Last surviving founder member of women artists’ group ‘Panchya Kanya’ no more | Kolkata News

Kolkata: The last of the five artists dubbed ‘Pancha Kanya’, who had started an all-women artist collective 40 years ago, is no more. Shyamasree Basu, whose abstract works stood out at art exhibitions, was the youngest of the group led by Shanu Lahiri. The other three founder members were Karuna Shaha, Meera Mukherjee and Santosh Rohtagi.
Christeneed ‘The Group’, the collective had been set up in 1983 to carve a space for women artists.This was two years before women artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world formed a group in New York called the ‘Guerrilla Girls’.
Though there have been other such collectives that were constituted earlier, including the Danish Women’s Artist Association that held its first exhibition in 1920, they have not survived. ‘The Group’, in contrast, has grown and continued to thrive and remains one of the world’s oldest groups of women artists that still organises annual shows.
When ‘The Group’ was formed, it had become the target of scorn and condescension in contemporary art circles. The artists, however, remained resolute and unequivocal about the necessity for such a forum of women artists. And they were successful in achieving its goal. So much so that many celebrated male artists, including Chintamoni Kar, Paritosh Sen and Sunil Das, turned up at the exhibitions and encouraged them.
Since its inception in 1983, ‘The Group’ has exhibited annually every year at The Academy of Fine Arts. In 1986 and 1987, the exhibitions travelled outside of Kolkata, to Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi and The Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai.
While it was Lahiri who was pivotal in forming the group, Basu was the inspiring force and worked tirelessly to promote young artists till the end. Born in south Kolkata and educated at Kamala Girls’ High School, she graduated from the Government College of Art and Crafts in 1960. Among her classmates were Jogen Chowdhury, Sunil Das, Dhiraj Chowdhury, Anita Roy Chowdhury and Arundhuti Roy Chowdhury.
A recipient of Shilpi Samman Award from Rajya Charukala Parishad in recognition of her lifelong artistic achievements, her exhibitions have been held in various parts of India as well as London, Berlin, Wurzburg, Santa Barbara and Dhaka.

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