‘Topography of Memory’ | Aarau, Switzerland
Preserving memories of exile and belonging on scratched paper, Indian artist Ishita Chakraborty's project is inspired by the voices and the experiences of migrants she has met while in Switzerland, during her studies at the Zurich University of the Arts.
As a daughter of an Indian “Land and Land Reforms” officer, I grew up seeing land records, survey maps, topography recordings, no man’s land, urban lands and documents of Land Reforms issues. One could say: I learned the importance of land and soil from my early childhood. Nature has always had an important impact on my work.
I was born in West Bengal, the east part of India. Recently I moved to Switzerland, where I am pursuing my second Master’s degree in Art and Media from Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, in Zurich. At the ZHDK I am immersing myself in philosophy and art history, the past and the present, I am looking at global and community-based projects alike, all of which are great sources of motivation for me. I spent near my early childhood in the mountains in the northern part of West Bengal, and moving to a calm and quiet mountainous Switzerland has resurfaced some of the memories associated with that time.
During the partition of India in 1947 and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, a large number of refugees migrated from Bangladesh to West Bengal. My work talks about borders, about crossing them and the ensuing change. It initiates a dialogue between the cultures, it is going back and forth, it is digging into memories and setting new priorities. Lost and found, erasing and revealing, disorientation and relocation, exile and belonging – these are all terms and concepts I associate with my practice. Between homesick and homeseek!
During my childhood, owed to my father’s job, our family had to relocate many times. In more recent years I have started travelling for reasons of my personal choice. Living with a certain instability, in temporary situations and homes, helped me to better understand the global issues of the diaspora, of migration, living in exile and the subsequent questions around identity.
I am working on a series of white on white drawings I started in 2017. They are inspired by my encounters with migrants, refugees and expats alike, during my travels in Europe. I encountered people from India, Bangladesh, Syria, Albania, Sri Lanka, Poland, Germany, and Thailand. Most of these conversations were very private and an attempt from my side to understand the life of every individual. As a unique representation of their identity, I choose to transform their language on paper.
These works are silent representations and tactile recordings of their voices. Some of the words I chose for them are profound statements about the value of each individual within a larger geography.
As a child I often travelled with my parents to historical sites. There I found engraved and scratched names on walls and pillars by earlier visitors. I was always fascinated by this technique of preserving one’s memory. A spur of the moment action that results in a lasting impression, somewhere hidden in the landscape. This idea influenced me while I was registering people’s voices, about their memories of home, by scratching on paper. It was a challenge to find a way to preserve those deep memories through inkless drawings.
The resulting works are like constructions or sculptures on paper. The elements they are built of are private/collective memory, intimacy/conflict, the feeling of longing/belonging, roots/outgrowth. In most cases, the stories of the people I meet have a deeply political context.
The scratches on paper are very subtle and suggestive at the same time; they require a certain amount of close observation and intimacy from the viewer.
Language and single words play a very crucial role in my research. I was trained as an applied artist and I have some good experience in working with newspapers and advertising. The deliberate setting of text and imagery next to each other and the interaction of those elements certainly has roots in my past practice.
These days, I am an immigrant in Europe and I am struggling with all my senses to find my way into this new world. I am trying to find a life in-between the cultures and places. Living as a minority and being a stranger in this new society forces me to deal with questions like: What is the importance of your mother tongue in a foreign land? What happens when we lose it, or lose its use? How do we adopt a new language for our survival? How much does the language we speak shape our identity?
Ishita Chakraborty attained her BFA and MFA in Fine Arts from Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. She taught Applied Arts as an assistant professor at Amity University from 2016 - 2018.
In 2016 Ishita participated in a residency by the Piramal Art Foundation in Mumbai and one year later was invited to Switzerland by the Gästeatelier Krone in Aarau as a guest artist, concluding her stay with her first solo exhibition in the Museum Forum Schlossplatz.
In 2018 she participated in the Khoj Foundation PEERS SHARE program in Delhi and has recently returned to Switzerland to pursue a second MFA at Zuercher Hochschule Der Kuenste.