Govt. Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya students at Students' Biennale 2016

In August last year, a small group of art students from Government Kala Mahavidyalaya in Nagpur travelled to the neighbouring village of Paradsingha in Madhya Pradesh for a week-long workshop. The goal of this workshop was simple: that of engaging with aspects of the village community and make art based on community engagement and on-ground research. 

As the workshop developed and conversations with locals grew deeper, each student began to formulate particular themes they were interested in, and threw themselves into these.  

Arefa Chimthanawala, for instance, was curious to learn more about the relationship of domestic work, gender, and time. After gaining her permission, she spent time with a Paradsingha lady for an entire day, from the moment she woke up, before 6am, to 6pm, and made intricate sketches of the lady’s activities, carefully marking the exact time for each activity.  For Vishal Peshne, he was keen to engage with the local men of the village, and have a conversation with them regarding gender discrimination and their relationship with women in the village. Shubham Wankhede found himself getting increasingly tangled up in questions regarding the fate of humanity and the never-ending quest for understanding why we do what we do, so he decided to step out of his own head and ask his questions to people of all ages in Paradsingha, listening attentively to their views on life and their advice to him. Sadhana Bagade explored the theme of respect and its relationship with old age in the context of rural India, and spent most of her time having tea with old men and women in their homes or while they were working. Shyamal Joharapurkar was specifically interested in art made by children, and so she and groups as large as fifteen children between the ages of 5 and 13 would sit together after school and draw anything and everything that came to their minds. 

Nagpur artists and activists Shweta Bhattad and Lalit Vikamshi were deeply involved in the shaping of this workshop, constantly encouraging the students to push their creative boundaries, let go of prior assumptions about art and community, and question what it really means to be a contemporary artist in India today. 

The workshop ended in a beautiful site-specific installation and performance on top of a hill, where the students and local youth got together to create a simple circle out of large stones, to provide rest and a gathering space for whoever wandered through this path. Music was made using pebbles and sticks, and soon it began to rain. 

Each of the students developed their preliminary research into works of art over the next few months, the results of which are displayed at the Students’ Biennale. Arefa collected old clocks from the local ‘chor bazaar’ in Nagpur and transferred her sketches of domestic work onto them, adjusting the time of these broken clocks accordingly. Vishal’s time with the Paradsingha men inspired him to take a photograph of them watching women passing by, and photoshop rainbow-coloured sunglasses onto them, blowing it up to a life-size scale and placing it on an exterior wall in Kochi. Shubham too experimented with photography, capturing images of people he had conversations with, or allowing others to photograph him, and then proceeded to edit and cut and draw diagrams into them. Sadhana, using a walking stick to represent the elderly, began creating walking sticks of different materials, from rope to tissue paper, addressing both the strength and fragility that old age is immersed in. Shyamal took the drawings that children had made and transformed them into large stencils, replicating them endlessly at various public sites around Fort Kochi and Mattanchery, simultaneously exploring innate creativity as well as uniformity and repetition when it comes to children’s art education across India.  

A big thank you to Sayali Thakre for also participating in the workshop, Sheetal and Aditya for coming to Kochi and helping the group install their work, and everyone at the village of Paradsingha for being so welcoming to artists. 

'A Class Photograph' at the Students' Biennale 2016

Four metal lockers, marked with names, numbers, forgotten locks, memories, and rusted time, have travelled over 1500 kilometers from their home in a quiet university art studio in Maharashtra to sunny sandy Fort Kochi, all for the purpose of posing for their class photograph. 

During a workshop last year themed ‘Reimagining a Class Photograph’, students of the Department of Fine Arts of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, explored the connotations that a conventional annual institutional photograph attempts to bring forth to one’s mind, including those of order, discipline, hierarchy, pride, camaraderie, and nostalgia, all rolled into one. Placing their personal academic experience into this, they shared stories of their primary site of learning with one another, discussing inspiration, aspirations, and expectations as art students in the historic city of Aurangabad. 

The intimate workshop resulted in them breaking out of the medium of photography and presenting their sturdy squeaky lockers, just as they are, as their Class Photograph, painting a powerful picture of the state of art institutions and their students perhaps not just in Maharashtra, but also across the country. 

A big thank you to researcher and critic Noopur Desai, who came all the way to Aurangabad to present various aspects of photographic practice in India, and specifically, diverse use of photography by Indian artists and photographers. It was really exciting to see art students not only critique their environment so cleverly and subtly, but also break out of the canvas and embrace a pre-existing object as art, as their own art. 

