The Arshinagar Project, in the course of it works , has and will be developing and adding capacity to several new spaces, in India, opening them up to contemporary art practices. We feel that this is very important for your sustainability as well for the growth of art itself. The power of art to transform spaces and add of aesthetic as well as economic value to it is phenomenal. Art interventions has allowed to galvanize interest for spaces and it has been a pleasure to see them grow due to such. It is true that much of the effort may have gone unnoticed, and maybe even it has been a thankless job. Spaces are resources with complex dynamics and one has to engage with this complexity, without the expectation of much in return. But at the end as we look back it gives us great pleasure and as gives us reasons to look forward with renewed vigor.
Calcutta being our hometown is a special place for us. In some way, the city is so resistant to change and has sort of encapsulated itself in a time capsule. Calcutta’s tryst with contemporary art has been sporadic flings. The city’s cultural scene continues to thrive in the well established venues, with its well known traditional fares. Contemporary and experimental art in Calcutta, when it exists, is limited largely to the central district – It hasn’t reached out, nor been widely embraced.
So, we thought – why not find some new spaces. In the process, we have found some pretty interesting one. Of course, our journey has just started..
This old, dilapidated, derelict cottage, lying hidden by the street near Rabindra Sarobar Metro station, probably soon to be demolished and turned into one of those modern apartments, one more link to our legacy to be severed, anyways, that is another story. Built more than 80 years ago by Shri Shibnath Biswas -the grandson of Shri Mathurmohan Biswas, who was a son in law of Rani Rashmoni . Not that Shri Gautam Mondal – the owner, is short of enthusiasm for art. Sessions of music and dance have been held quite regularly at the premises. It also serves as a meeting room for social activists. The space perhaps wanted to touch the new, to embrace it – maybe one time before its gone, forever, leaving behind images – to remind us of what was possible, but wasn’t.
We thought this is a fine space for rehearsals, staging performances and conducting workshops – its cheap, its eerie, with nobody to bother us. So we did- a series of theatrical performances, festivals, workshops. We are happy to see that this trend has caught on and our friends and other people are using this space for their shows and rehearsals as well, with greater vigour and commitment. They also found this space and the space creeps on..
Alliance Francaise du Bengale – Park Mansions, Park Street
Park Mansions is a heritage building on Park Street. Park Street encapsulates Calcutta’s colonial past and its anglicized traditions. Lined with restaurants, nightclubs, art showrooms, offices and such other establishments, it is effectively a mall. Recently restored with great care by the Apeejay group, the building has seamlessly merged with the new and is a a great matter of pride for us.
Alliance Francaise du Bengale, has long been a significant hub in the city for cultural and intellectual activities, apart from being a primary center for French learning. Cinema, music, literature, art, theater, etc have been religiously been promoted by the institute. It was a delight to see, the Alliance Francaise du Bengale, shift its office back to Park Mansions in 2014, to a place, which used to be its home in the 90’s. Not only did they move in, their new office is delightfully done up brimming with creative energy and still thirsty for more.
We got together with the Alliance Francaise du Bengale, to start using the auditorium, for experimental and contemporary theatre. We also have been able to bring back theatre to Park Street. Park Street has rarely been staging theatre, since the burning down of the San Soucci theatre (now The St. Xavier’s College). We have also started Bengali theatre, which is also an important addition to the Park Street.
As the director of AFB , Stephane Amalir said – “I like the new energy”. Friends and the theatre community has started responding, finding nest to express their work, finding an audience and a space where they could let go and indulge in a discourse on their work. its good to see the space find a new meaning, its white walls quietly absorbing the theatre of our times.
Art in Public Spaces
Art in public spaces is very rare in Calcutta. Due to severe police restrictions, public art is generally limited to political graffiti, few concerts and street plays. In an attempt to introduce contemporary art in public spaces, we have had the great fortune of co hosting Marko 93 from France, who is a graffiti and monulight painting artist. He has created some stunning art in Calcutta during his tour – here at Princep Ghat, The Alliance Francaise d Bengale building & at the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute. We hope to carry on this initiative further.