled myself into B.Com (Hons) in Jaipuriya College.
However, as they say, 'if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.' So, I did not give up practising art and gave the entrance exam a second shot. This time around, I managed to ace the test and completed my Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in sculpture from the prestigious institution.
Over the years, I have won several awards in art exhibitions. However, the road to success is never an easy one. In order to sponsor my studies and to acquire knowledge of the commercial art market, I worked as an assistant artist to Jayshree Burman and Susanto Pal during my summer vacations. I also organised camps and sculpture workshops with my seniors. I took on freelance work for various comic books. Later, I completed my MFA in sculpture from Kala Bhavan, Shantiniketan.
At times, I also work for events sets. Every year, I hire around 30 workers for the Durga puja pandals. Most of them wait for this time of the year because whatever they earn during these three months forms the bulk of their annual income. Apart from this, I also showcase my work in various art exhibitions.
People admire my work but do not consider it as a legit career option. Somehow, the fame that I have achieved in the field has had an impact on people around me. A few parents understand the nature of the creative field I am a part of, and on their request, I have now started giving art lessons to kids during the weekend.
I wish that people acknowledge the efforts that go into sculpting and give us sculptors the respect that our hard work and talent deserves. If artists like us are treated the way other professionals are, more youngsters will be encouraged to take up the chisel and carve out a career of their dreams.
Sani Das is a 28-year-old sculptor
- As told to Tapasri Saha