Congratulations to students Mangesh Kanade, Sudarshan Sherkhane, Pankaj Lokhande, Subham Khaire, Akshay Charlu, Shital Sample, Nitin Shankar Borde, Sunita Bore, Anita Swami, Asha Bobade, Manisha Pawar, Rajendra Sonune, Rohit Chavan, Ankit Ingole and more for being a part of this, and gratitude to FICA- Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art and Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation for supporting this workshop as part of the Students' Biennale

'Dissection of the Process' at the Students' Biennale 2016

My involvement with the Students' Biennale began almost exactly a year ago now. All 15 of us 'young curators' came from diverse disciplines and backgrounds; artists, researchers, academics, architects, and therefore engaging with art schools and their students in such an in-depth manner brought about a range of interesting developments. 
One of the schools that I have been involved with is the Fine Arts college in Bhartiya Vidyapeeth, Pune. In August, along with the support of Vaibhav Raj Shah, Shrenik Mutha, Noopur Desai, and Trishla Talera, I held an intensive workshop on the theme of self-critique and the significance of process in an art student's life. Everybody brought out what they deemed their most unsatisfactory or worst works of art, things that they themselves had created during their time art school, and then presented them to talk about why exactly they believed them to be poor works. In the process, we deconstructed terms often used to describe art, what it is to study fine art in the context of Pune and Maharashtra, and our basic understanding about the 'point' or 'function' of contemporary art for the artist as well as the viewer. 

'Dissection of the Process' grew out of this workshop, and it involves students grinding what they deem their least impressive works of art. It deals with these very subjective and objective complexities of ‘bad art’ in art schools today and the aspiration of creating ‘contemporary art’. 

Grinding their artworks to dust is a violent, painful act for the students. Yet it reveals an openness towards letting go of past artistic attachments (both tangible and not) and simultaneously, by embracing the creation of dust particles as giving life to a new work of art, acknowledging their role in one’s practice. 
For me, the Students' Biennale 2016 began the moment I stepped into art schools, and the workshops were definitely where the spirit of this initiative lay. It's never been about selecting art or one particular artist, because I believe the power of this lies in leaving aside these competitive notions and focus on nurturing young artists as a group on experimenting, collaborating and pushing their practice in fresh new ways, whatever they may be. 

For the last few weeks I've been oscillating between loving this 'final display' and then not feeling like I've been able to draw in the energy that the workshops had into these images that you see here. I'm still battling with that, and I suppose that is where I need to decide where to draw lines between my artistic community-based practice and a curatorial one. These hesitations aside, it's something that I am immensely proud of, and so amazed and impressed by all the students who created this strong work: Kuldeep Patil, Pravin Kewat, Manoj Darekar, Smruti Joshi, Sneha Chaudhari, Sarang Pharate, Aditya Aneraa, Sunil Suryavanshi, Manasi Palshikar, Priya Dhoot, Swapna Vyas, Nikita Deshpande, Mamta Yeram, Ashiwini Pawar, Bhushan Mali, Gayatri Kurumkar, Madhuri Kuchekar, Sumit Huddar, and Amit Darbastwar. Grateful to the Kochi Biennale Founation for giving us all this opportunity

COP21, December 2015

I attended COP21 with The Eroles Project, a group of artists and activists who were 'reimagining activism' in Paris. Sharing a squat in Paris with various environmental activists from across the world, the two weeks were packed with a ridiculous amount of energy. I was in charge of setting up an exhibition, 'Foreign Exchange', with eight different Global South artists and activists at the beautiful La Générale, as well as assisting fellow Indian artist Shweta Bhattad for her performance 'Faith in Paris', where she buried herself in a coffin for three hours to protest farmers' suicides in India. In between, while engaging with protest actions across Paris, I met and made lifelong friends with some of the most beautiful people on earth. Definitely a life-changing experience.  

