Manipur: Mine-Yours-Ours

This June, for the first time we attempted to take our residency model to a new place, Imphal in Manipur. Manipur is one of the seven sisters states, bordering Myanmar in the north eastern part of India. It was an ideal location for artists to meet, within its hilly landscapes covered with all kinds of flora and fauna and a culture deeply rooted to the land. While things look ideal on the face of it, it was a rewarding experience to delve into the diversity of lives, history and culture of the place through Art.

For the 5 day residency, we had 5 artists from 4 different communities of Manipur who participated. The program ran under the theme of, Manipur: Mine-Yours-Ours. The first day we had an orientation talking about - who is an artist, the role of arts and artists in society, how artists play a role in shaping mind sets which ultimately shapes culture, Darrow Miller's idea of ‘Ideas having Consequences’ and ‘How ideas travel within a Culture/Community’. And then talked about Manipur - the good, positive, things that Manipur is known for, and also talking about the flip side of things - the not so good things, the negativity and issues faced. This sparked enough ideas and concepts for the artists to work with. A number of artists addressed the issue of the tribal clash (which happened years back but still has its negative impact on the tribes) and portrayed the idea of forgiveness, the beauty in coming together, the beauty of Manipur which is all the tribes combined, some expressed the negativity of the government (corruption, unconcerned about people's welfare, etc.) and all done in a way that was conceptually mature and visually pleasing.

The exhibition was on for 2 days and we had a very good response from the community. We had an approximate of 250-300 people from all walks of life attend the exhibition in the duration. Everyone was quite surprised at how the exhibition turned out and the quality of art works, as well as the engagement of different concepts that was displayed. There were a total of 12 completed art works of which 10 found permanent homes. This was another affirmation as the artists directly benefited financially from the sales.

While there is rich heritage of visual culture, be it in the textiles, architecture or wood carvings the opportunity of contemporary art dealing with modern issues was refreshing. It was what provided a new idea of what roles Art can play and similarly a new means of understanding Manipur and in a way then preserving these expressions for future generations. The need for this and the promotion of contemporary art programs then is understood to be significant and indispensable.

The residency was sponsored by two different entities who were a great help as they organised and hosted the venues both for the residency and the exhibition. With this being a low budget project, we were not able to provide honorariums for the artists and asked them to bring their own art materials and any other tools they would use. We had provided paper and canvas. In retrospect, one opinion was that the blank paper and canvas represented the opportunity and the art materials the attempt and commitment of the artist. So, on the whole it was quite successful and it ended on a note where people want more of such exhibitions, events...and they want it on a larger scale where more people can view it!

We are thrilled at the success of this residency and exhibition especially as it is a early step into reaching out further than our immediate network, and to be able to take our model of work to new cultures and contexts. We keenly look to new opportunities and to see how Art becomes a catalyst for for cross cultural exchange and while working with amazing people and artists.

We asked the participating artists and host to reflect briefly on new/contemporary art in Imphal and some of their thoughts you can find in this section. Please scroll further down to learn more about the artists in the bio section.

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Reflections

Albert Inkweaver Zou - participating artist:

As a person who is passionate about art but never had the privilege to explore more about it as a profession, I found the residency and exhibition eye opening and gained a lot of experience from it. It gave me lots of opportunities to express myself and gave me a platform to spread my message and opinions regarding the present situation of Manipur and its positive and negative impacts it has on the people and the land, through my paintings. Art for Change Foundation helped me, as an independent artist, to get more exposure. Being the first  exhibition and residency I ever took part in I am most humbled to share it with other experienced artists hailing from different places and also learning a lot from them. I also believe this artist residency to be the first of its kind in Manipur and would very much like it to continue in the near future. In Manipur the artist community is mostly conservative to my knowledge as a result young creative artists don't have much exposure and platform to share their art. At the exhibition I noticed how successful and how great the response was, how so many people from different areas and profession came together to enjoy and discuss the various messages depicted by the paintings.  As an aspiring artist I work hard to develop paintings that speak both to me and others about the beauty that exists in the society as well as the land. Art for Change and the exhibition gave me the voice to speak out and share my message.

