Thursday, 26 March 2015

with ART in the HEART

Text : Hina Nitesh

This weekend was great fun. I finally pulled myself (and other not so interested family members) 
together and went to the biennale - yes! the Kochi Muziris Biennale. 

This art festival has been happening in my backyard literally for the last more than 2 months with participation of artists from all over the globe. The festival is spread over many venues in Fort Kochi. Apart from drawings and paintings, the artists have used installations and cinema as medium of expression. Also there are daily movie shows and talks by those in the creative field which turn the entire area into a huge creative hub. 

The main hub of the biennale activity is the Aspinwall House. This is a much spread out venue and there are installations in the open. You need to weave in and out of rooms to view the exhibits. After a point I was marveling at the heritage building which dates back to 1867. In fact, I felt it was the perfect venue - an amalgamation of art and architecture.

Let me take you on a pictorial journey with some of the artworks that I personally connected with...

Shanthamani Muddaiah's 'Backbone' is the installation that grabbed my attention the moment I entered the venue. It is like a huge spine that serpents on the ground. Made with charcoal which itself is a temporary kind of material, the sculpture is used as 'a metaphor for many centripetal forces that hold civilizations together, from rivers to ideologies'

The three pictures above are by  American poet, Aram Saroyam. The name seemed to ring a bell and a little research later made me realize that long back in school, there was an excerpt from works of William Saroyam - the poet's father. Aram's works are minimalistic as well as thought provoking. They are meant to be 'seen and read' is what the write up informs me. What was interesting was the boys' take on these especially on the last one...they wondered if it was saying 'I am' or if the artist wanted to make 'a creature with 4 legs'!

Titled 'Undercurrent', Mona Hatoum's work (above) talks about landmines or lava. The artist, born to Palestinian parents, lives in exile in the UK and this seems to have an impact on her works.

This piece by Baroda based, Nataraj Sharma titled 'Alternate shapes for Earth'questions our perception of the world and the forces that shape it. The installation that was conceived in the aftermath of the Gujarat communal violence, voices the artist's call for peaceful co-exisitence. 

Let me apologise for this image which despite many tries turns out upside down :(...but I simply had to have it. This installation by Lavanya Mani titled 'Travelers Tales -Blueprints' is one of my favourites from the exhibition. Using the ancient technique of Kalamkari her painted cotton cloth is displayed like sails of a ship. The images on the cloth are the artist's interpretation of the role that the hand made textiles played in the colonial history of India.

Parvathi Nayar's Fluidity of Horizon

The two images above are from British artist Hew Locke. His works reminds one of a circus or a carnival. 'Sea Power', as the work is titled, illustrates journeys taken by travelers and explorers and the links that they forged. 

The two images above are from Sahej Rahal's work titled 'Harbingers'. The work occupies a large space that used to be a lab of sorts for spices. Made with clay and straw, the work responds to the historical context of the space. The artist has visualized the absent city - Muziris and displaced it in time and space. The various artifacts that are scattered around the huge space felt like I was walking through an excavation site.

Illustrator KM Vasudevan Namboodiri's graphic portrait of the city 

Sri Lankan artist Muhanned Cader's works free the landscape from the regular geometric frames. According to him it was the rectangular frame is the colonial  way of showing power over the lands conquered. In his work titled 'Galle Fort;Fort Kochi', he acknowledges that the seas in coastal Fort Kochi is the same as in Galle. He challenges the traditional notion that links landscape with land and landscape that is ever changing and fluidic as is shown in his works.

I spent a full day at the Biennale but still could not see all the venues. Strolling around the area which has old buildings (offices and warehouses) from the colonial era buildings transported me to another era. It is a nightmare to walk on these roads on any of the working days but Sunday thankfully is the day off for the traders here. But its not just the traders and the spice market, there seems to be a lot going on in terms of art and creativity in every
nook and corner. The entire area seems to be taken over by artists what with installations and graffiti and posters of art exhibitions all over the place. 

Maybe I will go there again before it gets over...

All Images: Copyright Hina Nitesh
Text & creative layout copyrights: Onthedesignboat   

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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

R e c o l l e c t i o n s

 Text : Divya Agrawal

Back after a long due visit to my maternal and paternal ancestral homes, I feel like I have touched my past – I feel like a Banyan tree. This journey was like a root that grew downwards and reconnected me with my being. It nourished and revitalized the tree that had been growing outwards but had lost connect with parts that make it flourish. This post is a recollection, a delving into memories and sharing with you a few of the many odds and ends I hold special!

Russian folktales colored my little world.  
Excerpts from some books that I read as a child: 1. Jaadui Ghoda; 2. The little log house
I have an inherent love for mythology, temple towns and Krishna. As a child I would enjoy watching my grandmother perform various rituals around a bronze idol of Bala Gopala (the child form of Krishna). Post the puja, we would wait eagerly for the delicious ladoo Prasad sometimes made with sesame seeds and jaggery or at times with wheat/ chickpea flour. 

The towering paintings of ShreeNathji (A form of Krishna) at my paternal home would hold me enthralled. With thin crescents of white for eyes, layers of clothing and jewelled headgear - all depicted beautifully,  I would marvel at the many forms Krishna could take. 

