A farewell communion: Century-old house in Kolkata transforms into canvas of mixed-media art

The architect plays the role of a narrator to represent and recreate a dialogue between the past and the present. Marriages, births and deaths have all occurred within the premise of this house.
The 120-year-old Edwardian house, Jagat Nibas.
The 120-year-old Edwardian house, Jagat Nibas.

Located in the proximity of the chaos of the Kalighat Temple in Kolkata, lies a forlorn house in its final days before it is razed to the ground on January 20 to make space for yet another high-rise. The Venetian windows, protruding balconies and marbled floor of the 120-year-old Edwardian house—Jagat Nibas—talk of an era when the time was more indulgent.

As it lay abandoned, awaiting its fate, Kolkata-based filmmaker Rohan Dewanjea, who spent 25 years in the house, believes the building symbolises the perpetual transitoriness of urban existence. He was inspired to give it “a proper send-off and create a few final memories with it.” Thus was born the Museum of Air and Dust on the premises.

“The architect plays the role of a narrator to represent and recreate a dialogue between the past and the present. Marriages, births and deaths have all occurred within the premise of this house. I discussed with few of my friends and we came up with an idea of hosting a performance art and installation event in the house,” says the 31-year-old.

His resolve resulted in 47 artistes, including filmmakers, visual artists, performing artistes, chefs, calligraphers, poets, and designers coming together to celebrate the life and living of the past and that of the coming times. “The initiative raises awareness about the importance of cosmopolitan architecture and the struggle of middle-class Indians in this newfound situation,” says Anirban Sarkar, one of the curators of the initiative.

The ‘artivism’ also involves the inhabitants of the house—they had to agree to the razing of the house since its upkeep was beyond their means along with the artists turned the house into a mixed-media canvas. Film projections, poetry reading sessions, graffiti and installation art and more have been going on on the premises since November 20, 2022. Utterly disorienting and intriguing at the same time, the exhibits evoke memories of the past, on the lines of urban folklore.

Performance artiste Uma Banerjee who participated in the project with her collective—Performers Independent—celebrated the presence of the women of the house. Along with a fellow artist, Banerjee went from one room to another holding a pomegranate and dropping some of the ruby-red kernels on 
a white piece of cloth, symbolising blood or the labour that went into the making of the house.

Yet another unique installation is that of a mock massage parlour, which is followed by an interactive paid performance session at a charge of Rs 50. Nearly 30 sessions have been performed so far. “The anticipation of dissipation and slipping under the hammer of modernity is what inspired the Body Massage performance,” says Sambaran Das, an artist and designer from the city.

Then there are creative souls like Koustabh Chakrabarty and Devi Ganguly, who showcase their visual art. Ganguly says, “My work at the Museum of Air and Dust is called Preparatory drawing. It is a series of sketches, drawings, photographs and digital works that I did after first visiting the space. My first visit to the house overwhelmed me. I have always had an interest in old houses, but this space had its own ghosts, its own stories.”

When & Where
Museum of Air and Dust
Jagat Nibas, 9/5B Nepal Bhattacharya Street, Kolkata
Till January 20

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The New Indian Express