Jaipur Kala Chaupal 2017

Arts Collaborative and Residency

Diggi Palace, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

October 18 – November 6, 2017

Early morning at the entrance gate to Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

On the Creative Process and Project Development

I used to worry that I didn’t have any or enough ideas to work with. This feeling often arises at the moment when one is required to have an idea for a project. I realize that it’s not that I don’t have ideas, but that I am very harsh and reject most of the ideas that come to me. Over the years I have learned to stop and record any and all ideas when they arrive with me. Ideas can be very ephemeral! When an idea lands, it wants to be held close, to ferment and develop before being brought into the light for examination.

Kala Chaupal loosely means “art village, conversation or community.” The organizers set as the overall theme Water and concerns about water. I arrived in Jaipur with a general idea about how humans relate to water and wondered how we can enhance that relationship. I wanted to understand what happened to the water that flows from the faucets in my home that rendered it no longer sacred? But I had no idea how I was going to turn that noticing into a project.

Connecting the Various Bodies of my Artwork

Over the past several years my art-making has revolved around exploring and enhancing our human connection to nature. Raised in the modernist age of the machine, I was taught to see myself apart from nature and that we humans have dominion over nature. Now in a post-colonial time, I am learning that we are an integral part of the web of all life, made of the same molecular components as the world that surrounds us. We are nature! Through my art practice I explore this connection and relationship and find ways to amplify and personalize how I relate to the world around me.

How to Balance Socializing, Working, Site-Seeing and Learning?

In Jaipur we were a gathering of 43 artists from many countries along with a team of local student volunteers and a group of dedicated apprentices and organizers. There were a lot of people to get to know in a short time. Balancing all the competing interests and keeping the work on track is always a concern during a residency. It’s important to look around and discover the place where you find yourself and to some degree, let it influence you. A ten-day residency is a short time to develop, explore, execute and produce finished work for exhibition, especially photography. And so, there was a palpable sense of anxiety present among the artists.

Attending a colourful Diwali celebration at Diggi Palace with Daniel Sharp.

Each afternoon at 5pm we would gather in the great hall to hear lectures, presentations, and panel discussions. We had an opportunity to learn about local historic practices with water, and to see some of the work done by participating artists. It was also a time to catch up with each other and hear how work was progressing at the various sites as not all the artists were working on site.

-Talks by participating Artists.

-Film & Photo Essays on Water symbols and associations in Art

-Workshops & Displays by Artisans (Meena Art, Mandanas,)

-Panel Discussions by Art Historians & Experts

-Art for Healing- The Alchemy Vessel Project

-Music & Theatre performances

-Residency and Productivity report and updates

Traditional Rajasthan Water Pot Dance

Having all or most of your basic needs met and three meals a day laid out leaves quite a lot of time to work. It’s surprising how much you can accomplish when your internet connection is weak and you are given an assistant to work with. Working with another person required establishing some kind of schedule. In a way this helped me to stay on track. Before I knew it, I had developed and was working on 4 different and separate project ideas. Yikes…., that’s 2 or 3 ideas too many! It was important to make a start on all the ideas to see how they played out visually before deciding on the ultimate project. In fact, it was the reaction from others that helped me refine and choose which direction to pursue. When there are tears from viewers, you know you are on to something!

On Portraiture and Printing

The kind of relationship with water that I was seeking is an embodied one. It’s not formal, intellectual or academic. It’s visceral, tactile and personal. In Canada, we have learned of the North American First Nations understanding of women being water carriers as well as the female body being a carrier of water. In India, especially in rural settings, one sees women carrying large water pots on their heads and in their arms. These pots have a consistently round, big bellied shape. So, I went to the market to purchase a few. When I picked one up, I understood the correlation to the womb! This is not a symbol of a womb, it’s real, it’s a real live vessel for life! We contemporary Westerners know nothing of the tradition of women as water carriers. Our contemporary media continues to subjugate the function of the female body and sexualizes it for profit. The subject is loaded!

Traditional earthenware water pots in the market.

As I made my first test images, a series of portraits emerged. I have never been interested in portraiture and was surprised to find myself engaged in this age-old practice. It seemed to be the right answer to the question being posed and I was on the far side of the globe. Let’s remember I was in India! Sometime being out of your familiar setting gives licence to do things one might not do at home.

Young Rajasthan women engaged in the age old task or carrying water.

Once the idea fleshed itself out, (pardon the pun), the work just rolled along. When the first image was ready I was anxious to get established with a local photography printer. Jaipur does not have a professional printing service but it would take another week to find that out. The real challenge with photographic residencies is printing, and printing away from home and away from your usual support system. I had experienced the same issue this past summer on a residency in New Brunswick. The other two photographers in the group and I persevered and with the pressure of an upcoming exhibition we made the best of a poor situation. My final image arrived at the exhibition the day after it opened. Oh well, ……..no one died.

In Summary

It was a remarkable experience all around! I made many new friends; saw a slice of life on the other side of the world; produced new artwork; made developmental leaps that would not have happened at home; and took another step on the creative path as an artist. Now, where on earth will I exhibit this body of portraiture and the many accompanying images and stories? Maybe this project will turn into a book? In the meantime, I have two other projects to produce for exhibitions in Toronto and Ottawa in 2018, so you may not see this work for some time.

Miniature painting on silk by Sudarshan. Resident artist at Diggi Palace.