The artists and activists involved in Foreign Exchange: Artists and Activists from the Global South co-create Climate Justice were:  

1) LETTERS FROM THE SKY, curated by Kai Lossgott (ZA/DE)  

2) PRINTS, Knorke Leaf (Bolivia)  

3) FAITH IN PARISShweta Bhattad (India)

4) GARDEN OF ECOLOGICAL CINDERELLADeneth Piumakshi Wedaarachchige (Sri Lanka)

5) CASA MUYULA CASA DE LOS NINGUNOS (Bolivia) 

6) BEEHIVE COLLECTIVE (USA) 

7) ALLIN KAWSAY, Valie Valie (Peru)   

8) ANTHROPOCENE RADIO 

Faith in Paris, filmed by Jonathan Remple

KKPKP, October 2015

GOD’S GIFTS

 

A case study of Tanishka Khandibara for KKPKP

 

By Rajyashri Goody

October 2015

UPDATE: Tanishka shines in her exams: http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31814&articlexml=RTE-beneficiaries-sparkle-in-exams-15032016004024

Tucked away beneath a small banyan tree at the edge of a Pimpri slum is the bright asbestos-sheet home of Sheela Khandibara, her two daughters, her husband, and his parents and grandfather. I arrived with KKPKP activist Sonali just as seven year old Tanishka was getting ready for school, but her curiosity on seeing us made her linger with her mother in the courtyard. 

Sheela, though pleased to see us, looked slightly wary. She asked if this interview would be printed in the newspapers. “I just don’t want any trouble from the school”, she said.

Tanishka studies in 1st std. at Poddar International School, and is one of the lucky few who has been able to secure admission via the 25% reservation provision for disadvantaged children, as part of the Right to Education Act. “When KKPKP informed us about this clause, I did everything possible to make sure Tanishka would benefit from it. Even though she was already in 1st std. the year before, I made her repeat the year at Poddar. Stood in line for hours, and didn’t resort to money to get the job done faster… and with the help of KKPKP, we did it. She’s been coming top in class, and the teachers are kind. They’re very fond of her. But we still haven’t received any books and uniforms.” 

According to Maharashtra Rules, free education for children admitted under the 25% provision includes access to free books and uniforms.

“How long has it been since Tanishka started attending Poddar International?” I asked. 

“About six months now.” Sheela smiled and told me that because Tanishka was repeating her 1st std., her memory was fresh and she had an advantage over other students at the moment. “I don’t know what will happen when she goes to the 2nd std., but for now, she’s doing extremely well and we’re very proud of her. We really do need the books and uniforms though.”

“All the kids in school keep asking me if everyday is my birthday!” chimed in Tanishka as she sat on her mother’s lap. Most schools in India only allow children to wear plain clothes if it’s their birthday. 

“The school knows that its their responsibility to provide these items for free but still they keep asking us to pay for it… they told us that Tanishka is God’s gift, isn’t it my duty that I give whatever I can to ensure her future? Obviously I felt great that they called my daughter God’s gift, but by saying ‘God’s gift God’s gift’ over and over again, they‘re manipulating us.” 

Sheela’s father-in-law, sitting by the door, said softly that they felt bad they couldn’t even afford Rs.500 for his granddaughter’s uniform, but the school was making them feel even worse about it, so much so that they’d feel compelled to just pay up. 

“But we’re not going to give into this pressure.” Sheela told me. “See it’s a great school… much better than that Arya Samaj. When I went to ask their principal about RTE for Tanishka, she said ‘Aage chalke bahut problem hoga, aap Marathi medium mein hi rakho na’ (There’ll be lots of problems ahead, why don’t you just admit Tanishka in a Marathi-medium school). I told her: Look, you don’t have any right to advise me on these decisions, just tell me whether you want to admit my child or not. Poddar International, on the other hand, has been very good. I want Tanishka to be happy here, but it’s our right to get all the provisions that come with free admission. Because of the help of KKPKP madams like Sonali madam, I haven’t paid a single paisa to the school, and don’t plan to either.”

While Tanishka got ready and left for school, Sheela offered us some tea. The 25-year old mother of two is a housewife. Her husband works in a courier office, earning a salary of less than Rs.10000 a month. For their family, spending Rs.500 on school uniforms is truly a large percent of their budget. Just as I thought our interview was over, Sonali’s phone rang. It was Sheela’s husband, calling Sonali to tell her that he and his neighbour, whose child also attends Poddar International as part of RTE, had just paid Rs.2000 each to the school.

Sheela instantly turned sullen. Her husband had paid the school without consulting her. When she tried to call him from her own phone, he cut her off, saying he was too busy to talk. After a few moments she looked at us and smiled, saying that had she known her husband was going to pull a mindless move like this, she wouldn’t have gone on about not paying the school. “He’ll hear from me when he gets back home tonight.”

As Sheela called her neighbour, ‘bhabhi’, over to discuss what their husbands had done behind their backs, I realised just how many obstacles stood in the way of children from disadvantaged families getting a decent education. 

