On April 26th our team of artists and the students set up an exhibition of the work developed through the workshops so far. During the week preceding the exhibition we met up with local residents, teachers and shopkeepers and invited them for the event, as well as sent home invitation cards with the students for their families.
Manuel Klappe, an art-historian and curator from Amsterdam, who was in Kolkata on a residency collaborated with us in designing this participatory event. It was on his advice that we created this giant map, linking it with red thread to spaces we had explored through the workshops and with yellow to possible future interventions. We also brainstormed about ways to create maximum participation and elicit the most frank feedback, and involve the students as key facilitators and planners.
We then facilitated a one day workshop with the students where we collectively created questionnaires for visitors. Each questionnaire was created by a team of four students, each with a specific role- writer, photographer, sound recorder and interviewer. Each team, selected one spot in the locality that they had explored during the workshops and created questions about the possible community based cultural events, installations and exhibitions that could be developed at these sites.
Then after post school preparations...
We were ready the next morning, with the students extremely excited about their new role as ushers, guides and interviewers.
Details about the feedback we got coming up in a subsequent post, but all in all everyone was extremely enthusiastic and we look forward to many such events in the future!
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!
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.
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.