Span Blog

Living an American Dream
By Angelina Nair
| Category: Arts and Entertainment

The Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral and Professional Research program allowed artist Partha Dey to explore the immense opportunities available in the field of art and crafts in the United States.

Artist Partha Dey is on a high after a successful art exhibition at the American Center in Kolkata. A Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral and Professional Research program alumnus, Dey has a long association with the American Center from its College Street days to the current Chowringhee building. The Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Research Fellowships are designed for Indian scholars who are registered for a Ph.D. at an Indian institution. These fellowships are for six to nine months.


Dey’s earliest introduction to the United States came in the form of stories that his father told him about the country. His father was also an artist, who admired westernized art forms and patterns, and instilled in the young Dey the same influences that he himself had imbibed—John Singer Sargent, Reuben Nakian, Grant Wood, Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins, to mention a few. As a student, Dey’s father befriended American soldiers in Kolkata during World War II who told him fascinating stories of how they had painted, with candles fixed to their helmets during wartime. His stint at an American advertising company in Kolkata further strengthened his bond with the United States. The young Dey loved to help his father with his artwork by providing brushes and mixing colors, and it was during these days that senior Dey used to regale the boy with stories of the United States, its artists, and art styles. He told him of the immense possibilities in the field of art and crafts that existed there, encouraging him to visit the country. As he grew older, Dey was determined to see with his own eyes all that his father had made him see in poetry and art.


Dey took advantage of the resources available at the old American University Center in College Street in Kolkata, browsing through its library for hours. In fact, the book, “200 Years of American Sculpture” by Tom Armstrong, remains a continuing inspiration for him today.


Dey was also a member at the library, formerly known as the United States Information Service (USIS) Library, where he attended various events. In 1998, Dey worked with the American Center at one of the biggest consulate annual events in the eastern region—the Calcutta Book Fair (now called the International Kolkata Book Fair)—where he designed the exterior layout of the American Center stall. When the United States Information Service transformed into the present-day American Center in Chowringhee, Dey continued to be a loyal member.


The Fulbright program proved to be a major turning point in Dey’s life. While it was a dream come true for him, it was also a bittersweet moment as his father had passed away. His teacher at the Government College of Art & Craft suggested he apply for the Fulbright scholarship, which he followed up with the United States-India Educational Foundation. The staff members at the American Center were a big help in his program application, and the artist acknowledges his debt to them. “If it wasn’t for their help and motivation, I wouldn’t have been able to go for the Fulbright scholarship. Not only was I able to fulfill my long-cherished dream of visiting the United States, but also feel like I have been able to contribute, in my own way, through my exhibits and time teaching at the University of Iowa.” 


Dey’s exhibition at the American Center in Kolkata featured ceramics, paintings and some of his most heartfelt works—from travel musings and childhood memories to the sense of a future gained by the loss of a past. A corner in the Lincoln Room of the American Center stands dedicated to a collection of paintings by his late father. While inaugurating the exhibition, U.S. Consul General Craig Hall mentioned how art and culture are a powerful bond cementing the people-to-people ties that sustain the larger U.S.-India relationship.


Dey, an artist and art teacher at Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture in Kolkata, is today widely acknowledged for his artistic skill. From exhibitions in the United States, France and England to works at Taj hotels in Mumbai and Guwahati, he continues to grow.


From a childhood fascination with a borrowed SPAN magazine in the 1960’s to a feature story in the latest issue of the very same publication—Dey has indeed managed to live his American dream. As the artist says, “The pursuit of positive U.S.-India cultural ties should be a constant endeavor. It is this people-to-people connect that promotes understanding between our nations.”


Angelina Nair is an alumni coordinator at the U.S. Consulate General, Kolkata.