• Looking for (and Finding) Art in Improbable Places | Kolkata, India

    EAS artist and contributor Jayeti Bhattacharaya takes us on a tour of two very different projects that took place in Kolkata during the month of February, when the city lights up with art activities, events and exhibitions.

    Drawings by the patients beside the entrance of the Calcutta Pavlov Hospital. Image courtesy: Jayeti Bhattacharya

    Kolkata is a city where art and culture have always been truly appreciated, in all its forms and ways, irrespective of all differences. The city has laid a remarkable example of art and culture for the rest of the country.

    Last February Kolkata came together to celebrate a festival of the arts with the opening of the Center of International Modern Art Award Show 2019 across three different venues, namely Centre of International Modern Art, Studio 21, and GEM Cinema. Several collateral programs and community art projects took place in the city as well, in particular, the two projects presented here, one at the Calcutta Pavlov Hospital and the other at the CPT colony of Taratola. The two projects, “Across the Line” and  “Chalo Painting Tangai “(Let's hang Paintings) were led by two different groups of artists.

    A hospital turning into a venue for exhibiting art is something truly unexpected, as our eyes are familiar to look at art in highly polished white cubical space. But yes, in this case the Calcutta Pavlov Hospital turned out to be, for several months, a venue for the exhibition of art, displaying the works of the hospital patients, who worked under the guidance of the artists Srikanta Paul along with Ruma Choudhury, Tanmoy Chakraborty and ANJALI (the NGO working at the hospital).  The Calcutta Pavlov Hospital is the place that provides medical attention to those who are suffering from mental illness. As I entered the premises of the hospital the first thing I saw was the black line drawings on both sides of the gate, followed by some installations and several more drawings and pastel coloring.

    The entrance black line drawings visually resembled folk painting patterns of India, but definitely with stories embedded within.

    When discussing this unusual project with one of the artists involved, and then when looking at the artworks created by the patients, I realized how art can be a strong therapeutic tool, that allows those involved to express their thoughts by recollecting memories in the form of stories and to gush out their emotions through linear and color expressions.

    In spite of the exaggerations, the hastiness and the easy enthusiasm, what would catch your eyes was the reflection of honest confessions. The artists here worked with the patients as facilitators, hearing their stories and guiding them to use their memories in constructing the drawings and paintings. Ruma Choudhury, one of the artists working with the patients, explained to me that two things were repeatedly occurring in their stories and in what they were saying: “Home”, obviously expressing the desire to go back home; and “Bed”, which is the place where they are leading their confined lives within the hospital rooms.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Patients working on the walls of the Calcutta Pavlov Hospital.   Image courtesy: Ruma Choudhury     __________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Nanigopal Rajbanshi, one of the patients, expressed his love for the Hindu gods and goddesses, and his desire to participate in the festivities during the celebration of Durga Puja¹. The flow of his strong lines spoke out about his interest in art. Sita, a lady, revealed to Ruma her constant desire to go back home, and the sadness because nobody came to take her back. These stories, whether directly or indirectly, were reflected in the works.

    Works by the patients on display. Image courtesy: Jayeti Bhattacharya

    There was a celebration of liberation throughout all the works displayed in the hallways of the hospital. Liberation of thoughts, the liberation of emotions, the liberation of unheard voices, the liberation of unseen memories, tied together on one visual plane, echoed through all the artworks made by the patients residing there.

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    Looking into the other project, in another part of the city, will make you feel spontaneous, energetic and playful. The project “Chalo Painting Tangai” (Let’s Hang Paintings) was developed by Sunny De Wall collaborative group, in the CPT colony of Taratala. Throughout the site, one could see site-specific installations, cyanotypes, wall posters, cutouts and wall paintings, engulfing the entire space. Here the site has developed into a stage of interaction between the locals and the artworks all around.

    Each and every work displayed there was a reflection on the surroundings. The strong colors and huge images were giving form to deep thought observations and interpretations of social life. Walking through the space one could spot an airplane on the ground, a policeman cutout directing the way, the huge head of a boy peeping out, a rocket pushing upward, and so on.

