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Online edition of India's National Newspaper

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A Search For New Meanings

by NINA BENJAMIN, Metro Plus Bangalore, Monday, Nov 11, 2002

Khoj 2002 was an attempt to promote inter-cultural exchange. For the artists themselves, it opened up new possibilities in art.

IN AN attempt to address issues of new internationalism in the arts and promote inter-cultural exchange, a two-week international workshop - Khoj-2002 - was held in Mysore. It was followed by a symposium, exhibition, performance, video screenings and open discussions, and debates, in Bangalore.

The Khoj artists who participated in the workshop at Mysore were a highly excited lot. According to them "it was a union of twenty-four committed artists who worked intensively together for two weeks — exchanging ideas, encountering varied methods and approaches, and striking out in new and experimental directions. It was both invigorating and enriching for all the artists involved".

The experiences they encountered and the imperishable impressions and images created in them remained fresh in their minds. It was an occasion to add new interpretations to traditional, contemporary, and modern art forms. For the Western artist, the picturesque landscape of Mysore, women dressed in traditional splendour were a constant source of inspiration.

The workshop brought together 24 artists, half of whom were Indians, who came from various cultures and backgrounds. For two weeks, they worked together in a spirit of camaraderie, exchanging ideas and trying out new experiments. . A heartening factor was that in this group of painters and sculptors, women outnumbered men. The group also had artists in their mid-career, who were committed to make a career in the arts.

The workshop model was not intended to be didactic. Sharing, interaction, and learning was unstructured, and took place in an informal spontaneous atmosphere. Planned as a-hands-on workshop, everybody chipped in and shared in the organisation, distribution of material, studio space, exhibition, and other activities. There were discussions and slide presentations in the evenings as the artists brought slides and other presentation material of their works, to share with other participants. Artists were also encouraged to weave in local crafts, music, materials, and other art forms into their art works.

The workshop set the stage for a global exchange of new ideas, trends, and expressions. The interactive sessions, spurred discussions on traditional, contemporary, and modern art. The Khoj artists were at their creative best during the workshop. Their works of art are captivating, fascinating, and unusually perceptive. Whether it is performing art or visual art, the artists have explored stimulating and sensitive themes with a rare understanding and insight.

Mayura Subedar is from Amsterdam and her work is site-specific. She has to get a good feel of the surroundings before she can create something. "Idyllic surroundings inspire me. In Mysore, looking at the number of coconut trees around us, I was fascinated by the idea of conservation and preservation in an urban setting". She used rubbings of a coconut tree on wallpaper in such a way that the setting sun would cast the shadow of the coconut trees on the wall. At the far end of the white space, she created a place where one could sit and enjoy the scenic beauty outside, and also watch the impression that coconut trees cast on the wall.

There is sensitivity in the works of Hema Upadhyay, a painter from Mumbai. Most of her works are related to the space she is in. While in Mysore, Hema decided to write a letter to her parents.

The theme of the letter was an exploration of the complexities associated with migration and making choices. Using ragi seeds, she wrote a letter on a pathway that led to a home. "It is a space between me and my parents. In this letter the language is very personal. I haven't concealed any emotion. The depth of human emotion is explored," says Hema.

N. N. Rimzon, a sculptor of figurative and non-figurative art, from Trivandrum, said that he saw in the Olive Garden in Mysore, as "an ideal landscape - the coconut grove, thatched huts, people in fields, bullock carts, peasants, and a view of the Chamundi Hills. He captured them all — in his myriad styles, mediums, and techniques — brush, sketch, commercial, and portrait paintings. Christoph Stroz wanted to identify himself with the local community. He wanted to be a part of the local activity. He chose to associate his art with it too. To escape from his chaotic environment, Christoph selected an area where he saw people plucking out weeds. That stirred his imagination.

Stroz explains: "It was a sort of drawing which had a beginning and an end with the end coming back to the beginning. A path that didn't lead anywhere but came back to the beginning. You can call it a performance. I had a pushcart in which I dumped the parthenium weeds I plucked. My art was homage to a pushcart . The vendor leaves home early in the morning, not knowing where he goes or which way he goes. He just follows the path unknown to him, a path where he hopes to sell his wares. It is their path that I was trying to explore, the path of uncertainty".

Amy Plant from London engages in a lot of community-based service back home, which she calls socially, engaged practice. "I work collaboratively with people, involving them in my work. My work is not object-based or studio-based. I work with different mediums such as sound, light, and video. For the workshop I chose to work on a publication entitled "Amy's News, " she explains. "I spoke with the local people, was engaged with the city and its happenings. My idea was to collect information and distribute it back to the people. A lot of my work was about people and what's happening in that community. It is community based," said Amy.

For Chia Chang Yoong, a painter and sculptor from Malaysia, "coming to India was like the coming together of the Commonwealth Countries. Malaysia and India have a common past. Both were British colonies. That instilled in me a sense of togetherness with the people of India."

Khoj-2002 helped the participating artists to understand how difficult it can be "to transport ideas and communicate them clearly from one cultural context to another".