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An angle here, a bend there, and art is born

“People should have a little bit of art,” says Carl Gabriel. And though the London-based West Indian started his professional life in the sheet-metal fabrication trade, which to most would seem singularly lacking imagination, for Gabriel, it was muse enough.

The art of wire bending, with roots in India, found Gabriel, via Trinidad. Used in traditional daaker saaj of the Durga Puja, the form is believed to have travelled with immigrant Indians and influenced the carnival art of the islands.

Gabriel is one of several artistes who have worked on the Din Shuru project, connecting India to carnival culture. The pieces used for the parade have been created by artistes from across the world, and having travelled through England, are back in Calcutta for the culmination on the streets on December 14.

“Angles, numbers and engineering skills” are employed in the creation of carnival art. Precise designs are strewn across the Garden Reach warehouse, where the 53-year-old is hard at work to complete the centrepiece of the event — the king and queen — the “bor-bou”, which merge Indian and African artistic styles. The frames of the 12-ft figures are being made from mild steel galvanised wire, and will be covered with a shell of tissue and adhesive. While the pieces would usually be coloured with acrylic paint, here they will sport shola and bead-and-zari saaj, created by local craftsmen.

Gabriel is convinced of the deeper tie between Indian and West Indian art, and has pictures to prove it. He pulls out two photographs he has taken of children in Trinidad wearing festive gear with an unmistakable resemblance to Indian motifs. He has furthered the connection, regularly creating pieces for Diwali, including Ganesha, Lakshmi and diyas.

The artistic impulse quickly lured Gabriel away from his profession, after photography found him. “I decided to give photography five years,” explains Gabriel. After photographing the art works of others, seven years ago, the musician who had been involved with carnivals while playing the steel pad, decided to change track himself. “We are all born with a culture,” smiles the grandfather of two, an unhappy spectator of “modernity” stifling art in the name of “progress”.

The cross-cultural arena has drawn the participation of Calcutta’s arts enthusiasts. A constant stream of visitors has been dropping by the warehouse, where teams from Britain and Bengal have been working for the past couple of weeks. Simki Guha Niyogi and Diptendu Shekhar Saha, students of the Government Art College, have been volunteering onsite. The programme coordinators had visited the college, encouraging participation.

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