Sunday, May 29, 2011

‘Ceangal= Connection’- An Artists Residency with a Possible Future

‘Ceangal= Connection’ is an initiative by Lynn Bennett Mackenzie, a woman artist based in Scotland. Like the new ‘connections’ that we everyday create over social networking sites like Facebook, such artists’ initiatives develop new linkages and relationships amongst people all over the world irrespective of their affiliations (needless to say socio-political, cultural, religious, so on and so forth).

Curious as usual I was, when Lynn requested me to go through her artistic initiative, which is expected to create residencies for artists from all over the world who could visit Scotland first, do site specific as well as studio specific works, then later facilitate similar residencies in their own respective places by the visiting artists, thereby developing a series of workshops and residencies, guided by a common philosophy but executed variedly as per the demands and the complexion of the locations, almost in the same line of the Doctors without frontiers.

Great idea it sounds though it is not the first one to envision, present and aspire to promote such initiatives. My curiosity took me to search for the meaning of Ceangal and from the beloved world wide web I found out that the word in Irish meant ‘connection, linkages, bond etc.’.

However, what I noticed was one of the meanings that had not been implied in the creation of this artists’ residency program- ‘Commitment.’ Perhaps, this word is what makes most of the residencies and artists groupings successful despite their volatile and experimental nature.

While wishing all the best to this initiative, I would like to briefly touch upon the history the creation of such artists’ residencies and groupings in India.

(Rabindranath Tagore)

If you ask me who is the father of Indian art residency programs I would say, it is Rabindranath Tagore. By devising a plan to have a creative and cultural platform, which could take the form of a pedagogic establishment, in Santiniketan in early 20th century (1913), Rabindranath Tagore sowed the seeds of a grand artists’ residency. It was truly international in nature as the galaxy of stalwarts there included scholars and artists like Anand Koomaraswamy, Okakura Kakuzo, Stella Krasmrisch and Nandlal Bose.

Tagore world vision was later reduced into a nationalistic view by the artists of India during the independence struggle and later on. Most of the artists’ groupings happened during those decades of struggle and turbulence were mostly meant of, by and for the Indian artists who were looking for avenues to create, show and survive. Interestingly, the urban-centric art practices and such groupings were often promoted and supported by the expatriate European or British Nationals then living in India.

Whether it be the case of the Bombay Progressives, Delhi Shilpi Chakra, Calcutta Progressives or Group 1890, things were the same. They were not strictly artists’ residencies. They were groups with political adherence to certain ideologies.

(KCS Panicker)

Artists’ Residencies in the sense that we know today originated in 1960s (exactly 1966) under the leadership of K.C.S.Panicker in Cholamandalam. It was developed as an artists’ co-operative with a pragmatic vision of helping artists to come together, live together and work together to produce both craft and creative works. The pragmatic view of Panicker helped the artists to build their own houses or cottages in the same premise, sell their crafts (as there were very few patrons for their creative works) and satisfy their creative urge through painting and sculpting.

In every decade since 1960s we have seen the birth and death of artists’ grouping in all the parts of India though most of them were short lived. Indian Print Makers Guild was the first modern experiment in terms of Artists’ Residencies, though it did not have its own physical set up. This facilitated the production and exhibition of the print makers in India in a big way.

(Pooja Sood of Khoj)

Taking cue from the Indian Print Makers Guild (and its ensuing inside problems), the first International Artists’ Residency was formed in 1997 in Delhi. Later, with an able leadership of Pooja Sood, Khoj could expand its scope as a creditable and accountable artists’ platform to engage alternative art practices not only in India but also in the whole of South East Asian region with sufficient collaborations and contributions from other agencies all over the world.

Later on Khoj proliferated its activities by helping other artists’ residencies through collaboration and co-optation. It now operates from Delhi and from different metros and other centers in India through successful collaborations.

(Chintan Upadhyay of Sandarbh)

Sandarbh is another commendable rural residency program started in 2005 by Chintan Upadhyaya, an artist based in Mumbai. He successfully incorporated the international artistic experience with the regional, provincial and the national ones through the annual residency programs at Partapur in Rajasthan.

(Suresh Jayaram of 1Shanti Road)

Bangalore is another city in India where I always say, ‘there is a BAR in every residency program and a residency program in every BAR.’. Led by Suresh Jayaram, an artist and historian living in the city runs a successful residency called ‘1 Shanti Road’. Samooha was another residency project, which came to an end last year thanks to financial constrains. BAR 1 is one another initiative working actively in Bangalore. Similar efforts are done by Jaaga and Somberikatte as discursive platforms.

(Samooha Suresh)

In Mumbai ‘Open Circle’ used to operate as a residency platform. Shilpa Padhyam in Kerala is one such residencies for sculpture in Kerala by noted artist, Valsan Koorma Kolleri. Currently, India Foundation for Arts and other agencies like Asia Art Archives, Pro Helvetia have started funding independent residencies and projects from their coffers. It is a welcoming change.

All these residency programs have been successful in creating linkages and connections internationally. Through these platforms and residencies artists are able to further their careers primarily and creative ideas.

I am a staunch supporter of small acts. Though many residencies have become too huge and taken the shape of corporate institutions, I am convinced of the fact that all of them started in very moderate ways with larger ambitions and clear visions. Small acts, like small acts of love and passion, would yield ever lasting results.

I wish ‘Ceangal= Connection’ would be a platform/residency to proliferate small acts all over the world.

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