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Art in collaboration with society

In India, community arts or community-based art may not mean much, but in the West artists who make work by collaborating with people not really associated with the arts, or are based in a community setting, are so active that often social workers employ them to facilitate their work.

As Magda Fabianczyk, a young artist curator from Poland and based in London, explained at her talk on “collaboration and ethics in making art” at Studio 21 on Wednesday, such artists “come with a different sensibility from social workers. They have to ensure that they do not exploit the people they are working with and have to be careful about gathering material.”

Fabianczyk, who has visited India four times, said she was trained at the Byam Shaw at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design and her various projects were supported by Banglanatak dot com, the Polish Cultural Institute in New Delhi and London and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

She says when she did a project with the patuas, workshops were held so that these folk artists of Midnapore could work on an equal footing with herself — “to overcome hierarchy.”

“Artists getting together without taking power positions” was what mattered. The final film that was produced was not edited as she felt it would be “unfair to intervene.” What was important was “the way things were said. Not what was said”.

She explained that she cannot create work in a studio, but prefers socially engaged art as she feels: “Art can have impact on reality. If there is something I don’t like, I make work that would work against that.”

Fabianczyk has worked on another film, which she calls a “work in progress”, on social housing in London, and how it influences children who turn out to be drug addicts and criminals. Her project was to “change the energy of the estate” and she kept an eye on everything like the position of the camera (“I wanted to avoid photographing too much”).

The meeting ground between the tenants and herself was in her flat, and since many of them were of south Asian origin, a baul performance helped break the ice. She says artists cannot embark on a project with preconceived ideas.

Fabianczyk has worked with folk singers in Poland as well. They sang about unemployment and the black market and the group went online later. She also spoke about “We were trying to make sense…”, a publication she has developed in collaboration with Sophie Hoyle, which was first launched in Bangalore.