Silk River by international outdoor arts company Kinetika, along with Think Arts, India, which aims to explore the relationship between London and Calcutta through artistic exchange between communities at 10 locations each along the River Thames and the Hooghly.
Murshidabad, Krishnagar, Chandernagore, Barrackpore, Jorasanko, Bowbazar, Howrah, Kidderpore, Botanical Gardens and Batanagar along the Hooghly and Kew Gardens, Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Barking and Dagenham, Pufleet, Dartford, Gravesend, Tilbury, East Tilbury and Southend along the River Thames are the chosen locations.
One of the 17 successful applicants to the Reimagine India programme funded by the Arts Council England, Silk River will be a year-long project culminating in 20 hand-painted Murshidabad silk scrolls that will be shown in London and Calcutta in 2017.
Ali Pretty, the founder member of Kinetika and the artistic director of Silk River has worked in India for many years and has events like the 2009 FIFA World Cup and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games under her belt. She also creates walking arts projects with various communities.
“I wanted to use art as a tool for education and social change... it’s my belief that art plays a huge civic role in society. Silk River is really a culmination of 32 years of experience…. I think this time the depth and level of exchange will be a lot deeper,” she said.
Ali has been “living this project for two years” from the time she saw the forms for Reimagine India during her first research visit to Calcutta in 2015 to the launch of the project at Indian Museum on Wednesday evening.
Ruchira Das, the founder of Think Arts, the lead organisation for Silk River in India, is the associate artistic director for the project and will be part of the workshops and residencies in Bengal and in the UK.
Many other organisations from Bengal and the UK are part of the project.
Ali, Ruchira and Jacqueline Todd, the associate designer of Silk River, will hold workshops with various groups — between November 10 and 24 along the Hooghly and in April along the Thames.
“I will ask each group in each location four questions: Why is the place and its community there? What connects the community to the river? How does the river connect the communities along it and to international communities? What makes this place,” Ali said.
In January 2017, 40 contemporary artists and people from local communities will participate in textile residencies in Murshidabad.
(From left) Debanjan Chakrabarti, Ruchira Das, Ali Pretty and Bruce Bucknell at the launch. (Pabitra Das)
The residencies will make 10 scrolls based on the patua tradition of telling stories. A similar exercise will be on along the Thames in June 2017.
The UK leg of the Walking Festival, where the silk scrolls will be displayed, will begin on September 15 and end with an exhibition of all the 20 scrolls in the British Museum.
The India leg will start from Murshidabad on December 7 and end with an exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on December 17.
“This is not just a project about art. It is a project about connections,” Bruce Bucknell, the British deputy high commissioner, said. “I think this project provides the opportunity for my countrymen and countrywomen to look much more at this part of India. There is also the tourism angle — the idea of walking along the river, of appreciating the cultural heritage of the trading routes.
“I hope that as a result of this project many more people, be it from within India or from Britain, will come and enjoy the same experiences. I also hope that because of this project the legacy of the Murshidabad silk, made locally, will be cherished.”
Debanjan Chakrabarti, director, British Council, East India, said: “Silk River is not just bringing together London and Calcutta but also individuals and institutions. We hope projects like Silk River will celebrate, reconnect and inspire people in London and Calcutta.”
— Chandreyee Chatterjee