Arin Lunghar – co-organiser:

I feel the style and technique adopted nowadays is definitely contemporary, maybe because the prolific artists now are younger compared to earlier. Also the accessibility of new mediums and materials reflects in their work, specially with digital medium lending a different kind of dexterity. Their art seems to be more about the subjects addressing prevalent social or political issues or personal opinions, than it is about the personal style that they subscribe to. Whatever the case, they’ve grown out of the antiquated style depicting historical epochs or events and folklores which was becoming painfully ubiquitous, personally speaking. 

Sony Thokchom – co-mentor and participating artist:

Contemporary art is a new thing in Manipur as I experienced. People have seen many paintings of the famous Manipuri artist RKCS in the past and have this idea that art has to be like that. Oil paintings with compositions of either landscape or history or any representational scene of daily life in Manipur was very common. But the current generation of young artists are exploring different ways to express their art in the forms of installations, sculptures or thought provoking visuals.

 

K Free Themreichan – participating artist:

When I was planning to go to the art residency, I was apprehensive and excited at the same time since this was my first experience of its kind. It was also the first time that Art for Change organised its residency in Manipur as well. Also I got the chance to befriend new artists and lots of art lovers.

•         Being appreciative and honouring the work of an artist is what I learnt from the residency. A lot of new ideas were gained by interacting and sharing with fellow artists.

•         For me the theme is very appropriate. The series (Village Life) which I’m working on is about our lifestyle, being born and brought up in a village. Most of my paintings are reflections on Manipur.

•         My work is about reminiscing the past and portraying the rich culture and beauty of our land.

•         In Manipur, most of the people are ignorant about the values of art and painting and especially to see its profitable side. So, as artists we need to promote one another  and organize frequent art workshops or residency programs for art lovers, and also need to sensitize about the scope and importance of art as a career. A lot of development can be brought about by art in our society.

•         Conducting more programs like this will surely develop and enhance more skills to artist. A lot of talented artist are there in Manipur yet we do not know each other but through ‘Art for Change’ we got the chance to come together and work under one roof for a common cause.

 

Kamlalmang Samte – participating artist:

Contemporary art in Manipur has grown and evolved a lot through the years. Due to the advancement of technology and connectivity, accessibility has become a lot easier and as a result, a lot of local artists have been able to move out of Manipur and get trained from well-established institutes of India. With the exposure we got from mainstream Indian art and also the world, we have begun to bring in new waves in the contemporary art of Manipur. And by using the various social media platforms artists have been able to voice their thoughts on various issues, share their art works, uplift fellow artists and connect with the people. Unlike performing arts, visual art can’t sustain itself on repeating the same art. And as such, visual artists continuously need to expand their creativity, ideology/philosophy, art style by immersing themselves with fellow artists and their works, the world and its people. It is encouraging for me to see fellow artists from our State making progressive advancement in this field and we need to support such efforts.

About the Aritsts

About the Artists

T Albert Ink Zou is an aspiring artist from Imphal East, Manipur. His style of art is expressionism and he mostly works with mixed media. He is deeply interested in abstract art and photo manipulation. As an expressionist artist he likes to portray emotions and subjective interpretations. He likes to represent vivid emotional reactions by powerful color and dynamic compositions. He believes with the right color and shape, the spectator can perceive the mood and feeling of the painting, and that encourages him towards increased abstraction. He paints about various political and social unrest. He also paints to give messages about environmental awareness.

Instagram: albertinkweaver

K Free Themreichan is a painter and a musician from Ukhrul, Manipur. He did his BFA from Imphal Arts College and went on to complete his MFA from College of Art, New Delhi. His paintings have been exhibited in various art shows. His important works include a series of watercolor paintings called, ‘Village Life’, and a series of paintings on feathers. He has also produced two music albums.

Instagram: free_themreichan Facebook: Themreichan Kasom Email: themreichan@gmail.com

Kamlalmang (Manga) Samte is a freelance illustrator and character designer from Haipi Village, Kangpokpi Distrcit. He did his MFA in Visual Communication (Animation) from College of Art, New Delhi.

Working with both traditional & digital mediums, he specializes in Japanese Manga, Anime, Western style comics & Fantasy elements. He has worked for various video game companies, ad agencies and animation studios as a character designer & animator. He also works on personal commissions, and selling his own art merchandise. He hopes to one day publish his own graphic novel.

Instagram: mangasamte Twitter: mangasamte

Thokchom Sony is a Manipuri visual artist based in New Delhi. His vision is inspired by ethnicities, cultures, fashion and nature, through which he hopes to provoke awareness and see beauty in the little things of life. 

