Creating a parallel history

Stamp Artist

Creating a parallel history

This field of art requires research, meticulous planning and authentic details from history. You cannot afford to go wrong because you are rewriting history through ‘stamps’, says Sankha Samant, one of the country’s leading stamp designers who has to his credit designing of more than 300 stamps glorifying India’s historical past and celebrating her achievements. 

When it comes to giving a colourful and visual representation to any historical event related to Independence, Sankha is often called upon by the Postal Department to create a stamp which has his own stamp on it! 

The soft-spoken, sober and low profile gentleman has also earned the sobriquet ‘Gandhi Man’ from fellow stamp artists. The reason is simple – of the 33 commemorative stamps released on Mahatma Gandhi, 14 have been designed by Sankha alone. This, without a doubt, makes him the most prolific Gandhi stamp artist in the country but narrating the larger-than-life persona of the Mahatma in stamp size has not been an easy task by any stretch of imagination. 

“There’s a lot of written material about Gandhiji but there are hardly any pictures. We don’t know what clothes he was wearing when he thrown out of the train in South Africa and secondly, how a visual effect can be given to the incident,” explains Sankha whose initial designs related to this event were not approved by India Post, the Department of Posts under Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. Says Sankha, “You have to be neutral. I cannot simply show him fallen on a platform.” 

Therefore, this 48-year old alumni of Delhi School of Arts, reads a lot about everything when he has to design afresh and thereafter allows his creativity to take over. Sankha had faced a similar hurdle when in 1987, he designed the first official stamp of his career and the first day cover of Veer Narayan Singh, a freedom fighter. “There is no photograph of Veer Narayan. I had to figure out something that was symbolic. Since I was always a research oriented person I was able to give a face to the man. For me, it was a learning experience to show something unseen before,” reminisces Sankha. 

Though Veer Narayan’s stamp was officially Sankha’s first stamp but he had already designed a black and white stamp of Indira Gandhi – giving him an entry into the postal department. “It took me 20 days to design that stamp,” he laughs, who now completes a stamp in about a week’s time. 

Since stamps designed by Sankha are connected to history, it is surprising that the artiste’s personal favourite is a sparrow and pigeon miniature sheet which he designed in 2010. “I like colourful stamps and this is one among them. It tells you the story of the habitat of rock pigeon and house sparrow,” says Sankha, for whom a stamp should contain attractiveness, a story line backed by a good image in order to give real substance.

It was Sankha who recently designed the stamp on Swami Vivekananda on his 150th anniversary and currently, he is working on stamps of musicians, which would be part of the celebrations of 100 years of Indian cinema. “To bring renowned musicians of all time together on one sheet, I have to find a common element among them. Upto now, after so much reading and reference, I have found only the tanpura as a common element! Let’s see,” laughs Sankha.   

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