Accepted paper:

Creativity, structure, and the dynamics of identity construction: a sociological analysis of the scroll-painting tradition in West Bengal


Urmi Bhattacharyya (Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on the picture-storytelling tradition found in West Bengal, through the process of exoticization and self-exoticisation, this paper explores the role of social structure and creative agency, to elaborate on the dynamics of identity of the art-form itself and the artists associated with it.

Paper long abstract:

This paper maps the historical and cultural trajectory of the performance tradition of storytelling through scrolls known as 'Pata-Chitra', as practiced in parts of West Bengal, from the colonial period to the present day. This unique practice of scroll painting and narration performed by a specific community of people known as the 'Patua', primarily dealt with the representation of sacred themes in the past. But with the prominence of the forces of cultural globalization, they have also taken to portraying secular themes. From the time when this art-form had functional value in the society, to the modern day where its attribution to being 'folk' in the global marketplace has undermined their functional utility and social significance; this practice has witnessed important transitions affecting its form, content and cultural identity. As for the local community of artists associated with this tradition, they have always occupied a complex intermediary position between different religions, periodically oscillating from one to the other. This, along with changes in their art-form, has also led to transformations in terms of their religious and social identity. By referring to the processes of 'exoticisation' and 'self-exoticisation', this paper thus attempts to understand how cultural and social identity is influenced by the interplay of social structure and human action. Through the discussion of changes in the art-form and the artist community, this paper therefore draws attention to the forces of material and social structures, and creativity, in the construction of social and cultural identity.

panel G22
Exoticisation, self-exoticisation: agency, identity and transformation