“I believe every person is born unique. I stand for equality and freedom of expression. I strongly feel that art in any form is a channel to express our feelings and release our energies in a positive way that could heal others and the self too."

Instagram: Sony_Thokchom Facebook: Thokchom Sony, The Manipuri.

Sorei (Shokreishang) Keishing was born in November 1980 at Kangpat Village, Kamjong District, Manipur. He studied Indian Classical Art at Artrap, Bengaluru in 2000, where he mastered carving – to sculpt on wood and stone, particularly in Hoysala, Chalukya, and Chola style. Gradually he studied his Fine Art at Ken School of Art, Bengaluru.

He has been exhibiting his works in numerous art exhibitions, both solo and group, and has been actively organizing and participating in a number of art camps.

The philosophy behind his art is to keep the Truth alive and overcome the negative spirit to enjoy the essence of life.

Facebook: Sorei Gallery

Shalem Kallimel is a creative catalyst with a heart to see humans thrive and artists flourish. Shalem and Thokchom Sony served as mentors for the residency. Shalem works with the Art for Change Foundation, founded with the conviction that art plays a profound role in exploring questions about human dignity and the common good of society. Art for Change has a vision to see art shape society with beauty and truth and a heart to see artists find their place in society and flourish. Shalem with his creative wife enjoy the company of their two boys!

Instagram: artforchangefoundation Facebook: Art for Change URL: www.artforchange.space

"I Love Delhi"

What kind of madness does it take to love a city? Particularly when it is Delhi?  A very specific kind, as it turns out!  And through a series of 10-day mini-residencies 12 artists are currently exploring why and how.

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We start on a positive note: Share with your fellow two artists gathered for the first day of orientation what you love about the city.  Which is your favourite place to hang out in the city, first alone?  A hidden pond; my rooftop. How about with friends?  In our apartments; eating on the road-side. Then what is your favourite time of year in the city? The cold of winter; March, that blissful Spring-time cusp between extreme cold and extreme heat!  What is your favourite time of day to be in the city? Etc, etc.

Then the first assignment: take a 10-minute walk and remind yourself what you don’t like about Delhi.  The 10-minute walk happens to be in the middle of the day when the already hot summer is at its hottest. It happens to be in a neighbourhood of narrow streets, bumper to bumper cars, dust in the air from the endless construction, and overflowing drains.  We re-assemble at the Art for Change studio-office and a picture emerges.  Dirty water tossed from a balcony above and the sense of civic responsibility that doesn’t cross the front doorstep.  Living in five different flats in different parts of the city and never knowing your neighbor above, below, or on either side. The one-upmanship and power of money, and the memory of a man stepping out of a fancy car to abuse a cycle rickshaw driver whose front wheel he has mangled.  The insecurity of being a woman in a public place, needing to be more suspicious at night of the person offering help than the person causing you trouble.  The list goes on and the reasons for disliking Delhi pile up.

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Then the discussion turns to madness:  Has anyone ever called you mad?  Yes, the madness of doing something crazy, of taking a risk that others refuse to. A discussion about seeing things others cannot yet see—the madness of the entrepreneur: Dhirubhai Ambani and Steve Jobs.  Seeing things that aren’t, but should be—the madness of the social reformer: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  And then there’s the madness of the artist: The power of imagination, creating out of nothing, bringing to light things yet unseen, imagining what isn’t but could be. The conclusion: This is what our mini-residency is about, seeing the city with new eyes, seeing it upside down, seeing the beauty that is, seeing the beauty that could yet be.  The power of art to help one see something as if one has never seen it before.  It takes a certain madness to do so, and along with the entrepreneur and the social reformer, the artist has that madness.

We discuss Aamir Khan’s movie P.K., the story of a man who turns up from a different planet where divisions between people don’t exist and he thus can’t make heads or tails of the things that divide people on earth. In turn the only way people can make sense of his profound innocence is to claim he must be ‘peekay,’ Hindi for ‘he drank something,’ which he assumes must be his name.  

