Chitpur Local 2014-16
Chitpur Local is Hamdasti's pilot project and was initiated in November 2013 at Chitpur Road, one of Kolkata’s oldest roads, and the main artery of the erstwhile “Black Town”. Chitpur’s palatial houses are juxtaposed with bustees, and its historic cultural centres of Bengal Renaissance coexisted with the more colloquial centres of cultural production. The project is centered around one particular neighbourhood- known as Jatrapara, or Battala, which was the hub of popular traditions like Jatra (travelling theatre), printmaking, publishing, jewellery-making and bamboo crafts. It is also a neighbourhood with a history of community spaces - courtyards, bookshops, public street corner rowaks (platforms), that were once the focal points of interaction and cultural engagement.
We started by working with the students of the Oriental Seminary School, slowly bringing together a collective of artists, students, teachers, residents and shop-owners in order to re-activate the spaces of this locality as shared cultural spaces for the community.
After mapping the area and its diverse narratives with the students, we collaboratively developed three public projects at three sites. The projects included a pop up museum in the courtyard of the De residence, a card game that triggered a process of remembering the narratives of the community that was played at street corners, and story boxes for a historic bookstore. Community members joined in at each stage, as co-artists, producers, advisors and even story-tellers in developing and testing these projects, and as they developed they took greater ownership and adapted the projects to meet their needs.
Our experiments culminated in a Public Art Festival in the locality in March 2015 that deepened community networks, helped us reach out to wider audiences and collectively imagine new possibilities for the future of this locality. The festival led to the creation of new products for local craftsmen and businesses, a network of supporters for the local school, the design of an after-school curriculum, increased visibility of local stores as well as numerous other smaller relationships within and outside the community. It also led to new opportunities for artists' fellowships in the area, as more people at Chitpur began opening up their spaces for arts projects. Some of these are continuing to grow while others fade with time.
2016, was a period of reflection and refocussing as we laid the foundation for the second edition of Chitpur Local and formalized the Fellowships. Through an exhibition at Studio 21 Gallery in Kolkata, with intensive public programs over two weeks, we created a laboratory for critiquing our journey so far, developing new ideas for social art practice, developing a collective of artists exploring social art practice in Kolkata and a building new proposals for the future. Chitpur (dis)Local, at Mumbai Art Room, Colaba, Mumbai, dislocated the project away from its site and helped us build this dialogue at a national level.
Chitpur Local 2014-2016 was funded by a grant from the Dean's Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, at Harvard University as well as the India Foundation for the Arts.
Chitpur (dis)Local was supported by the Inlakhs Sivadasani Foundation as a part of the emerging artist award.