    The one thing that will strike the children most is a whole battalion of ant cutouts, standing on the ground as if they were on their way to an expedition. The artist collective says that “the drawings by the children have revealed the intricacies of life that still exist in this area. Through its children, the colony has given us narrations that speak of life and everything in it, through humor- dark and otherwise.”

    And the artist Amrita Sen conveyed with joyful words her enthusiasm upon viewing the project: “The amazing transformation of Taratala CPT Colony by Sumantra Mukherjee with his team and Jungle Crow Kids! The row of ants, the 42 building, the presence of essential Asrani, the boy on the rooftop – everything made me immensely excited. Hope next year more and more paras (localities) get this magic touch.”

     

       

    Photos of CPT Colony project “ Chalo Painting Tangai”. Image courtesy: Amrita Sen

     

    Note: 1.Durga Puja, is an annual five day Hindu festival in the Indian subcontinent that reveres the goddess Durga. It is particularly popular in West Bengal.  It is celebrated by the Bengalis all over the world during the month of September and October. Durga Puja festival marks the battle of goddess Durga with the shape-shifting, deceptive and powerful buffalo demon Mahishasura, and her emerging victorious.

     

    Jayeti Bhattacharya is an artist living and working in Kolkata, India. She holds a Master’s of Fine Arts from Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University. Her work was shown in many exhibitions, including ‘Defining a Relative Space’ at A.M. Studio; ‘Bad Smell Good Smell’ at Studio 21 in Kolkata; ‘Last Image Show’, both in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2018 and Lusaka, Zambia. In 2019. She was also part of the CIMA Award Show 2019 in Kolkata. Many of her works include a combination of painting and mixed media and address overarching themes of 'nature' through painted visual narratives.

     

  • ‘Nature Unconditioned’ | Kochi, India

    An installation by Indian artist Maksud Ali Mondal, at the Kochi Student Biennale, where it is on view until March 29th, claims to present nature in its 'unconditioned' state.  

     

    Detail image of 'Nature Unconditioned'

    Everything that lives eventually dies. Birth, growth, death and decay. It is a continuous cycle of nature. This process of nature fascinates me, where everything keeps flourishing, changing, rotting, and at last decomposing. My practice is mainly inspired by those natural activities. The process, the organic matter, the ephemeral nature and insubstantiality of materials are the most important aspects of my work.

    In the project I created for the Kochi Student Biennale I engaged with the organic system, such as fungal growth, which has a very important role in our ecosystem. Without fungus, valuable nutrients would be locked as natural rubbish, such as dead leaves, fallen trees, and feces. Everything would decay slower, decreasing the nutrients in the soil which plants and animals need to survive.

    The way industrial products, constructions and plastic affect the environment, plants and soil are intimately related. It affects even groundwater, the major source of our drinking water; hence affects our food production as well.

    Detail image of 'Nature Unconditioned'

    I created a space entirely dedicated to the free growth of nature: a damp room, that was once used, but in times abandoned, which I covered entirely with different kinds of mushrooms and fungus. I engaged in a practice that involves a transformation of human inhabitant into a natural inhabitant. The project is mostly an interdisciplinary practice. We don’t usually allow ourselves to embrace nature as it is. We condition it to our own requirements and likings. This is the aspect of nature that I would like to preserve and show, where nature is not conditioned by our own need and liking, but it is left to its own organic growth and supremacy. In the current idea of preservation and protection, we tend to exclude and/or include only certain aspects of nature,  and by doing so to make our own version of what nature is.

    I wanted to blur the restriction between nature and the conditioned inhabitant that we ourselves create to protect and preserve our way of living. So I created an interaction for those who would walk through the space of the installation and experience the organic space, where the idea of a conditioned nature would be contested throughout the room.