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And then we turn to Fyodor Dostoyevski’s  The Idiot. Dostoyevski wrote this book during two years of desperate poverty, moving with his young wife from city to city to evade debtors, kicked out of house after house because of not being able to pay the rent.  And the little money he had he would from time to time gamble away.  Throw into that mix his epilepsy: the night his daughter was born he had a major epileptic fit and wasn’t able to go out and find a midwife.  Three months later his baby daughter died, and till his dying day he blamed himself.  And through-out these two years he was writing The Idiot. The Idiot is an experiment, to see what would happen if a profoundly innocent man were to interact with the world as we know it.  And thus the Idiot finds himself getting beaten up while trying to stop a fight. He sees beauty in a woman who was abused as a child and shamed.  When the wealthy parents of his fiancée call a party to introduce him to their friends, he gets carried away with a speech about the corruption of the rich, ends up smashing a priceless vase, and to top it off collapses in an epileptic fit, to the shock of all present.  And yet he doesn’t seem to care.  He is ridiculed and he is called mad, and yet those who ridicule him are also attracted to him, they are changed by him.  It is a madness of innocence, a madness of compassion, a madness that causes the Idiot to say: “Beauty will save the world.”  

And now it is time to head out again for the second assignment.  Repeat your 10-minute walk around the neighbourhood.  But this time, imagine you are mad.  Imagine you are P.K.. Look at your city with the madness of the Idiot.  Look at it upside down.  Experience it for what it is and what it could be.

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And when we return, out of that same heat, squeezing by the same honking cars, stepping over the same overflowing drains, something is different.  Samir Mohanty, a remarkable painter from the state of Odisha, tells us about finding an irresponsibly parked scooter causing a minor traffic jam in the narrow lanes. He thinks like the Idiot, and decides to lift it to the side.  The person in the car blowing his horn glares at Samir as he drives by.  Samir realizes the driver thinks it was his scooter.  We discuss the merits of what Samir has done, the unjust blame he received for doing good.  Samir actually recognized the driver, another artist.  Someone says they will probably meet again in some exhibition and Samir would have the opportunity to clarify his innocence.  Then we realize—it doesn’t matter.  We know the truth, and truth will always be truth, whether Samir is vindicated or not.  We circle back to an earlier discussion about Gandhi-ji and the strength he drew from truth, particularly his insight into human freedom. Beauty and truth, will save the world. 

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Then there is Manoj Mohanty, another amazing painter from Odisha.  He notices a group of carpenters at work in a house under construction.  He feels compassion for the workers labouring in the heat and steps in to quietly look around.  He picks up a small piece of wood and someone tells him he isn’t allowed to take it.  So with a smile he puts it down.  He takes out his bottle of water and after a sip offers it to the laborer.  The laborer gratefully takes a drink.  Something changes in the air, and he says: “Go ahead, take the piece of wood.”  Manoj explains he wants to make a painting on it and leaves.  Manoj makes the painting, and then returns and gifts it to the labourers.  

It takes a certain madness to see our city anew.  It takes the madness of an artist to be able to help others see our city as if they had never seen it before.  We have finished three of our five planned mini-residencies.  We are looking forward to what more is to be revealed.

“I can’t do more than art, nor can I do anything less!” Prittam Priyalochan – An Interview

“I am really blessed to be making art!” says Prittam as we walk to the chai shop near his studio in Shahpur Jat. It’s been 11 years since he made Delhi his base and with each passing year he is more convinced that he was born to be an artist. 

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“I chose Delhi because it has some of the best galleries, it is India’s art hub and compared to Mumbai, it is affordable to live here.” 

When he arrived in 2007, he knew no one. He had just completed his Masters in Printmaking from Santinikaten and he went gallery to gallery but no one wanted his prints. He thinks the prerequisite to producing great art is to struggle, which is what separates the part-time artists from the life-long artists.

“There must have been 40 of us in my BFA class, today barely 2 are pursuing fine arts. Similarly, nearly 60 of us graduated with Masters in Fine Arts, now maybe 5 or 6 are practicing artists.”

As many of his friends stopped practicing their art to find more stable jobs, Prittam remained hungry to paint and he held his first solo show in 2008. “I have never kept another option. There is no plan-B for me. I don’t know anything else but make art. I can’t handle multi-tasking. I can’t do more than art nor can I do anything less.” 

He wasn’t this convinced when he was still at home in Jajpur, Odisha.  His mother wanted him to study engineering but it was his artist father who steered him towards the arts. When he was only a boy his father took him to Santiniketan. 

