This interview, the first in a series, is with the curators of the exhibit: Praneet Soi and Manuel Klappe.
How did your collaboration start?
PS: Manuel was the one of the first artists to do a residency at CARF. Since he already knew about the residency, he has been very helpful in developing the project further. A lot of the artists in the show I met through him. And of course, when we started working on the exhibition, Manuel came on board as a curator. I think the core of this project is all the criss-crossing of friendships and mutual curiosity; it brought this whole project to life.
MK: This was in 2014. I guess I was a guinea pig. It has been a while since those days, but we are very happy that Valentijn Byvanck from Marres stuck with us to develop this exhibition.
Can you tell something more about the exhibition design?
MK: We have used bamboo scaffolding, as it can be seen throughout Kolkata – a superimposition on the architecture. If you look at Marres, it has a classical architecture. If Marres were renovated by people from Kolkata, the same kind of support system would be used to paint the ceilings or fix the doors. This has allowed us to combine the show physically: we made one big support structure using bamboo.
PS: Like a Bauhaus way to make shows; this particular scenography allows different positions to come together, and that’s what we really wanted. Two artists were going to design the scenography, but they couldn’t make it. So, we had to improvise. The scenography upstairs is done by another artist, which divides the two floors. These juxtapositions for us were very important. The people who participated in the residency met each other and what followed was very intuitive and organic. Therefore, we wanted the space to be organic as well. Nowadays, the curatorial position tends to flatten out the art show. We wanted to highlight the multiplicity of positions, we didn’t mind that it could be noisy; it could be conceptual, figurative, it has printmaking; all sorts of positions and a multi-fold of voices.
Shall we have a walk through the exhibition?
This room (see picture below) has been designed by Koen Taselaar. The artworks here are much more detailed, and smaller in size. It has an intimate feel.
MK: And we wanted to show them together, but also allow a little private space, because they’re intricate.
PS: These stands are made by Koen. While Manuel and Koen were talking about the table design, they referred to the Italian modernist Enzo Mari, who had a Do-It-Yourself manual. The table legs come from there. The displays have been made specially for this exhibition by hand, upstairs and downstairs.
MK: The residents of the CARF residency, most, if not all, admired the manual production in the streets of Kolkata. So, we thought it fits to have these displays also built by us if we invite the artists from Kolkata to Maastricht. But it was quite a challenge.
PS: Also, we really wanted interesting displays and wanted to give that feeling that everything has been thought through. So, if you have bamboo downstairs, you have to have a complementary vision upstairs to balance it out. We were very careful in dealing with the issue of exoticism.
Here, we see Sachi Miyachi’s work, who is Japanese, but like me, has been living here in The Netherlands for many, many years. These are all the works she did, while observing Kolkata. It’s not only architecture, but also architectural details. She went to the Gurusaday Museum, which has beautiful examples of kantha. She did a facsimile, using coloured pencils and then ‘mithai’ boxes and so on.
Nobina Gupta’s subject are the wetlands outside Kolkata. What we like about this work is that there are two positions with the same research theme; all the research that Nobina has done on the wetlands. There’s a map-over; which is Nobina’s own painting, and then that same story filtered through the voice of the craftswoman.
You saw Arunima’s work downstairs, this is by her husband, Gautam. They both have a daily practice. That’s something we were very attached to; this idea that every day you wake up, you create work. No matter what. As you know, today, artists, we work differently for a variety of reasons. Gautam has produced a huge amount of work over decades. But then, Manuel and I came across these diaries; these erotic drawings, very private, kind of charged in their own way. We decided to put them here, within this curve. So, this is obviously juxtaposing things which are very private and very particular, in comparison to the other side.
Here, we can see Henri Jacobs’ work. When in Kolkata he was just blown away by the footpath designs, went off on his own exploration and made his artwork in terracotta. This is another reason why I set up this program in Kolkata; I wanted different kinds of representations of the city. Because usually people going [to the city] come up with same old, same old, right? Like the poverty, Mother Teresa, etc. For this program, I wanted creative artists who have a studio-based practice, because then you filter. It’s not like you are reacting, but rather things have an effect on you. The work by Henri is a good example. You can actually walk on it and make your way out of this section to the next.