Folklore, Krishna, lotuses, peacocks, trees, birds all that was a part of my childhood have found space in this banyan tree in various forms :) 

Images: 3,5 Artwork dated 1968 by my mother, Manorama; 
4: Colourful wood paper clips from Austria; 
6: Embroidered brooch, my creation inspired by peacocks ;
7: Part of a Collage, a collaborative with my daughter Radhika

Over the years, as a young adult, my travels included places rooted in history. I have sketched to my hearts content, temple spires, iconography and urbanscapes that are a melange of the old and the new.

Image: Mumbai Cityscape, Divya Agrawal

Past has held me rooted and shaped me. 
It often gives wings to my imagination.
It colors my present with memories and inspirations.

With a toast to the path called life and the journey we embark upon, here's to lots more!
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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

P A P E R   S T O R I E S

Text : Hina Nitesh

The paper doily

Spring cleaning is always the time to rediscover treasures from the past. This post is courtesy a recent effort at sprucing up my box of odds and ends...From the pages of an old diary, popped out a beautiful paper doily. It was a reminder from a coffee date at Taj with my hubby. I had kept it as a memento from that evening and also because I loved the intricate cutwork - almost like a lace...I looked up the net for paper cutwork and chanced upon another treasure trove of Indian handicraft - the art of paper cutting.

Stories from the life of  Krishna formed the traditional theme...Image Courtesy:

'Sanjhi'  the name given to this art of stenciling is from Mathura (otherwise famous for it peda - a kind of sweetmeat, for the uninitiated). The artist just needs a pair of special scissors and paper to cut out intricate forms. The pattern is drawn on the paper and cut. The stencil thus made was used for rangoli or floor decoration. it would be placed on the floor and colored powder sifted through it. Slowly the pattern on the paper would get transferred to the floor.

An artist at work...Image Courtesy:

A closer look at the intricate cutting...Image Courtesy: 

Traditionally, the artisans used make stencils with religious themes. Mathura being the land of Krishna, the art form mostly depicted themes from his life like the rasleela. For the artist, it had a spiritual side to it. 

Sanjhi with religious overtones...Image

Radha Krishna - the traditional theme...Image Courtesy:

Later with the coming of Mughals, new patterns were added to the artists' portfolio. Intricate jaali patterns, flowers and animals started appearing in the works of artisans.

New designs...Image Courtesy:
Image Courtesy: 

For any craft form to survive, it needs to develop and grow with the times. Sanjhi requires the artist to use his hands to cut the paper - a process that is time consuming. Especially with laser cutting techniques available which can do the same job in a jiffy, there are few takers for manual cutting. This has obviously effected the craft so there are a handful of practitioners left for the job.

Finding new expression - sanjhi as a paperlamp,..Image Courtesy:

Giving a new definition to the craft is Pooja Ajmera. Her venture TeekhiiChhurii, was born out of a need for gifting something unique for an occasion. She turned to Sanjhi and there was no looking back after this. Pooja has included contemporary themes in her works which makes it easy for people to identify with it. The idea that design can be customised for the occasion is what makes the art form special.

Contemporary twist to the traditional art...Image Courtesy:

Its not just about images...Image Courtesy: 
Customizing the handmade product... Image Courtesy:

The venture does give a new lease of life to the otherwise dying craft. However, today the need is for more people to come forward with ideas and innovations to help preserve the traditional craft form for the coming generations. As long as an individual can find passion in the venture, it can be rooted against the changing tides.

Expressing a little humour with sanjhi...Image Courtesy:

For more details check on Sanjhi check out Craft Revival

For details on Pooja Ajmera's work check out Teekhii Chhurii 

 Text & creative layout copyrights: Onthedesignboat   
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Monday, 2 March 2015

M E A N I N G F U L   D E S I G N

Text: Hina Nitesh

Water Hyacinth – the name brings to mind the floating plant which is rather notorious for killing the aquatic eco-system. Many articles have been written about how the spread of this plant if not checked will choke water bodies. While some people write and research about how to control this weed, there is an organisation that is involved with using it in a positive way.

Aqua Weaves, the brain child of North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Limited (NEFDl) is the brand name under which these eco friendly products are marketed. NEFDl saw an opportunity to replace bamboo, cane and jute with water hyacinth which is available free of cost and is a nuisance in any case. 

They trained rural artisans to work with the dried weed to create beautiful and practical accessories. The techniques and skills required for working with this material are the same as those used with cane and bamboo. So, in that sense the artisans could easily adapt themselves to water hyacinth. NEFDl has successfully trained anyone who wanted to learn the skills. Design inputs from NID have worked in the favour of the artisans and the interaction has resulted in better process and increased productivity as well as value added designs.

This entire process goes in the favour of nature. By using water hyacinth, the artisans give a new lease of life to the water bodies which were earlier getting choked by the weed. Using the weed in the craft form has changed the lives of many people in the north east. The weed regrows in 12 days so there will never be any dearth of the raw material.

The fact is that many of the artisans who were earlier living in poverty have started their own enterprises and are prospering. This is especially true of the women since a large percentage of women are involved in this work. This surely is yet another instance of design making a difference in the lives of the local.

For more products and details on the products above go to Aqua Weaves. 

All images:

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