Most government-run schools are in a terrible state. Their students hardly learn to read and write well, and even if they do poorly in their exams, they are allowed to pass to the next year. This strategy of ‘dhakka pass’, as Sheela calls it, produces teenagers who have, on paper, completed their schooling, but have no real grasp of their subjects, and consequently this has adverse effects on further education or job opportunities. 

These schools are also Marathi-medium, and many parents want their children to study in English-medium schools, because of the perception that prospects of getting a well-paying career increase immensely if one has a strong hold over the English language. Thus, most families with even a little disposable income attempt to admit their children in private English-medium schools. 

Getting private schools to follow the 25% reservation provision for children from disadvantaged communities is a real struggle. There is hardly any publicity of it in the media, and trade unions such as KKPKP take it upon themselves to spread awareness. 

Incidents such as the one Sheela narrated, of private school authorities informing her that she would be better off admitting her child in a Marathi medium school, are not uncommon. Additionally, many parents have to stand in line for days on end to submit various forms and certificates demanded by the school authorities, which, for many, results in a loss of daily wages (Samarth, 2013).  They often have to seek the assistance of s to put pressure on the schools to give their children a fair and equal chance at learning.

As there is no financial authority appointed for additional expenses of books and uniforms (State of the Nation, 2015), schools are ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ due to the lack of clarity on the issue of reimbursement by the government (Samarth, 2013). Therefore, many schools resort to asking the parents to foot the bill, despite being aware of the fact that it is illegal to do so. Using manipulative tactics such as telling parents they should ‘help’ to make sure their ‘God’s gift’ receives the best of everything, and that it’s ‘only’ a matter of a few hundreds or thousands of rupees, they attempt to prick these poor families where it hurts, making them feel that by not contributing monetarily, they are hampering their child’s future.  

At home, the family might not be on the same page. Men are often solely in charge of making financial decisions. Sheela and her neighbour, Bhabhi, were both very firm about not giving in to the school’s influence, and they were willing to fight to get what was rightfully theirs, but their husbands made the decision of paying up without consulting their wives. Sonali, the KKPKP representative, warned the women that the union couldn’t help those who were giving into the school’s demands. These acts were making a mockery of the hardship that both the union and many families had put themselves through. 

Despite so many hurdles in their way, and many more to come, individuals like Sheela are ready to fight for their children’s education, provided they get some support from institutions like KKPKP. “I have two daughters and I will make sure they both have good careers. Sonali echoed her determination, saying that if Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose family couldn’t even read or write Marathi, managed to write the Indian constitution, nothing was impossible. They just had to keep at it.

 

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chakraborty, Anupa, (2014): A Report On “Implementation of the 25% reservation provision of the Maharashtra Right to Education Act by Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP)”

Samarth, Ujwala, (2013): Right to Education – A Dialogue on the 25% Reservation for Children from Disadvantaged Families

http://www.centralsquarefoundation.org/pdf/State-of-%20the-Nation-RtE-Section-12-1-c.pdf

http://www.rtemaharashtra.org/index.php/rte-25-percent-reservation

http://rterc.in/

Bamboo Curtain Studio, August 2015

See full images on Facebook

(Rather long) Artist Statement

As with many (if not all) people across the world, ‘identity’ in all its free-flowing forms has always been an important theme to discuss with friends, family, strangers, or simply to contemplate by oneself. ‘Who am I? How do I see myself? How do others see me? What do I love and what do I detest?’ and so on and so forth. And when it comes to the answer, what do you choose? How is it that one theme may take precedence over another? Are there factors and influences that get ignored or amplified by the individual as a result of social conditioning? 

The questions are endless, but the first stage of attempting to answer them would be to actually speak to people regarding this complex topic of identity. 

Over the course of seven days, I made masala chai for and had long conversations with ten 25 year-old men and women living in and around Taipei city. Although my interest in the subject stemmed from a curiosity about the strong socio-political stand that the local and international news resources portray about youth in Taiwan, the dialogue covered topics like financial security, dreams for the future, family, friends, the environment, food preferences, health, hobbies, and much, much more… many of the ingredients that contribute towards constructing one’s identity. 

It will still take time to engage deeply with the recorded footage and convert it into an experimental film deserving of its participants, but a few points of reflection. 
Whereas each of the interviewees had quite different ideas of their representation, they were all equally engaging and uninhibited to speak deeply about ‘Identity’, reinforcing my stand that the topic at hand is indeed a universal one. 

Although I am a strong believer of people’s beliefs and actions being a direct result of their sociological surroundings and history, it seems problematic now to state that each person is simply a representation of their influences, and not, in part, expressing a sense of original thought and thus, ‘true’ individuality.  

