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!
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.
We are a Kolkata based non-profit dedicated to promoting civic engagement through participatory art projects.