An Alchemy of the Arts

By Sharmila Chan| Published: 16th December 2017 10:00 PM

The recently concluded Jaipur Kala Chaupal at Diggi Palace in the Pink City was all about creating visual arts for social impact through multi-level collaborations—craft-contemporary arts, Classical-Western music fusion, contemporary fashion shows using traditional fabrics and skills —among Indian and international artists. The woman behind the event, Leenika Jacob, a social communication professional, is on cloud nine after the successful completion of the event. “Initially, it was thought of as a discussion platform to enable visual arts with a plan for residency and exposition. As we built the programme, it took the form of a multi-layered festival following involvement of Premila Singh, an Indian-origin contemporary artist,” says Leenika.

The amalgamation of multiple thoughts that developed over a year, the 10-day Residency Programme held in October, saw a participation of 42 artists. “This happened with the support of Diggis of Jaipur and artists-curators Helen Fredrick and Shanti Norris from Washington DC,” says the 47-year-old, who is based in Gurgaon. 

Water was chosen as the theme for the launch year of the Chaupal. “Since I wanted to explore a socially impactful theme for the visual narrative, Ram Pratapji of Diggi Palace suggested water to be the concept. In Rajasthan, agriculture is dependent on rainwater, and the paucity of rain here made it to be the correct launch pad subject,” says Leenika.

From there began the journey of exploring the concept. Helen and Shanti, Executive Director of Smith Center for Healing and the Arts—DC’s only cancer support organisation—initiated the ‘Alchemical Vessel Project’. Leela Bordia of Neerja Pottery worked with Shanti on the project. “The ancient tradition of alchemy is found in many cultures worldwide and is the origin of the science of chemistry. To transform base metal into gold, a strong vessel is needed. As a metaphor for personal transformation and healing, we also need a vessel in which we can feel safe and secure, and transform ourselves,” Shanti says.

Every artist infused a new perspective keeping water as the central theme, says Leenika. “For example, Jennifer Macklem’s bee-relief on paper celebrated the pollinator sans water on the Khejri tree; Pooyan Hashemi Taari’s installation had water from all the baoris, glorifying the culture of aqueducts; and Paula Sengupta’s journey of the Marwaris from Shekhawat to Calcutta was a textile collaborative. 

Blue art vessels

Trish, a visual artist, who grew up in Washington DC and now lives in New York, says, “In response to the water shortage in India, I made a movable structure within a cycle rickshaw that utilises brightly coloured water collection containers. With the help of local artisans—a metalsmith to modify the supportive structures of the rickshaw, and an upholsterer to construct an altar of cushions with local fabrics—I played with the boundaries of interior and exterior to recreate the rickshaw.”

The second phase of the event was the ‘Exposition’ at Jawahar Kala Kendra, which housed the art created during the residency. Another interesting part of the event was the ‘Guru Shishya Programme’. Leenika says, “Artists reviving the dying arts of lac, paper and textiles were assigned local students as apprentices.” Artists Moutushi Chakraborty, Ausra Kleizaite, and Jennifer Macklem explored ‘Kagzi Art’. Susan Firestone spent several hours with a seventh generation lac artist, Junaid, while Raj Kanwar and Dr Paula Sengupta explored Dabu, Bagru processes and Shekhawati block prints. 

Susan Firestone, an art therapist from New York, worked on lac with Mohammad Junaid. For seven generations, Junaid’s family has been making lac bangles and finishes. 

Leenika Jacob with US-based visual artist Trish Tillman who used a rickshaw, steel, leather, wood, plastic water containers, and paints to recreate a rickshaw. 

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