“I wasn’t really good at school. When I applied at Santiniketan I didn’t get through. So I continued by studies in Odisha. I tried again in Santiniketan but I still didn’t get through. After my BFA I reapplied once more, this time for my Masters, and I got admission” 

It was in Santiniketan that Prittam’s world got enlarged. Students from across India and from Europe and South East Asia ignited his curiosity and creativity. In time the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Goldsworthy and Atul Dodiya became his heroes.  

“My father showed me Van Gogh’s work when I was a kid and then one day I got a chance to go for a Global Art Exchange program in America, run by the Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis, and I got to behold the original…it was indescribable. I felt this deep sense of peace…it looked like Van Gogh had made his portrait merely few days ago…his authenticity moved me.” 

Prittam is an avid traveler and he has just returned from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. He finds movement motivating and each trip results in producing a series of ink works.

“When I paint I become part of the society I live in. Though I don’t stick too long with one particular subject…whether its landscape, animals…I search for mediums to express my art, that’s all. My style is semi-realism and I use a lot of mixed media.” 

"In 2009 I did a solo show at Art For Change Foundation’s gallery, it was titled “Ordeal” and it was one of the most fulfilling exhibitions I’ve done. The gallery that represents me now is Kohl Art and they have been consistently supportive by showcasing my work over the years. I’d love to one day have a solo show at Art District. Next month in Feb, I’ve got a retrospective solo show at Triveni. I want to celebrate and reflect on my journey so far." 

“My name is Prittam Priyalochan and I am a Delhi based artist. You can find me at: www.facebook.com/prittamsartwork/

Interview and writing by Joshua John, New Delhi.

 

In Search of the New - An Interview with Artist Thokchom Sony

When Delhi Artists Studio Tour started in February 2018, the idea was simple. Take a limited number of art lovers every month into the studio space of a cutting edge young artist who lives in the hidden away lanes of Delhi and get their story out.

In our recent tour we visited Sony Thokchom who shared his fascinating journey from the northeast state of Manipur to the concrete jungle of Delhi. Here are some of the insights we gathered over coffee.

Q. Lets begin with you leaving Manipur to pursue higher studies in Delhi. How easy was it to choose fine arts as your college major? 

Sony: From an early age I knew I wanted to be an artist. And in the context and culture where I come from, it wasn’t regarded as something serious. Those close to me tried to persuade me to pursue something more acceptable and reasonable, like engineering…some found art a profession with little to no status. Others thought I wouldn’t be able to get a real job with an art degree. I am headstrong so I pushed through to do BA in Fine Arts from Jamia University in Delhi.

Q. You completed your BA, then MA from the Mass Communication and Research Center (MCRC). How has that influenced your creative process? 

Sony: It was a challenge as I suppose it is for most who arrive from smaller parts of India to a city like Delhi. For me it was a rude jolt to be stereotyped and judged for my outward appearance. Not in the college but outside the campus. Random strangers belittled me because I was different from them. It was hurtful but also at times funny, like being called “momo” or “chowmein” even though we’re mainly rice eaters. In hindsight even those negative experiences led to bringing focus to my art. 

Q. So after completing your MA you began fashion illustration works that have now become synonymous with a Sony painting?  

Sony: No, the “ethnic fusion” portraits, wearing tribal inspired fashion wear, with intricate nature based background, that all came much later. The negative experiences from Delhi streets did make me want to celebrate all races and then fuse them in my later portraits. I am no “artivist” but my artwork is a way for me to bridge the gap that we have due to our cultural and racial differences. 

The second reason I got into the work I do now is because of my first job as an illustrator for an international company. I got overworked there and by the time I left I knew how I was not going to apply my art and skill. I knew I wanted my creativity to go towards something original and authentic, not something that was entirely dictated by other people. 

Q. So our city and a stifling work caused you to find your own voice? 

Sony: Well I remember the frustration of being in a workspace where I felt manipulated and kind of trapped. I also longed to find my own original style. So you can say, that first job made me more intentional and grateful for what I do now.

 The cultural imbalances I found around me got me to start fusing and mixing races and our cultural identities associated with clothes.

Q. You are also seen as an upcoming Manipuri artist. What do people think of you back in your state? 

Sony: I want to be known as an excellent artist. And the one solo exhibition I held in Imphal was surprisingly well received and I am seeing lots more scope there than lets say a decade back. But on the flip side often my people back home have misunderstood my work because they claim I have either diluted our culture or distorted our identity. I am not out to disrespect anyone nor am I showcasing how superior any one particular culture is. I do not want to just copy what is already out there. 

