Art Delhi’s ‘City as Museum’ Reconnects Kolkatans with the city’s lived history and heritage

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Many of us have looked at Abanindranath Tagore’s paintings on the walls of museums and galleries, but what would it be like if you visited his garden house on the banks of the Hooghly in Konnagar and found that this is where it is. Abanindranath learned to draw native Bengal huts? As part of the museums initiative of DAG (formerly Delhi Art Gallery), their Calcutta chapter recently hosted “The City as a Museum,” which is an art and heritage festival spread across some of the sites and most beloved neighborhoods both inside and outside the city, to reconnect our rich heritage of Bengal art with various aspects of our history.

Srikanta Acharya performs songs and verses from Tagore to Nihar on the Ganges

While discussions of heritage and art history often focus more on the past, DAG’s program has broadened the museum experience beyond its four walls, reminding us that these artistic traditions and practices continue. to shape our present.

The week’s program started with “River Tales and Tunes”. Shortly before sunset, participants boarded the Sumangal river barge, ready to follow in the footsteps of the first European painters who visited India from the end of the 18th century. Artists like William Hodges, Thomas Daniell, William Daniell, and James Baillie Fraser were among the first to paint the city and the many moods of its ghats, and the conversation centered on their struggles to capture the mighty river in their works. The ferry’s departure from the pier was timed to coincide with sunset, and as the skyline darkened, the ghats came alive with a thousand points of light as worshipers watching Kartik Purnima lit up lamps. float on the water of the river. On the way back, the barge swayed to the rhythm of Whale to the folk tunes of the pond.

Next stop was a hands-on workshop co-presented by Victoria Memorial Hall and the Pickle Factory Dance Foundation. Early career artists have gathered at the memorial’s eastern quadrilateral, whose iconic architecture defines the city’s very skyline. The workshop entitled “Rethinking Spaces” was moderated by Vikram Iyenger and Sumona Chakravarty, who proposed tools to design performances that respond to the colonial monument and give new meanings to the space. The workshop began with an unexpected movement exercise – what if you stood in front of the monument and tried to walk backwards away from it? Does that change how awesome it looks? Vikram invited participants to think about how to map space using their bodies and move around in unpredictable ways. This was followed by a Chakravarty verbal exercise to unravel the word associations with the monument, eliciting responses such as “big”, “colossal”, “intimidating” and even “miniature”, which became the basis of the next one. visual mapping game. Some artists draped themselves around the giant Doric pillars, while others climbed the crevices of the building. At the end of the workshop, participants presented their ideas for in situ performances.

Tathagata Neogi from Immersive Trails featuring the Dalhousie Afterhours Walk

Tathagata Neogi from Immersive Trails featuring the Dalhousie Afterhours Walk

The next morning, the DAG team landed on the banks of the Hooghly in Panihati at the beautiful riverside garden house, Nihar on the Ganges. Built in the late 19th century by Radhakanta Deb and currently run by the family of entrepreneur Diyali Biswas as a host family, this venue hosted a one-day event called “Tagores by the River with Srikanta Acharya” – designed to explore the heritage of the Tagores on both sides of the Hooghly River and link it to works of art in the DAG collection and beyond. As the sixty or so visitors gathered in Nihar, a fleet of totos whisked them away to the former residence of Chhatu Babu, which had become a retreat for the Tagore family as they fled a deadly dengue epidemic in the city. Reading sections of Rabindranath Tagore’s memoir Jibansmriti brought the space to life, as attendees heard the poet describe the sublime beauty of a monsoon he witnessed from the house’s ghat. A ferry ride, the next stop was the Abanindranath Tagore Garden House located just on the opposite bank in Konnagar. As visitors walked the lush garden path and gathered around the ghat steps, they were treated to readings from the memoirs of Abanindranath, Jorasankor Dhare, describing the idyllic days of his childhood spent in various corners of the house and its vast garden. A gentle sunset greeted visitors around the time they made the return trip to Nihar, lit up to welcome Srikanta Acharya’s performance of a selection of Rabindranath’s poetry and songs against the backdrop of the river. Acharya commented: “In a city that often misses the opportunity to celebrate its shores, this was a rare opportunity to mix the music and verses of Rabindranath Tagore with the ebb and flow of the river.

