Politicians as Painters
By: Aliya Usmani
Mamta Banerjee, the CM of Bengal, is more than a politician. Didi is an artist and an underrated one too. In April 2021, she staged a dharna to protest a 24-hour campaigning ban that was imposed upon her by the Election Commission. During the course of the dharna, Banerjee could not contain the artist inside her and took to painting. She later also revealed the artwork to her audience.
The pictures spread and went viral like wildfire. Twitter grabbed onto it and appointed itself as the jury to discuss Didi’s piece of art and needless to say, no words were minced. A Twitter user even offered visual comparisons.
This was not the first time that Didi had made news for her art pieces. In 2014, CBI ordered a probe to investigate whether her painting had actually sold for a whopping Rs.1.8 crore. Selling an art piece for Rs. 1.8 crore is no small accomplishment, especially when the artist isn’t even dead! Some works by prominent artists that have been sold for crores include M.F. Hussain’s Holy and Jogen Chowdhury’s Situation X. Didi now appears in the art world’s crore club.
In the year 2013, Banerjee held an art exhibition in Calcutta titled, “A Dreamer’s Creation”. She described her creations as: “The exhibits depict life in its various shades and colours. This is symbolised by colourful flowers, blossoms, mother and child, fantasy, animals and the rising sun. Flowers bring joy, hope and cheer. These emit positive vibes and energy.” During the same time, there were two other exhibitions in the city with the works of Jamini Roy and Abanindranath Tagore. However, Didi’s exhibition got the maximum footfall.
It is only natural at this stage to ask, “Who buys Didi’s works?” or “How does one come to own a Banerjee?” There are only a few who can boast of owning an original Banerjee. The list includes some interesting names such as Mayan Jalan, MD of Keventer; Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB); Jay Mehta, co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders amongst others. Either they really enjoy Banerjee’s art or are sycophants, the latter is more likely. Two of Bengal’s most acclaimed painters- Suvaprasanna and Jogen Chowdhury have continued to praise Banerjee’s paintings. Suvaprasanna has even gone as far as comparing her paintings to Tagore’s!
Some have come to own a Banerjee without even asking for one. When Sachin Tendulkar played his last match at the Eden Gardens, a painting of a tree made by Mamta Banerjee was gifted to him. “Does Sachin still have it?”, “Did he put it up in his house?” are relevant questions but unfortunately, Google doesn’t provide us with an answer.
Didi’s fame is not limited to India, as it turns out that she is known in New York too. Her painting titled ‘Purple flowers on a bed of green leaves\’ was auctioned for USD 3000 in an auction in New York
In 2020, Mamta Banerjee, with some other artists, picked up the paintbrush to express her dissent against CAA and NRC. It is clear that the conversation around Didi’s art is less about art and more about politics. PM Modi is perhaps the most scathing critic of her artworks. “I ask you to paint a \’\’bhaddi se bhaddi\’\’ picture of myself and gift it to me. I will preserve it for life. I am telling you I will not file any FIR against you for that,\” PM Modi was quoted saying when a BJP activist was arrested for a post she made on Facebook. Mamta Banerjee, however, is of the opinion that the PM is jealous of her and the State of Bengal. Despite scam allegations, Banerjee maintains that the money from the sales of her paintings is not used for her personal use but for things such as contributing to the CM’s Relief Fund.
Mamata Banerjee is not alone to have mingled into art as a politician. Former Indian Prime Minister, V.P. Singh was also interested in painting and was quite well known for them. His paintings were exhibited by some very prominent art houses. He has been quoted saying, \”I always had a love affair with art. I was just running a successful marriage with politics.\”
What is it that makes politicians attracted towards claiming to be artists, writers and poets? History has had a long line of politicians, ranging from fascists to presidents, that have had a tryst with painting. However, not everyone has been appreciated. George W. Bush, former president of the USA has turned into an amateur painter. However, his paintings have been subject to devastating criticism. One critic has gone as far as saying, that they “are not worth mentioning at all” and resemble “real estate art”.
The infamous anecdote in Hitler\’s biography states that he was rejected from the Vienna School of Art twice. It is often remarked how the world would be so different if Hitler had just ended up as an artist instead of a ruthless leader. He had to leave behind art to pursue more grotesque goals.
However, Didi is a multitasker. She is a politician and artist combined who also dabbles in writing, a true Renaissance woman of the modern age.