Q. So what are you doing?

Sony: All that is “traditional” now was at some point new…so you can say I am in search of the new. For that I observe the details in nature, the uniqueness in all faces and the design factor even in clothing. I am searching for new ways of looking at ethnicity and fashion and nature…and also the extraordinary in what is overlooked as ordinary. 

Q. What do you mean by that?  

Sony:Because of where I have grown up I have a deep connection with nature. I am drawn to the detail that is found in nature…especially wild grass that grows anywhere. It reminds me of my childhood…in school biology was my major so I think that laid the foundation for my fascination with nature and all things green.

Q. Including your dyed green hair!

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Sony: Ha ha ha…yes and its organic dye! Actually I find inspiration and connection with wild grass because they are stubborn and strong. Nowadays people have become numb towards the small things and the intricate detail that exists all around us. We have become lazy, we do not observe. People do not have time to experience nature. It has become a luxury reserved for a vacation. 

Some buy expensive flowers from fancy shops I am fascinated by the detail and diversity of the wild grass on the roadside. That’s what you’ll find in my vase. 

Q. So now are you a “full-time artist”? 

Sony: I am a professional artist and I am also on faculty at MCRC, teaching the animation course. And MCRC is a wonderful place because of the freedom I have to be myself and not be judged by my appearance but by my work and actions.

Q. With all the challenges you have already faced, are there some who have really helped you to keep making art? 

Sony: If you mean mentors, then there was Zargar Zahoor our H.O.D in the fine arts department at Jamia. We didn’t spend a lot of time together but every interaction I had with him was significant. He was a good mentor. 

There was also this lady, Helga Maier from Germany. She was my local guardian who was very helpful. She was not an artist but she really encouraged me in my journey, especially through some trying times. 

Van Gogh is not from Delhi or Manipur or from our era but he is my hero. I can connect with his struggles and joys. 

From the contemporary art world I admire Miss Led. She is a portrait artist from UK and in my formative years she was the only one who was creating what I wanted to make. Incorporating elements of fashion, culture and ethnicity. 

She is the best fashion illustrator and also when I started I found no one else who came close to her skills. 

Q. How has social media helped in your art? 

It has helped get the word out. As artists we want to showcase our work and so the online audience has helped me a lot. Some of my friends have gallery connections but I have had to rely on social media to get exposure and work. But I don’t think I am that good with promotion. 

Q. What are some of your future plans? 

Obviously the artwork looks way better in the flesh and not just on a screen so yes, I am hoping to have a show beginning of next year. I want to grow and explore more as an artist. I want to partake in residencies nationally and internationally. The residency I did with Art For Change back in July up in Mussoorie was awesome because it had the mix of nature and multicultural setting that so inspires me. I would love to see more of the world as well… 

Q. In parting any advice to the young aspiring artists out there? 

I’d say pursue your passion but expect challenges. Push through the difficult times. Have an open mind that’s willing to learn. Also look at your own unique journey not just in the present but also from the past. Your “art language,” how you want to express is important. Aim to have an exhibition and work towards that. Don’t be afraid to show your work to people. Pay attention to detail around you and inside you and it will enable you to produce artwork that will make a real difference to the world around you.

Interviewed by Joshua John at New Delhi.

Listening to the Mountain: The Woodstock - Art for Change Residency

“What does the mountain tell us about ourselves, and about what it means to be human?”

That was the ‘residency question’ for Art for Change’s latest 2-week artist residency organized in collaboration with Woodstock School, the international boarding school nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.

It turns out, the mountain tells us a lot!  And to get our 6 young professional artists, 5 high-school art students, and 3 residency mentors to listen closer, we kicked the residency off with a monsoon climb up a 10,000 ft mountain nearby.

