Our Chitpur Residency kicked off with three workshops that took places over the last few weeks at the Oriental Seminary on Chitpur Road. We began by having the students who participated in our November workshop fill out a short survey about the experience, and also distributed the books that they co-authored.
The workshops took place over the last week. The first, led by Avijna Bhattacharya, revolved around local stories and narratives from the community. The students learned about the different components of a short story, and went out into the community to interview different individuals. They also started a journal, where they will continue to collect more stories about people in their every day environment.
The second workshop was about theatre and performance, and was facilitated by Bengali veteran actor Joyraj Bhattacharya and his theatre colleagues. The facilitators helped the students engage in different theatre exercises, and they also performed a reading of a Bengali play- 'Lakshman-er Shaktisheel'. This play will become a vehicle for learning about the jatra theatre of Chitpur.
The third workshop was facilitated by printmakers Purnaa Deb and Nilanjan Das, along with the help of graphic designer Rajasee Ray. They led the students in a printmaking exercise over the week, in which the students each made letters using linoleum squares. The students also met with wood-cut carvers and printmakers on Chitpur Road.
Stay tuned for more details on upcoming workshops!
Last week we met up with our artist team to discuss the upcoming workshops we will conduct in Chitpur Road. As usual, we met up in Studio 21 in Gariahat, South Kolkata, and the discussion was a fruitful one.
The group of assembled artists included experts in the fields of printmaking, art history, architecture, curation, and performance. Earlier discussions had revolved around social art practices in general, discussions of "community," and thinking about how to conceptualize the process of "community art."
Having participants from very different disciplines means that talking about art inevitably brings up many different view points - even conflicting ones. The Hamdasti team has really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from these collaborations and conversations. We are looking forward to facilitate bringing together these different perspectives in a community setting.
In this discussion, we attempted to narrow down the areas of focus for the different community workshops to be conducted on Chitpur Road at the end of January. Some of these interests can be seen below, from critical lenses and practices, to signage and names, to documenting history and local narratives, to confronting public and private spaces.
Based on the interests of each artist we formed three groups, each of which will develop a site-specific project with students and community members on Chitpur Road. Avijna, Manas and Rajdip will focus on Public Spaces, Joyraj, Sagnik and Ankita on Jatra, and Purnaa, Rajasee and Nilanjan on Printmaking. To kick off the projects we are starting with workshops at the Oriental Seminary School.
Stay tuned for more workshop updates!
On the second day of the workshop, we continued with the theme of culture, heritage, books, and the local neighborhood of Chitpur Road. Many of the Class VII students returned, with a few new faces, whose names our shown on the name tags below:
We began by discussing the role of books in shaping culture and the history of publishing in the Chitpur Area. We then led a discussion with the students about different kinds of books - including encyclopedias, guidebooks, travelogues, history books, and non-fiction versus fiction writing - and talked about the significance of each of these kinds of books.
Next, we discussed the idea of bookmaking. Each student was handed a worksheet to begin brainstorming ideas for the kind of information that they would choose to include in a guidebook about the Oriental Seminary (their school), as well as the surrounding neighborhood.
Finally, each student chose a different aspect of life on Chitpur Road on which they would become an expert. This included different topics such as food, schools, Rabindranath Tagore, and religion. The topics and their assignments were written on the board, as follows:
Finally, we gave them a short: homework assignment: each student was to ask a community or family member about their individual topic, to provide source material for the preparation of the Chitpur Road / Oriental Seminary guidebook.
Above: an image of the playing field, where many students play cricket, at the Oriental Seminary.
Hamdasti and the first Heritage Action Group completed our pilot workshop at the Seminary back in mid-November; however, the Hamdasti team has been traveling across India, and only now have the chance to share some of the photos and insights from our workshop. We're happy to report that the workshop was very successful, both for us and the participants.
We worked with between 15 to 20 students from Class VII, of which most students were between 11 and 15 years of age. The class was all male, and most of the students lived in the nearby neighborhood of Chitpur Road. Because the Oriental Seminary is a Bengali-medium school, we conducted all of the workshops in Bengali.
On the first day we began a discussion with the students about culture and heritage, especially in the context of Kolkata and Chitpur Road. We talked to them about what culture is, why it's important to study, and the elements of culture that comprise a neighborhood. We also discussed the particular history of Chitpur Road, its role in the Bengal Renaissance, and how different heritage economies of printing, publishing and theater shaped the culture of the neighborhood.
We also gave them a homework assignment that asked them to think about culture and heritage, both in the larger sense and within their neighborhood. Some of these questions may have been somewhat heady for the Class VII students, but we were very impressed by the students' ability to understand and discuss new concepts.
The Oriental Seminary is one of the oldest schools in Kolkata, located on Chitpur Road in the northern part of the city. It has educated many important Bengali artists and public figures, Rabrindranath Tagore being the most famous. The school is one of West Bengal's most important cultural and educational institutions, and continues to educate hundreds of school children today.
The Hamdasti team became interested in this school because it serves as a special, active example of the cultural history of Kolkata. We had heard about the school's importance as a theater institution, given its history as a center of Shakespeare performance in the 19th and 20th centuries. Upon visiting the building, we found ourselves interested in the architecture, its status as an active educational institution, and the dynamic community surrounding the school.
We are looking forward to partnering with the Oriental Seminary and the West Bengal Heritage Commission in directing a project about the school, and its potential for physical and cultural restoration. We have a planned a workshop with the Oriental Seminary's students, involving artists, curators, and architects, to discuss with students their ideas about heritage and the overlap between personal and collective histories. Instead of working from a bureaucratic view of historic preservation, we hope to understand the community's needs, desires, and hopes for the physical infrastructure of the city.
Please visit our blog for updates on our preliminary research, field trips, information about site, the participants, and the workshop. And please contact us if you are interested in participating!
We are a Kolkata based non-profit dedicated to promoting civic engagement through participatory art projects.