Indian artist Jayashree Chakravarty creates an immersive installation that questions the urbanisation of Kolkata’s Salt Lake City.
Indian artist Jayashree Chakravarty’s installation project Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love is on display at the Musée National Des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet until 15 January 2018. Art Radar takes a look at the work.
In a project that emerges from a collaboration between the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, and the Musée National Des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, Indian artist Jayashree Chakravarty fills the exhibition hall with 17 large scrolls that form an immersive cave, in the fifth of a series of “Carte Blanche” displays. The work, entitled Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love, is an expressive piece that responds to the artist’s memories of the city of Salt Lake in Kolkata, where she has lived since the 1980s. The artist makes use of a range of materials, mixing twigs, leaves, mud, thorns and tobacco leaves with dust, footprints, clay, acrylic paint and cotton, which she applies to large scrolls made from Nepali paper.
The swamps of Salt Lake City
For the last three decades the artist has lived in the planned satellite town of Salt Lake, bearing witness to urbanisation and gentrification unfolding before her. In an interview with Indiatoday, the artist explains how the city of Salt Lake was not always the symmetrical, urban planning experiment that it is today. The artist comments:
When I moved here in 1982, it was a marshland of sorts. Full of tall grasses, lots of waterbound creatures and there was plenty of light and air. Even the sky was different. Snakes would curl up on the stairs, the snails would crawl in through any window opening crevices they could find and there were lots of birds. But now even the parks have iron nets, iron bars, walls surrounding them. Earlier going to the neighbourhood park was an experience I loved. Now I feel like I am in a cage.
For several decades now, Jayashree’s preoccupations and concerns in her art practice have largely addressed the changing natural habitat and bodies of water in the ever-expanding Indian cities. The drying and filling up of the marshland of Salt Lake City, the uprooting of wild flowers and grass, and consequent vanishing of the abundant animal, vegetal and insect life around have deeply impacted the artist’s sensibilities and perceptions.
Human dominance has transformed her hometown’s parks into cage-like structures with concrete pathways, barbed wire fences and excessive lights impeding the beauty of the moonlit sky, or the sighting of fireflies and other nocturnal species. For the artist, the land is the primary site of struggle, which is why it is placed at the centre of her artwork and artistic process.
Nepali paper and sustainability
Chakravarty creates her scrolled matrix as a tunnel for people to walk through. The artist creates a lithe armature that seems to bring Salt Lake City’s marshy past back to life: a world of light refracted through green plant life, glistening water both stagnant and running, and a community of insects with translucent wings and carapaces. The “canvas” the artist uses for this experiment in immersive installation is made from Nepali paper.
The artist has been working with Nepali paper scrolls for just under two decades. In her second solo show in North America in 2002, at BosePacia Modern, the artist experimented with the paper’s sculptural potential, standing a giant Nepali paper scroll upright on its side and curving it inward. More recently, in 2016, the artist produced the exhibition “Lost Lake Under the City” – a project also supported by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and curated by Roobina Karode. For the exhibition the artist used Nepali paper as a canvas, producing a series of medium scale individual works that similarly mapped the environmental issues of the area of her hometown.
Nepali Lokta paper was originally used to communicate epic tales, to print mantra for use in prayer wheels or for religious texts chanted by Buddhist monks. Until 1959, Nepal used this paper for all official government correspondence, and even today it is used for all land ownership papers (lal purja) and legal documents.
For Jayashree Chakravarty, the most important element of the Nepali paper is that it is eco-friendly, handmade from the fibre of the “Nepal Paper Plant” or Lokta Bush. The cultivation of this “tree free” paper means it does not involve the wide destruction of forests. In choosing to work with this material, the artist shows solidarity with the artisans of Nepal’s impoverished rural and urban areas, for whom the production and sale of Nepali paper continues to be a reliable source of income.
Like Chakravarty’s recent solo exhibition titled “Life will Never be the Same”, at the 2016 Festival of India in France, the current exhibition at Guimet encapsulates many overlapping emotions and personal experiences related to the destruction of ecosystems in her hometown and across the country. While the artist’s projects acknowledge change as inevitable, they also resist the universalising tendencies of urbanisation and gentrification, and the way that erasure and profit operate as motors for these endeavours.
Considering the ethical commitments and questions that inform both the content and modes of production of Jayashree Chakravarty’s work, “Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love” emerges as a proposal for not only sustainable living but sustainable thinking. For the artist this means being immersed in, sheltered by and listening to nature, and not only using it, erasing it or protecting ourselves from it.
“Carte blanche à Jayashree Chakravarty” is on view from 18 October 2017 to 15 January 2018 at Musée National Des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, 6 Place d’Iéna, 75116 Paris, France.
- “Drawing Phantoms”: India’s Minam Apang – artist profile – October 2017 – in an exploration of the duality of life, the artist uses an ephemeral imagery to merge myth and reality
- A Healthy Indian Art Market: Saffronart Autumn Auction 2017 – round-up – September 2017 – Saffronart’s auction results show healthy demand for Indian modernist works
- Measuring the human impact on the land: Mumbai artist Hemali Bhuta – interview – May 2016 – Mumbai-based artist Hemali Bhuta talks to Art Radar about her recently closed exhibition “Measure of a foot” at Project 88
- “The personal is the political”: Indian artist Prajakta Potnis at Mumbai’s Project 88 – February 2016 – Indian artist Prajakta Potnis explores trajectories connecting intimate and public worlds
- The aesthetics of slum: Hema Upadhyay on urban displacement – January 2016 – Hema Upadhyay’s installations reflect on displacement and urbanisation, depicting city landscapes as a jubilant chaos
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Indian contemporary artists