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*Migration Histories > South Asian > Culture
* Background 
 
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Kalighat imagery also highlighted the emerging role of the  liberated Bengali woman and her new found superiority and freedom over men.
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Kalighat imagery also highlighted the emerging role of the liberated Bengali woman and her new found superiority and freedom over men. This included the female courtesan or prostitute, alternatively known as the 'bibi', consort of the Bengali babu. A whole series of images were drawn of women trampling over their husbands and clients, or men depicted as being slaves to their wives as 'The Sheepish Lover' illustrates. A courtesan dressed in a red sari holds a red rose in her right hand as a symbol of passion, and in her left she is leading a man with a sheep's body and a human head. In his discussion of the painting in Kalighat Paintings William G Archer suggests it recalls the teasing comments mothers-in-law often made to bridegrooms during Bengali weddings. ca.1865-1870
* Moving Here catalogue reference (V&A) IS.239-1953
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In addition to religious imagery, the rapid erosion of Bengali social values under the impact of Westernisation became a favourite topic for the artists.
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In addition to religious imagery, the rapid erosion of Bengali social values under the impact of Westernisation became a favourite topic for the artists. From 1870 onwards, painters seized the opportunity to capture how men and women in British Calcutta had become affected by Western ways in their attitudes, clothing and sexual practise. The educated Bengali elite soon became recognised as the 'Bengali Babus' or the 'new men about town'. This is clearly illustrated in the oval portrait of a 'Calcutta Dandy' who proudly adorns the popular 'Prince Albert Haircut', to complement his bright orange western-style jacket and white-collared shirt. Ca. 1880.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (V&A) IS.257-1953
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The most popular souvenir for pilgrims visiting the Kalighat  temple was the religious image of the Hindu goddess Kali, the female consort of Shiva, the god of  destruction.
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The most popular souvenir for pilgrims visiting the Kalighat temple was the religious image of the Hindu goddess Kali, the female consort of Shiva, the god of destruction. Here Kali is shown in her most terrifying form as black skinned, four armed, and eyes bulging, with blood dripping from her tongue, wearing a garland of skulls and holding a severed head in her hand. ca.1965
* Moving Here catalogue reference (V&A) IS.3-1955
By the 1830s, artists had started to arrive in Calcutta, which was the capital of British India from 1833-1912, from rural villages in Bengal, and drawing on their local scroll painting traditions began to produce a new style of painting as souvenirs for pilgrims around the famous Kalighat temple.

Kalighat images were a popular artform and reflected a variety of subject matter ranging from religious Hindu deities, social customs and humour, to the political conflicts of a colonised society. Created by unknown artists, they are characterised by their stylised images, rapidly executed with bold, black outlines and brilliant colours to create the unique identity of Khaligat painting.

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The Mahant offers childbirth medicine to Elokeshi ca.1880
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The Mahant offers childbirth medicine to Elokeshi ca.1880
* Moving Here catalogue reference (V&A) IS.111-1965
I have purchased you with cowries. I have tied you with a rope. I have put a spindle in your hand. Now bleat like a sheep.
Kalighat artists were also keen to capture whatever emotional or political turmoil was currently taking place in Bengali society. A particularly popular topic was the scandalous Tarakeshwar affair of 1873, which concerned the forbidden relationship between a Brahmin priest and Elokeshi, the young wife of the Bengali government employee, Nabin Chandra Banerjee.

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The Fatal Blow ca.  1890
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The Fatal Blow ca. 1890
* Moving Here catalogue reference (V&A) IM.140-1914
In characteristic style, this immoral drama was portrayed by different generations of Kalighat artists who recorded all the key events. Compositions ranged from the Brahmin priest offering Elokeshi a cup of liquor in order to seduce her; to Nabin, pressurised by jealousy and public humiliation upon hearing the news, killing his wife by severing her head with a fish knife.

Interestingly the painters used a black 'holdall', lying on the ground in front of Elokeshi, to illustrate Nabin's westernised accessories. An umbrella, a further Western touch, hangs limply from his left hand. Nabin's was given life imprisonment for the murder, and the priest was sentenced to three year's hard labour with a 2000 rupee fine!

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Cat with a fish in its mouth ca.1890
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Cat with a fish in its mouth ca.1890
* Moving Here catalogue reference (V&A) IS.261-1955
From the 1890s onwards, the male Kalighat artists continued to choose as their subject matter an increased form of social criticism of Bengal society and its immoral values. Many created paintings of Bengali proverbs, an example of which is this painting of a 'bright yellow cat with a fish in its mouth'. This illustration highlights how Brahmin priests publicly abstained from eating fish, but were notorious for their private indulgence. Earlier versions of this painting show on the cat's face the vertical 'tilak' markings normally found upon the Vaishnavite priests forehead, which make the allusion to Brahmin priests more specific.

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Creators: Yasmin Hales Henao

 
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