Last Saturday, the Hamdasti team and artists spent an exciting morning mapping Chitpur Road with the guidance of architect Sharan Lal. Our mapping expedition led us through the narrow lanes, bylanes and courtyards of Chitpur. It also helped us understand that any community driven project about Chitpur's heritage is first and foremost about exploring people's relationship to the myriad spaces on this road.
Mapping shops, distances, facades, and lanes was the first step towards identifying spaces that can be activated as social, cultural and even educational spaces through the site-specific projects being developed through the workshops. We forgot to take pictures of us mapping in all our excitement but here is a stitched up panorama that reveals just how layered and complicated this road really is!
On Friday we had the first in a series of community feedback meetings, as we seek input from the residents and workers of Chitpur Road on the design and implementation of our workshops.
Members present at the meeting included teachers from the Oriental Seminary school, the owner of the Diamond Library, a local woodcut craftsman, and a saleswoman who works on Chitpur Road. The artist collaborators presented their different projects, and solicited feedback from the community.
It was an excellent experience to hold a community forum, and to hear about the diverse issues that are important to residents and people who work in the area. Community members had very good input, giving the artists new issues to think about as they continue to run the workshops and projects. One of the issues raised was the need to involve parents of the students. Also some impediments to participation in the project were identified, which included financial hardship, lack of time and a possible suspicion about our motives.
We also learnt about a few interesting spaces on Chitpur Road, like the abandoned type factory and historical book shops and libraries. We look forward to future collaborations with the many people engaged and passionate about heritage and local history in Chitpur Road.
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!
Over the last month we have started talking to the wonderful officers in the Kolkata Community Policing Department about a new project with them. We joined them at their Annual Sports Day at the Body Guard Lines Police Compound, where participants in Community Policing Initiatives from across Kolkata were present.
We met some of the other officers involved in Community Policing and were able to understand the demographic of their target population. As we continue to develop our proposal the key questions that interest us are how we can create a better understanding about the role of the police and the rights of the citizens, and how we can include both the police and citizens in a conversation around these issues.
We are very happy to present The Chitpur Archive, a collection of images, textures, stories, references and text fragments that document the many facets Chitpur Road. This archive is being collectively created by the members of the Chitpur Heritage Action Group, as they explore the history of the locality and the lives of community today.
The archive is a space of exploration and not necessarily of objective, expert generated information. It functions as a space for inspiration, a collection of fragments that loosely connect to each other as we try to create a coherent narrative. It is created in the hope that these connections help us to think of Chitpur Road in new ways as we begin to develop our projects.
The guidebooks created by the students are now fresh off the press!
It was a long process, scanning the pages made by the students translating and typing in Bengali, but its finally off to Mr. Dutta's binding shop on Chitpur Road for the finishing touches. In the next phase of the Action Group we hope to create many such artifacts that can be used even after the project by the participants. These products could enable participants to replicate the project or could even sold to generate revenue for local businesses.
In order to initiate the second phase of the Heritage Action Group for Chitpur Road, we are starting a three month Residency for artists, designers and architects interested in Heritage Conservation.
These cultural practitioners will work with Hamdasti over the period of the Residency to create an interdisciplinary Action Group, build community participation and collectively develop site-specific projects that create a platform for engaging with the history and heritage of the area.
To apply for the Residency email firstname.lastname@example.org with a 250 word personal statement. Deadline December 25th.
On the third day of the workshop, we continued with the work of creating guidebooks, from the perspective of the students, for their local neighborhood of Chitpur Road.
Students used a grid template worksheet to fill in information about the different aspects of Chitpur Road that they were "experts" on, for the guidebooks. Students used pictures of 18th century prints documenting life on Chitpur Road, fragments from their school newsletters and pictures from magazines to create images for the pages they made.
Finally, after finishing their collages and writing texts to describe the different aspects of life on Chitpur Road, the students left the school to go on a short field trip. We took them to N. C. Dutta & Co., located next to the Seminary, to learn about the local art of bookbinding which continues to this day.
The students were very interested in the techniques that Mr. Dutta used to bind the books. Many of the students remarked on how they were surprised by the simplicity of the process and were excited to learn that their guidebook would be bound and produced using these techniques. It was rewarding for us to see how such a simple field trip could enable the students to see the relevance of such heritage economies in their own lives.
We wrapped up the workshop by asking the students what they learned and what they enjoyed about the workshop. Some students talked by how they liked looking at the books, and others how they enjoyed learning more directly about local cultural practices. We certainly learned a lot from the students about their experience of Chitpur Road, and look forward to our next collaboration with them, during the second phase of the Heritage Action Group.
We'd like to extend our thanks to the first Action Group including teachers and students of the Oriental Seminary, Mr. Dutta and Rajasee Ray, the facilitating artist, for working with us on this community workshop!
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.
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