Paula Sengupta showing a jewelry design catalog

Paula Sengupta showing a jewelry design catalog

Tracing the vestiges of our past in our current practices has led us to the narrow lanes of Chitpur. As crowds gathered around the Minerva Theater, artist and art historian Paula Sengupta presented the story of the indigenous printmaking community that thrived in and around this area known as the Bat- tala (under the banyan tree) from the beginning of the 19th century. The small crowd made their way through the alleys lined with numerous jewelry stores, a few printing presses and huge billboards advertising the last jatras (a form of folk theater surviving mainly in parts of rural Bengal) from the city. Participants got a close-up view of the various printing and design processes, as they were shown the original engraving blocks, jeweler’s manuals, and were even allowed to carefully handle the equipment used by the artisans there. low. At one stop, Sengupta took the crowds inside Maa Annapurna Printing House in small groups to see one of the rare examples of a vintage printing press. The visit ended with a fiery attempt to navigate the ruins of a Radha Mandir maintained by the very banyan tree that is said to have given the region its name.

A walk through Metiabruz led by Shaikh Sohail of Breakfree Trails wrapped up DAG’s 10-day festival of art and heritage celebration. Beginning in front of the late Kamal Talkies, the “Lost Legacies” trail crisscrossed imambaras and mosques whose origins date back to Wajid Ali Shah’s “Chhota Lucknow”. In addition to exploring the religious iconography visible at these sites and decoding the architectural details, the walk also celebrated Calcutta’s food heritage, as participants stopped at Ramesh Saini’s paan store to sample the delicacy that had impressed the exile Nawab himself.

The series was designed so inclusively that it offered something of interest to all kinds of enthusiasts. Having attended a number of these events, Gaurab Dasgupta said: “The concept of the city as a museum was brilliantly conceived. Each event was conceptualized with extremely knowledgeable guides. We could not have asked for more from DAG other than to wish such events to be held more frequently. What was truly remarkable about the vision for Heritage Week was the unique nature of their collaborations – a mix of 12 institutions, artists, academics and partners from unexpected places. These partnerships have enabled people to access and experience famous heritage sites in a way that is inaccessible to regular visitors to the city. For example, the partnership with Victoria Memorial Hall allowed exclusive and rare access to the space as a site for interaction and performance. Reflecting on her experience, Sarabjit Mitra said: “The walks provided insight into collections and spaces that are otherwise difficult to access. The Botanic Gardens tour and Roxburgh’s famous collection of botanical illustrations, for example, presented this two-century-old institution in a whole new light. The collaboration with Immersive Trails provided the unique opportunity to explore the history of the Dalhousie neighborhood at night, as Tathagata Neogi brought out curious architectural details of some of the most famous historic buildings in the Dalhousie neighborhood. The large rooms of the Indian Museum became a space for making art when its painting galleries were opened for an art workshop run by Swarup Dutta.

The massive response from nearly 300 participants who joined over the 10 days demonstrated the importance of viewing museums, heritage spaces and works of art as heirlooms that must be kept alive through new commitments. What inspired me to imagine the future of artistic engagement is the sheer enthusiasm of some of the participants. Khushbu Jaiswal, who came for each event, said: “With fascinating trips on the houseboat, moving concerts, insightful workshops, among others, Ghare Baire’s week-long celebration transformed my notions of art and the patrimony.

The city as a museum has revived DAG’s collection of works of art by connecting them with multiple notions of heritage, allowing us to experience the past as something we can touch, feel and imagine visually. unfold over time.

The author is project manager, research and development, Museums at DAG


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