I’ve always believed that a good artist is not defined by the finesse of his brushstrokes or his mastery of color theory or any such technical parameters. An artist ought to be perceptive, above all things, not just of the world around him but of the world that existed eons before his times. A good artist must keep excavating the archives of the past to better understand the present and the possible future. The excavation is not limited only to realms of art history but interdisciplinary history in its entirety.
With that in mind, allow me to share with you a wonderful work of art that is born out of a perceptive study of political history. Bengali artist Sattik has created a wonderful comic, titled Primitive Accumulation, inspired by German philosopher Karl Marx’s seminal text on economics, Das Kapital (1867). Now, you might ask yourself what relevance has a 32-year-old Indian artist of the present day and age found in a book written almost two centuries ago? Also, depending upon how far you swing on the political compass, a text like Das Kapital might seem esoteric in the current age of late capitalism. The beauty lies in Sattik’s interpretation of the text and how he aligns it with the context of his homeland.
Marx might have been born in 1818 but the class war existed even before currency was invented. Karl merely interpreted it and codified it as the ever-ongoing war between the haves and the have-nots: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Now, whether you are a socialist or not, there is no denying that the stark binary between the privileged and underprivileged exists in global societies. But unlike Europe, the identity politics in India is slightly more complicated. Here, not just economic means but also caste plays an important role in determining your ‘value’ in the hierarchy of society.
Sattik understands that well and it shines through in this comic. We see a common Indian scenario where a privileged babu or zamindar or landowner, as we say in English, is going for a merry ride in the village along with his nephew. The nephew, clearly born with a silver spoon in his mouth, is blinded by his privilege and is enamored with his uncle’s power. However, the moment the nephew sees flags planted by the farmers who work in the fields owned by his uncle, he is filled with righteous bourgeois anger.
Flags serve as symbols of identity and the fact that the “other” can have their own identity or voice, has never been taken well by the ruling class or oppressor. The nephew steps out of the car to confront these farmers. He uses classist casteist slang to verbally abuse them. He demands an explanation as to why the farmers have planted their flags on a land that belongs to his uncle, and by extension, also belongs to him. One of the farmers has a brilliant reply that throws into question the commonplace ideas of land, ownership, and private property. The farmer says that it is also their land as they are the ones who break their backs “cultivating it”.
Now, the comic delves deeper once the babu joins the conversation. He says that the land belongs to him by the laws of inheritance. Sattik draws a page featuring an all too common trope in history where the greedy son, after making his father sign the will, catalyzes his ailing old father’s death to replace him as the new owner. We see clear allusions to the workings of a feudal structure here as the story progresses.
The landowner’s grandfather, Landlord EvilCharan (10/10 on the name selection) had used violence and oppression to snatch these same lands from the indigenous people years ago. Even in Sattik’s portrayal of the Brhamin EvilCharan, we see the intermingling of caste and class politics and how that has shaped India’s history of oppression. Violence has always been a feudal and colonial tool - the shackles of which we, as a species, have still not been able to lose.
However, this time, the farmers do not give in. They use the same tool (violence) that has oppressed them and their generations before to combat the landowner and his nephew. The old woman is seen bravely wielding a stick as she harks that the fight is for the “Jungle Zameen”. It is Sattik’s heartfelt tribute to 'Jal Jangal Jameen' (water, forest and land), the popular slogan of Indian Adivasi movements, which was first coined by Komaram Bheem.
Through eye-catching visuals and earnest storytelling, Sattik draws the socio-economic and political reality of the nation we live in today. Even someone, who is not at all acquainted with Marxist theory or any such fat socialist books, will be able to easily comprehend the simple yet powerful message the comic conveys. I end as I begin — an artist must hold a mirror to society.
About the artist:
Sattik completed his Master's degree from Kala Bhavana, Shantiniketan, specializing in Graphic Art. Although his initial practice centered around contemporary art forms like multi-media, Meta-media, and other new-age expressions rather than image-making, his main focus later shifted to popular (mass) art mediums such as illustrations and comics. This shift aimed to make his art more inclusive and relatable to his immediate native audiences.
Sattik, on his art and choice of medium
Find out out more about Sattik and his thought-provoking political art here.
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