    'Nature Unconditioned', site-specific installation, paddy straw, wheat flour, leaves, grass, spawn, petri dish, chair

     

    About the Kochi Student Biennale and my experience in it.

    This year the Kochi Biennale Foundation announced an open call for art student applicants. It supported the production of all the selected projects by students, where ‘’Making as Thinking’’ was the main idea and focus. It was a great engagement with artists, curators, teachers, local people and with the place, including engagement with the institution, geography, history, landscape, city, and technology. There were 109 projects by 200 student artists.

    The room of the installation 'Nature Unconditioned'

    Participating in it this year was an amazing experience. Each and every day was to be experienced. Once I arrived in Kochi, I started to figure out the materials I needed for my project. Through that, I engaged with the city and local community who helped me to find my materials. I created a site-specific installation in response to the climate of Kochi and that particular site. I was involved in the making process; which took an entire month to execute. This was my first experience working with and seeing the ongoing process of the artists’ biennale and Students’ Biennale together. I would like to thank the Kochi Biennale Foundation, all members, curators, as well as Professor Sanchayan Ghosh, Shruti Ramalingaiah, Krishnapriya CP, Shukla Sawant, KP Reji, MP Nishad and all my friends.


    Maksud Ali Mondal is an artist based on West Bengal. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in painting from Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati, and is now in his second year of the Master's program. He spent the majority of his time with plantations, outdoors and in the studio. Now he lives in a green place, Santiniketan, surrounded by forests, ponds, fields, and rivers. He builds his work around the reactions of the environment, the weather or such changeable elements.
    In his newest body of work, he is creating his own color from minerals, vegetables, leaves, and seeds. The inescapable cycle of nature, growth, birth, and death, existence, and memory is the main focus of his work. The process of making this work also plays an important role in his practice.
    His inspiration comes from his own experiences as well as from nature. Now he is working internationally, having visited Paris, Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy for an exchange program and residency.

     

  • ‘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.

     

    "Zwischen" exhibition, Museum Forum Schloss Platz | Aarau, Switzerland | Photograph by Thomas Kern

    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.

    'Zwischen I' | Scratched Paper | 9in x 11in

    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!

    'Zwischen II' | Scratched Paper | 9in x 11in

    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.

    'Zwischen III' | Scratched Paper | 9in x 11in

    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.

    'Zwischen IV' | Scratched Paper | 9in x 11in

    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.

    'Zwischen V' | Scratched Paper | 9in x 11in

     

    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.

     

  • ‘On the Origin of Species’: an artist’s approach | Kostanjevica na Krki, Slovenia

    Reflecting upon Charles Darwin's groundbreaking book “On the Origin of Species”,  EAS artist Kristina Rutar, from Slovenia, created a site-specific solo exhibition at Gallery Božidar Jakac, in Kostanjevica na Krki.  The research she did on the theory of evolution inspired her to experiment with different forms, to think about space and how to translate the different stages of development into the four fixed spaces of the gallery.

     

    'On the Origin of Species', Room I

    My first inspiration for this exhibition came when listening to the album Tomorrow in a Year, a collaboration between The Knife, Mt. Sims, and Planningtorock for an opera by the theatre company Hotel Pro Forma. The theme of the album is based on Charles Darwin's life and his book on the origin of species. Listening to the album made me wonder how I could grasp the vastness of the evolution and its impact on life on earth. It seemed like a fantastic challenge and I decided to dig into the theory, into Darwin's work and also into the work of contemporary scientists, like Richard Dawkins. As it turns out, evolution is not self-evident to quite many people, especially to believers in the creationist theory; the attitude toward science startled me.

    Room I, Detail I : With the fractured texture I wanted to catch the moment of the cell growth.

    The narrative of the exhibition was built around the space where I was invited to exhibit by the gallery Božidar Jakac: a beautiful 4 spaced lapidarium, in an old monastery, next to a church which frequently hosts big, contemporary art projects as well as exhibitions by Slovenia's most famous visual artists.  The place has its own history and atmosphere, and I had to be careful to respect it and be mindful of its characteristics, but at the same time I had to build a new space that the viewers could be a part of. It was definitely both a challenge and support for materializing the concept I was working with to consider the given space.

