Jayatu Chakma studied fine arts at the University of Chittagong and Rabindra Bharati University. The stories of Jumma people’s lifestyle, existence, their struggle and uniqueness have been a major theme of his artworks. During an interview with Nahid Riyasad for New Age Youth, he shares his journey as an artist
New Age Youth: Would you describe your educational journey?
Jayatu Chakma: Since my early childhood, I have taken painting as an extra-curricular activity. Back in the 1990s, there were only a single art school in the entire Rangamati district, which is still in operation — Rangamati Charukala Academy.
Gradually, art especially painting became my passion and obsession. I started studying about art and painting. After I passed my twelfth grade in 2007, I got myself admitted at the department of fine arts at the University of Chittagong. I excelled in the programme and graduated with a first class first position.
During my under-graduation period, the depth of art, painting and their history made me even more interested. To advance my understanding and wheat my appetite for knowledge about painting, I started to consider pursuing further education in India on painting. So I applied at the Rabindra Bharati University and got a scholarship. In 2018, I completed my second Master of Fine Arts from there and returned to Bangladesh.
New Age Youth: In this journey, did you have any mentor?
Jayatu Chakma: To be honest, I have never thought of being a professional painter. However, I was determined to continue my painting irrespective of my profession. On top of that, I decided to choose a profession which would allow me the time and space to continue my painting. Now I am teaching art at an English medium school in Dhaka but I manage a little bit of time every day to paint.
My family has been a big inspiration behind my painting. My elder brother, Sudeergha Chakma, has always encouraged me to pursue my study in a field that is little bit different that the usual schools.
In the university, my inspiration was two of my distinguished teachers — Alok Roy and Dhali al Mamun. A senior friend of mine, artist Rajib Dutta, has been a great inspiration for me, as well.
During my second masters at the Rabindra Bharati, I worked under Aninda Pandit and that experience gave me the confidence to claim myself an artist.
New Age Youth: What are the common themes that you generally work on?
Jayatu Chakma: Through my painting, I want to portray the uniqueness and existence of Jumma people. I want to picture how the people in the hills, amidst lush green nature, are passing their days in insecurity and brutality. What the Jumma people have lost in the past and what they are about to lose in the future — have been a central point of my painting.
On the political sense of my paintings, art and different elements of a society go hand in hand. As a result, the works of an artist is bound to be influenced by his/her political surroundings and reality.
New Age Youth: You did the book cover of Samari Chakma’s title, Bor Porong: Duburider Attkothon. The cover was widely appreciated. Tell us about the collaboration.
Jayatu Chakma: If seen from the perspective of an art and literature critic, both Samari and I work on the same issue — on the Chakma community who lost everything because of the construction of the kaptai Dam in the 1960s. The only difference being she portrayed that with her pen and I communicated through my brush strokes.
So, when she approached me for the book cover, I thought that our interest is closely related. The book cover also tells the same story that is within the pages of the books — a falling person who has no land to stand on. This has been the case with thousands of Jumma in the years after the construction of the dam.
New Age Youth: In one of your paintings, you have portrayed Sajek valley and how it is becoming a tourist destination dispossessing local Tripura families of their ancestral lands. Would you please elaborate?
Jayatu Chakma: Not only in Bangladesh but also across the world, every tourist spot has the same story where the local inhabitants have to sacrifice a great deal of their lives because of the activities of tourism industry. We cannot deny the fact that Sajek valley is one of the most beautiful places of Bangladesh.
Nonetheless, as an inhabitant of the hills, my perspective is that we should let the nature be —this is not just the case with Sajek. As a result, a lot of artificial elements are spoiling the natural beauty and traditional lives.
On the other hand, a lot of families were forcibly displaced from their ancestors’ land only to make Sajek a popular tourist spot. Tourists travel there only to pass their time amidst nature and enjoy themselves. How many of them think about the displaced families and their current whereabouts? Not many.
New Age Youth: You have tried to capture lifestyles of Jumma people through your water colour paintings. How do you see these transformations?
Jayatu Chakma: It is undeniable that human will try to ‘develop’ their lifestyle with time. A lot of Jumma people have pursued formal education and are working at top positions across the world. However, the rate of development is not as fast for the Jumma people who are living at the margin.
Jumma people have traditionally been living in a reciprocal relationship with the nature. From daily necessities to everything you can think of, Jumma’s have been acquiring those from the nature. As a result, Jumma people are not very familiar with the ‘modern’ lifestyle.
This is creating a gap that is widening between those who have had a taste of ‘development’ and those are just becoming familiar with current ‘development’ narrative.
New Age Youth: As an artist, do you think you have certain responsibilities to your community?
Jayatu Chakma: Every Jumma community has their distinct history and lifestyle. Through my painting, I want to portray the existence, lifestyle and history of these communities.
Besides depicting the natural beauties and joys of the hills, I want to paint the silent cries of thousands of Jumma people that they are unable to express.
New Age Youth: Are there any Jumma painter who have artistic influence on you?
Jayatu Chakma: Among the artists from Jumma communities, Kanak Chapa Chakma is a prominent name. She has been acclaimed in different parts of the world.
Another Jumma artist Jaydev Royaja’s artwork has attracted me. Even though, he is fighting a battle of many singlehandedly, he remains a great influence for apprentice artists.
New Age Youth: What are your on-going art projects? How do you see yourself in the future as an artist?
Jayatu Chakma: Currently, I am working on the lives of impoverished Jumma communities of Bandarban. The works will be exhibited in a group exhibition. Future can be uncertain but I want to become such a painter and artist who would make future Jumma generations interested in art and painting.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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