Popular Prints of Bengal is an exhibition of lithographic, chromolithographic and oleographic prints dating back to 1880s to 1940s. While the earliest editions were produced at the Kansaripara Art Studio as well as at the Chorbagan Art Studio and Calcutta Art Studio; the later prints of the well-known artists like Bamapada Banerjee (1920s) were printed in Germany. The iconic image Ganesh Janani by Bhabani Charan Laha was also printed in Germany. There were some exceptions however and Sital Bandopadhyays prints of divinities were locally produced. It is interesting to note that in the days of yore, when many considered it a taboo to cross the kaalapaani it was perfectly acceptable for the pictures of deities to be produced in distant lands and then shipped back home! It was the usual tradition to display the prints in the pooja ghar and here they were treated with equal reverence as the other idols/pictures of gods and goddesses.
On display, is a collection of rare prints that form a part of Sanjeet Chowdhurys archives of oleographs, chromolithographs and lithographs acquired painstakingly over the last two decades. A photographer by profession who has been exhibiting his works worldwide, Chowdhury has devoted his time obsessively researching and looking at prints from dealers and antiquarians whom he had occasion to meet. While many of his contemporaries originally dismissed the popular prints as kitschy calendar art, Chowdhury was undeterred and pursued his passion single-mindedly. Today, the Sanjeet Chowdhury Archives with its magnificent collection is truly invaluable.
Stylistically, the subjects in this show range from allegorical narratives and mythological tales to portraits of both the popular theatre divas and iconic thinkers of the day as Swami Vivekananda and other such eminent personalities. Thematically, the works dwell on everyday lives, the religious, political and nationalistic imagery making interesting comment on the history of the times and its people. The significance of this collection lies in the fact that historically the prints endorse the new Indian iconography, demonstrating a realism and technology that was novel for its time.