     

    Room I, Detail II : The shadow was meant to connect the hanging and the lying sculptures.
    The Installations

     

    Room I: The Embrio Room.

    Here I tried to represent the first forms of life, the cells and their growth. My goal was to understand and represent the smallest forms of life, and how they developed according to the principle of cells dividing.

    Sand had a big role in the exhibition. Coming from outside, from a stone floor into the room, the softness of the sand would change the viewers’ steps and the perception of the space around them. The dim light and the sound of a heartbeat in the background, created the experience of being in a womb-like space.

    'On the Origin of Species', Room II

     

    Room II: The Developed Embryos.

    The developed embryos were fewer than the cells in in the first room, because in the process of natural evolution, only the strongest survive. The sound was also upgraded - next to the heartbeat, there was also the sound of breathing - evidence of the the embryos’ growth.

     

    'On the Origin of Species', Room III

     

     

     

    Room III: An Empty Nest.

    The embryos left the safety of the womb. The room was empty. All that was left were the shards of their shells and threads of their cocoons. There was silence, only the weak sound of a heartbeat from the previous two rooms could be heard, as a reminder that there was no longer life in this space.

     

     

    'On the Origin of Species', Room IV

     

    Room IV: The Final Room.

    While the first three phases showed the development of the embryo form and the story of life, the last room was a contrast to them - a reminder not only of death but also of our role in it, the role of us humans when it comes to shaping the future of our planet. This was intended not only on the physical level, of taking care of nature and preserving the species, but also on a sociological level - the relationships we build in our society between ourselves and the others, between the different groups and the minorities.

    It is well known that Darwin's theory was and still is taken out of context to justify racism. It is taken out of context to theorize the superiority of certain “races” over others, to refuse help to the people in need, the weaker ones. Life has become the race of the strongest, and the fittest, without any regard to others.

    Room IV, Detail I. "Unfitting" to survive - broken ceramic forms.

    With the intent of pointing out this problem, the visual language of the work in Room IV was shifted from growing sculptures to decaying ones. The sand got a new dimension: here not only did it give softness to the space, but it recalled every step made in the space. The imprints of everyone’s feet, which were left on the sand starting in the first room and all through the exhibition, indicated the imprints we leave on the earth, the role we have in the world - we are responsible and each one of us has an impact on the future of our world.  The forms in Room IV were broken, shattered, and decomposing into the nothingness of the sand we carelessly walked on.

    Room IV, Detail II

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    The viewers' reactions to each room were quite varied, but at the same time related. I was amazed to see how the children followed the narrative and how the message was clear to them, and I was also surprised by some strong emotional reactions. I was told about the experience of a woman who did not want to enter the last room, the room with shreds. When she glimpsed at it through the door she had a panic attack. They finally convinced her to enter, reassuring her there was nothing brutal in the room, just shreds. I have to say that I was  happy hearing the story, feeling that the exhibition had achieved its goal - making people feel and think.

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     Reflections

     

    With the ‘The Origin of Species’ project I challenged myself, pushing to test how creative and what kind of a problem-solver I could be. How could the development and decay of a form be expressed? Right now it seems so clear to me, but looking back, being intentionally limited to the medium of ceramics, working on a potter's wheel and researching its potential, was a fantastic challenge and I am looking forward to the next one.

    Room IV seen from the outside

    This project had a huge impact on my work, especially exploring different ceramic forms and approaches of hanging them. Through testing, building, and re-shaping I created a kind of archive of forms, which I am keeping for future projects. It was a great experience working for a specific location, with a specific theme and the intention of getting a clear message across.

    I would love to expand this work, but I would have to find a new space for it, and the new space would, with its characteristics, build a new narration which would express the same message but in a new way. I would love to continue with this project and I am still searching for a place to do it.

     

     

     

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