There is something about the size of a mountain, and realizing how correspondingly small you are, that opens you up to that which is bigger—to the transcendent, to mystery, to gratitude, to wonder.  Letting go of the control afforded by technology and urban living opens us up to mystery, to possibility, to discovery.  We lost our direction on that mountain-side, and with no signal on our cellphones took a longer, round-about way.  But it was a way which led us through dense forests and swirling mists, to a giant frog and the tiny acorn-sized hoofprints of the Himalayan barking deer, and to massive vistas opening up suddenly before us. That giant frog ended up reappearing in no less than 4 works of art.  We experienced blankets of incessant rain and hunger, and for some who had never climbed a mountain, fear and fatigue.  When asked what the mountain was telling her, a student who was falling behind replied: “That I can’t make it.” To be human means to understand we have limits, to respect them, to realize we need each other, to look above.  And yet a few minutes later we came across a house clinging to the edge of the mountain, a lone Garwhali family with the matriarch resplendent in her colourful Garwhali dress and the widest smile: a picture of vulnerability and resilience, the human capacity to create culture and thrive even under the hardest of circumstances.

Over daily ‘chai-time’ discussions we unpacked these ideas and discussed our theme, Wonder. For wonder leads to so much: to the profound relationship between wonder and learning, how cultivating a sense of wonder is a key to curiosity and the discovery of a wider world.  But also to empathy.  Watching a video about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s response to the refugee crisis led to a discussion about how wonder makes us curious about other people’s stories, how imagination is at the heart of both creativity and the ability to place ourselves in other people’s shoes.

And so for the next two weeks we kept hiking.  From our dorm rooms down the hill to the cafeteria for breakfast, from the cafeteria up the hill to the art department, from the art department back down again for lunch, and so on.  And as we hiked, the mountain continued to inspire.

Chimmi a Woodstock Student from Bhutan recreated a miniature house hanging inexplicably on the edge of a pedestal as if in mid-air, titled ‘Resilient’.  Komal, a student from St.Joseph’s Academy Dehradun painted a man crouching in the corner of the canvas training a big camera on a small frog.  Behind him the saturated green of a sheer mountainside rises up, and beyond that, a cosmic kaleidoscope. She titled the piece ‘Perspective’.  Tanuprakash Khandual from Odisha responded each day to a different question he heard the mountain asking him, producing a series of work that combined miniature watercolours with triangular forms of the mountain drawn with smoke.  And then there was Rangskhembor Mawblei from Meghalaya, who spent much of the two weeks hanging around outside in the rain, making us wonder till the last moment if he was going to have anything to show. He ended up with a profoundly poetic set of work using the Mussoorie rain to bleed lines of ink into sublime comments about the course of a human life. And of course there were more.

With Woodstock School giving us access to their excellent facilities we ended the residency with a professional exhibition on campus titled “Wonder: Listening to the Mountain.” Significant crowds from the school and the hillside turned out for the opening, and the Vice-principal, surprised at the quality of art we produced, asked how long the show would be up. “Two weeks” we said.  “That’s great because with parents dropping their kids off this weekend it will make us feel so proud as a school.”  

We ended the exhibition evening, and our residency, as a circle of artists surrounded by our artwork, and responding to the question: “What are you taking away with you from this experience?”  Samir Mohanty, a deeply thoughtful and incredibly skilled artist from Odisha, for whom this was his second Art for Change residency, put it this way: “Art for Change Residency is one of the best residencies in the world. I have done Bachelors, I have done Masters, and then I have done Art for Change.  It is like a 4-5 year course, I have learned so many things.”

Core to the design of our collaboration with Woodstock was giving students still in high-school a professional experience alongside professional artists just a few years on the other side of art school. Each morning two participants presented their art journeys, opening up their lives to the students.  One of the students, essentially a musician but with a surprising knack as a visual artist, had half-way through the residency declared her decision to add art as a major when she goes to college next year. In our closing circle, what she was taking away with her was this: “For me I really realized during these past two weeks that I want to be an artist, I know that I want to be a creator.  With my life I want to be creating things, and art is communication and I love communicating through art, whether music, writing, or painting. What made this happen here was being surrounded by other people who are creating a living by creating art, which was veryinspiring for me.”

One of our core goals as Art for Change is to enable the artists we work with, to help them find their place in society and thrive, and to recognize how their art fits into a larger scheme of things.  And we are grateful to the mountain for profoundly helping us in this pursuit.

February Highlights: Feeling Spring

With February came the onset of spring, and the thawing of our winter bones brought some hustle back to the Art for Change office. We launched some programs which we hope to carry through to the end of the year. Here’s a brief look into what kept us busy in February!

