A tragedy is likely to appeal to our humanism. That is what Jatin Das’ recent show, Exodus 2020, is all about. The septuagenarian artist has always drawn inspiration from the working class. Those who make roads, lay bricks, paint high-rises—these men and women of the soil are his muse. This particular series that came out of his isolation specifically focuses on the migrants and their exodus. Das says of his works, “It is a response to our troubled times.” He believes the strength of an artist lies in his drawing. “The power of a flowing line meeting another with a certain amount of fusion and energy,” is how he himself describes his oeuvre.
On show at the Art Alive Gallery in Delhi, the series presents the mass migration of labourers across Indian cities during the treacherous lockdown period. Captured in his signature style, Das looks at the fragility of human existence. He elaborates, “During the lockdown, the migrant workers who build our homes and cities had to go back to their villages. Every day we would be haunted by images of hundreds and thousands of them walking bare feet in the scorching sun, without food and water.
They went with their little worlds and belongings, tucked under their arms, or on their heads. Men and women carried their children and the elderly on their shoulders. They walked on non-stop, through days and nights.” This Padma Bhushan recipient is famously known for painting bare-bodied figures, beyond any specific context of time and place. He would add no additional image to localise his canvas—making it adaptable to any time and geography.
Born out of inner turmoil, his human figures are metaphoric, but speak of angst. This, he says, speaks of his “deep concern of the world we are leaving for our children”. The present series is no longer metaphoric, but is more specific. “I turned to what appeared in the newspapers and television, and what I had observed over the years. It all came pouring out,” says the artist. Through his “thelawallahs, kudawallahs, manhole cleaners, rag-pickers, and all those who toil non-stop”, Das speaks of the many wrongs that the world has wrought on those less fortunate.