We now enter this space; Ushmita Sahu’s research on the designer Riten Mazumdar from Shantiniketan. He did all this work for a European design firm. Surprisingly, I didn’t know of it myself. Ushmita has done a lot of research based on that moment; the intersection of cultures. And he was commissioned by, I’m forgetting the name… Marimekko.
This next room is by a friend of mine, Sanchayan Ghosh. We are of the same generation, from Santiniketan. He works a lot with these simple architectures. He works for theatre and does scenography for the theatre in Kolkata. He started incorporating the same kind of architectural constructions for his installations. The craft we see here is slowly disappearing. It is called the the Bauri practice, it shows women roof makers from Bengal. The ghamcha’s they wear on their head; those have formed the banners. Then, he used their technique to print their faces with brick dust. Since he couldn’t come, we worked on his instructions and built this up.
This is where we got the name for the exhibition from: the beautiful Ganesh Pyne from 1968. We were seeing this artwork and then Manuel spotted the name and he said, “that’s a great name for the show” and it stuck. We had the poster designed by a younger artist to give it new energy.
Here, is Somnath Hore’s work. He’s no longer alive, he was a communist. In the 1920s, he went to the tea Gardens where he documented the workers striking. He came up with beautiful books and he’s done very powerful printmaking over the years. I’ve always been a big fan. For many years he was ignored, but now he is very popular, and we managed to get his work here; from etching, to woodcut, to lino and sculpture.
Around the corner we have the second generation, Benode Behari Mukherjee, who was the teacher of many known artists, including Riten Mozumdar. There was a moment when he was going blind and he started working on the collages. So that’s why we wanted these too. Now, the work by Ganesh Haloi. He’s much older, but still alive. In the last ten to fifteen years, his work has slowly been coming into prominence. Now, all the European shows seem to have his work. And you can understand why: because it is very filtered.
This room is by Nilanjan Bhattachariya, a filmmaker from Kolkata. I’ve known him for many, many years, and this is a project where he was following a German artist who was commissioned by the Goethe Institute to do something architectural in Kolkata, and he chose to work with bamboo. He did this over-the-top huge construction and Nilanjan, in this movie, follows this German artist and offers a critical perspective of that collaboration.
Can you share more about this critique in the film?
The inequality of resources and power: someone from the West coming with so much funding, able to do whatever they want; command this army of people to work for them. It’s like a dream come true. Nilanjan is looking at this and he’s from Kolkata, he’s Bengali. That is his main narrative, but then around it he stitches in images of the city. It is very beautifully shot.
And Praneet, where is your work?
We were thinking about what I should do; knew that it should be restrained, not take up too much space, like a gentle touch. Manuel had this beautiful photograph of an old Kalighat painting, which is part of the Wellcome Collection in London. Manuel said ‘I love this’, and I agreed that it is a nice one.
PS: This work by Arthur Stokvis is about a sort of Hole-in-the-Wall industry of plastic syringes, but for the backdrop he’s taking images from Kolkata and interposing them with this kind of iconography using bones, which resonate with the bamboo. Then there was a very interesting character who was very famous for doing graffiti KC Paul. He had his own theory about how the sun goes around the earth, basically he had his own mythology. Arthur has taken instances of that. He has created his own backdrop to juxtapose his paintings onto. That’s red cement that you have a lot in homes in India on the flooring and then the white paint is this tradition they have in the villages; the spreading of Chuna.
What we love in this room, in this lower floor, is the juxtaposition that you get when you stand here. You see all these work: the banyan tree, then you look through that window and see the work by Ruchama Noorda from the Netherlands, but then you see also Sumantra’s work through that. For us, those moments are important.
PS: This is one of my favorite rooms. Maartje Korstanje from the Netherlands came to Kolkata and made these structures. You can actually sit in them. They’re designed like Banyans. As you know, Kolkata is filled with Banyans.
What is it made of?
Papier mâché. You can sit there and read the comics by Sarbajit Sen.
PS: The main idea of the exhibition is that everything, the difference between upstairs, downstairs, the juxtapositions, the idea of representation, the idea of Bengal should not be exoticized. Exoticism should be fought against. That’s really important for us.
MK: I think that when the show is finished, the curators shouldn’t say too much anymore, and the visitors should get a chance to see for themselves. I think this is the best thing you can do for the artists involved.