Our first ever Artist’s Studio Tour took us through lanes of Chattarpur and Ghitorni. A well spent 2 hours included stopping by 3 artists stations, hearing them talk about their journey, and having a closer look at the context for the art they create. Thanks to Red Moon Bakery for their season special -  HOLI cookies! (If you'd like to join us for our next Tour on March 17, shoot us an email at artforchangefoundation@gmail.com)

Those of you who know us, know that we make available for purchase the work of young, emerging artists as part of our Affordable Art campaign! So we were thrilled to be part of Metro Delhi International School’s annual Spring Gala! Fun, food and art out in the sunshine – what’s not to love!

Art is about expression, rather than something...regulated.” Geeta Mondol said that and invited us to do a bunch of workshops with the staff of Ashish Foundation for the Differently Abled. What we got was an enthusiastic bunch that didn’t need any goading but jumped right in with spirited expression – the perfect prescription for a day of fun.

We hope you had just as fruitful a February as we did.

Here’s to an even better March.

Cheers from the Art for Change Team!

The Beauty of Who I Am

The artists didn’t know what they would be making 3 weeks worth of art about.

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Art for Change Foundation’s 5th annual International Artist Residency started simply with an assignment: Make a portrait with and about a young girl. The ten carefully-selected, yet somewhat hesitant artists-in-residence teamed up with five very shy, 11-15 year-old underprivileged girls. A day of art activities ended with the portrait assignment. But by the end of the day something magical had happened. The girls had come delightfully alive and the artists had connected beautifully with each.

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It was only the next day that the artists-in-residence were told that the girls they had worked with were all survivors of sexual assault.  Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ), with whom Art for Change partnered for this residency, is working closely with each of the five girls to secure effective criminal and restorative justice. That following day a CSJ social worker shared the girls’ five stories. These ranged from incest to the experience of one girl getting kidnapped by a criminal gang, repeatedly raped over a period of a week, imprisoned in a cellar next to dead bodies, taken outside and shot, and then thrown into a well. And yet she survived, and not having been told which story belonged to which girl, for the vibrant resilience and irrepressible spirit of each of them, we couldn’t have figured it out!

Yet it was that opening to the residency, reconciling the knowledge of the second day with the lives of the first day—that opportunity to engage with a precious human life without it being defined by a single event or the encumbrance of the past—that launched the artists into three weeks of discussion and creativity around the theme: ‘The Beauty of Who I am.

Rather than responding directly to the issue of child sexual abuse our and CSJ’s aim was for the artist, and their art, to ask the bigger questions: What is justice? What is restoration? What is beauty? What is the value of a human life? Ultimately, what does it mean to be human.

Over the next three weeks, through a process of working individually in a large common studio space and reflecting collectively during daily ‘chai-time’ discussions, the artists produced a moving range of paintings, sculptures, photos, installations, and performances.

One artist created a walk-in installation she called Concealment, a beautiful mosaic of brand new cloth-scraps discarded by a local tailor which she collected, sowed together, and hung in a corner. In addition to the power of the symbolism, as a viewer the protective semi-transparent barrier hid you, while allowing you to quietly observe the rest of the room.  Another artist, drawing on Indian mythology, created an interactive board game that played with the idea of ‘safety’ as a parody of society’s responses to sexual assault.  Other works dealt with forgiveness, resilience, trust, inner-vs-outer beauty, and more. One artist wrestled from the beginning with the idea of beauty itself, questioning the assumption that every human being is inherently valuable, particularly when faced with the evil of the aggressor. He ended up making an installation projecting a digital clock through an acrylic curtain along with the poet Kabir’s words “The river that flows in you, flows through me, too”. He himself sat behind it, completely hidden under a black cover except for one hole revealing his tapping finger. The piece captured a sense of being caught in time, stuck in that space between hope and hopelessness. His tapping finger, as he explained it, was both his waiting, and his complicity in not doing anything.

The Residency ended with a well-attended public exhibition. But a few hours prior to that we held a special private viewing exclusively for the five girls. The artists proudly gave them a tour of a body of work that had been inspired by them, and in some cases made for them as the primary audience. One installation was completed only when the artist gave the girls hammers to break open clay pots revealed to be full of sweets, each with a flower at its center, all of which they were to take home—an act of symbolic, prophetic, cathartic reversal of past injustice. Not only had our lives been deeply touched by those of the girls but, as the CSJ social workers shared afterwards, they too, had been deeply encouraged and honored.