Santanu Dey

6x6 Asia Talent: Santanu Dey, India

“Santanu Dey is a photographer who photographs with his heart, who goes beyond what you see with your eyes. He loves to photograph what doesn't exist in reality, he photographs history.” - Saiful Huq Omi, Bangladesh, photographer, filmmaker, educator, activist, and 6x6 nominator.

Santanu Dey is a visual artist and independent photographer based in Calcutta, India. His work often moves along the intersection of art, documentary and attempts to dive deep into mythology, cultural narratives and socio-political issues. 

Brackish Tears

After the Partition of Bengal in 1947, predominantly Hindu West Bengal became a state of India, and mainly Muslim East Bengal (now Bangladesh) became a province of Pakistan. In the years that followed, millions of Hindus migrated to India from East Bengal. Many, mostly low-caste, were forcibly sent to the inhospitable area of Dandakaranya. When the Left Front came to power in 1978, with the promise that migrants would be brought back and settled in Bengal, the government changed its policy on refugee settling and considered them a burden to the state. Thousands fled to protected reserve forest land on Marichjhapi Island in the Sundarbans, West Bengal, then were forcibly evicted by police in a violent human rights violation that became known as the Marichjhapi massacre.

Brackish Tears explores mythological references from the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, in which tribes of the Khandava forest were displaced by the Pandavas to expand their kingdom. Mythical events are recreated in collaborative performances that critically reflect on the Marichjhapi massacre from the perspective of the global refugee and migration crisis. The photographer aims to illustrate how power corrupts and universalize the stories of human suffering of a particular community.
Trucks were used to transport children and older refugees to Dandakaranya in the name of resettlement. 19 September 2019.

Panchanan Mondal, an eye witness of the massacre, lives in Kumirmari, a neighbouring island of Marichjhapi. Diptych with an outline of the path the refugees followed and the geographical position of Marichjahpi as drawn by Santanu Dey. 24 February 2020.

Fuljhuri Biswas, a resident of Dandakaranya, is 100 years old and has terrifying memories of the past. 12 January 2020.
Krishna as a metaphor for both the Khandav Dahan (burning of the Khandava Forest) in the Mahabharata and the Marichjhapi massacre. 21 October 2019

Lost Legacy

During British colonial rule in India, the Zamindari System was introduced under the Permanent Settlement Act in 1793. The system rewarded Zamindars as landowners who rented their land to farmers in return for paying a fixed amount to the British Government, facilitating the wealth and power of the colonial rule while exploiting peasants.

The Zamindari Abolition Act in 1950, was one of the first major agrarian reforms of the Government of India following independence in 1947. Overnight, the status of this privileged class of society was reduced to that of ordinary citizens. Lost Legacy explores the social and political condition of the descendants of the Zamindars in the decolonization period of independent India. 
Lily Mullick is one of the oldest surviving members of the Mullick family of Kalutola in Calcutta. 6 March 2019.
An abstract wall hanging bearing the legacy of the lineage of the Bengalis. 10 December 2018.
Archival evidence of the Sil family during the period of British colonial rule. 14 March 2019.
Diptych of Astik Dutta, the current descendant of the Hathkhola Dutta family, with his childhood picture. 7 April 2019.

Discover work by the 6x6 Asia talents, and find out about 6x6’s nomination and selection process.