I thoroughly enjoyed each and every interview, and learnt a great deal not only about the diversity of Taiwan and its wonderful people, but also about myself and my occasional absent-minded stereotyping and generalising of individuals and communities in India and abroad as representations of merely one type of identity, when, in fact, each and every person’s life experiences make them as complex and vivid as we believe we are.  

Most importantly, I learnt a valuable lesson in empathy. It seems almost to simplistic to say this, but these deep exchanges drove home the fact that keeping an open mind, a willingness to listen and understand, and treating others with empathy, no matter who they are, is not just truly enriching for oneself, but a key feature of social progress and development.

With the last of the interviews finishing on the 19th of August, I embarked on the second section of Refresh/Reflect, the interactive installation. Picking four words that, after hours of making tea and sharing thoughts, dreams and stories, I believe best convey each 25 year old participant’s notion of their identity and placing them randomly across a large circular blackboard, I invited the public to look, read, and see if they attach any personal meaning to the written words, while helping themselves to some masala chai. If so, they could pick up a ball of wool and connect their chosen words together. The end result is a web that reflects the fluid multiplicity of ‘identities’ within each individual, irrespective of their age, gender, race, class, or state. 


Big thanks to 竹圍工作室 Bamboo Curtain Studio for providing me with such a beautiful space and community to work with,Khoj International Artists' Association and Pooja Sood for your mentorship and who connected GAP and Bamboo Curtain, and of course The Good Artist and Shraddha Borawake, without whom I might have found myself somewhere completely different, mentally and physically.

KHOJ Refracting Rooms International Artist Workshop, February 2015

Khoj Refracting Rooms was a big step forward in the experimental arts scene in India, not just for all of us individually as artists and for The Good Artist, but also for the creative community of Pune, and really marking Pune as a space that is conducive to cutting edge contemporary art practice. 

Pooja Sood, having met with Shraddha and seeing what The Good Artist was up to, put her faith in us and for six months we worked harder than ever to realise this two week experimental workshop. Our task was organise it from start to finish: invite international and national artists, arrange funding for their travel, food, and production budget, create a structure to the workshop, publicise the workshop and our sponsors through various mediums, and then, when the organisation was all done, involve ourselves in the workshop as participating artists.   

The artists involved were:  

  • Katarzyna Krakowiak  
  • Laurent Pignon 
  • C Krishnaswamy  
  • Szu Han Chen 
  • Immy Mali 
  • Francesca Lalanne 
  • Minette Mangahas 
  • Syaiful Ardianto 
  • Svea Schneider 
  • Shweta Bhattad 
  • Amshu Chukki 
  • Vaibhav Raj Shah 
  • Kartik Sood 
  • Dominic Nurre  
  • Emran Sohel
  • Shraddha Borawake 
  • Rajyashri Goody 
  • Kumar Prashant 
  • Rucha Chaudhari 
  • Snehal Kulkarni

Khoj Refracting Rooms holds a very special place in my heart not only because it was the biggest thing I've organised up till now, but particularly because this was where I first created something I proudly call art. It taught me so much about the importance of the process, about having confidence in my abilities, and more than anything, listening to and learning from fellow artists. 

Gap Year, 2011

In 2011 I took a year off between my B.A and M.A, in order to get some experience working in interesting organisations and environments. It was a time of great significance for me, learning new skills, meeting fascinating, passionate individuals, and understanding my strengths.  

I started the year by spending two months in England, where I spent part of my time doing a short internship with The Karuna Trust in London, a fundraising charity, assisting and learning from my photographer uncle Xavier Ribas in Brighton, enjoying the weather, visiting art galleries and museums, and spending some quality time with family, friends, and by myself. 

Goa was wonderful. For stage 2 of my gap year, I interned with Video Volunteers, an organisation that trains members from disadvantaged communities across India in basic video journalism skills and equips them with a camera so they can tell their own stories and spread it nationally and internationally. Work was thoroughly satisfying, especially because of my colleagues, and living in Goa was a breath of fresh air. 

The final stage of my gap year brought me to Sri Lanka, where I worked with Seva Lanka, a large development organisation, and helped make a short video of one of their sites in Anuradhapura, as well as assisted in photographing an initiative of theirs called the Galle Folk Music Festival. 

I got an opportunity to travel across the wonderful island and visit many fascinating Buddhist pilgrimage sites, from Mahabodhi in Anuradhapura, Kaludiya Pokuna, Mihintale, Dambulla Caves to Candy.