media, information, the contemporary

Associate Fellowship Programme

The Associate Fellowship Programme was undertaken in 2007 to develop a level of interaction between independent practitioners, researchers and scholars that is deeper and more extensive than that afforded by the Independent Fellowship process.

An Imaginative Text Based on Contemporary Travel Through the “Forests” Described in Bibhuthibhushan’s Memoirs

Debkamal Ganguly

Sarai generally focusses on urban spaces and the processes of urbanisation. However, a very crucial emerging question in contemporary India is, how are “rural” and forest spaces being transformed in the current context, and what is the relationship of this process to the development of cities? One could look at the question only in terms of contemporary transformations, but another approach would also situate it historically, in relation to accounts of what these non-urban areas used to look like. The project looks precisely at this question, in the context of Eastern India. Debkamal Ganguly is interested in how the idea of “nature” has developed and has been changed by visitors from the city, over several decades, including himself. He seeks to understand “how an otherwise ‘underdeveloped’ marginalized geographical/cultural space in the immediate west of the Gangetic plains has been entangled in multilayered relationship with the urban consciousness and artistic creativity of Kolkata.”

His proposal seeks to do this in three time-frames over the course of which the few rare travellers into the forests morphed into the families of Bengali tourists we know well today. In his analysis, they travel to “sacred-mythological” places but also come to “secularise” those spaces, finding new frames for myth and metaphor in that space. In the first period, from the 19th century to about the 1940s, we see the emergence of an urban middle class and the Bengali novel, which he argues is an intrinsically visual medium. This process finds its apogee in Bibhutibhushan’s popular novels and memoirs of rural life and the “forest”. In the second period, this relationship between urban and non-urban is revisited in the context of the bohemian Calcutta literary avant-garde in the 1950s and 60s. The third period is the applicant’s present, where the perception of these other spaces is created through electronic and digital mediums, shaping phantasmagoric “space hallucinations”, playing them off google earth.

In keeping with the concern of with form that is the special focus of these fellowships, this will primarily be a creative writing project, along with some audio and video recording. Ganguly, who has professional experience in all three forms, and also holds an MA in Geology, will physically travel through the various locations mentioned in Bibhutibhushan’s memoirs, reporting what has happened to them, trying to understand the contemporary urban visitor’s relationship to these spaces. In addition to being a project very innovative in terms of both subject and form, Sarai believes that it will be a pioneering work that will challenge artistic practitioners and others to think more carefully (current representations of environmental issues have tended to be more simplistic) about these issues.

A New Journal for the Arts: Prototype Issue

Nancy Adajania and Ranjit Hoskote

Although there have been exciting recent developments in the world of Indian art, there is a strong sense that much of it has been happening in the dark, without enough open discussion made widely available to the public. Hoskote and Adajania argue that in order for art to have significance and value beyond a point, it needs to be made in the context of lively discussion and critical debate. Modern India has had a rich history of such critical initiatives, but in the current context there are very few platforms for such engagement; those that do exist confine themselves largely to reporting on events, or more often, to sales figures and scandals, focusing on the life of the studio, the solitary creator, and of economic institutions such as the gallery and the auction house. Both senior art critics in their own right, Hoskote and Adajania propose to make a journal that focuses on actually mobilising and creating a new context for the production of art.

Rather than being a public relations exercise for art in India, the journal would be a colloquium across disciplines, regions, traditions and intellectual lineages. It would include, among other forms of writing, analytical essays, tactical accounts, select reviews, and polemical texts. In a special section, dedicated to what the proposal refers to as khwab or khwaish – the utopian impulse – artists will be invited to outline dream projects (especially in public art or new-media situations) that are impossible to achieve, or require financial assistance, thus allowing the journal to act as a catalyst for work that has not, or cannot, yet be made. The journal would be interested in developing a perspective of what the proposal calls “a nuanced critical regionalism”, which would reject both the “neo-tribalism” of an inward-looking isolationism, as well as an uncritical globalism that lacks anchorage in a specific cultural context. Thus, while being rooted in and contributing to Indian intellectual life, the journal would also welcome inputs from other parts of the world, including especially West Asia, South-east Asia, Eastern Europe, and North Africa, and be international in the range of its interests and contributors. Last but not least, the journal would seek and institute collaborative ventures between artists and public-sphere or civil-society activists.

Since this is not a project for an individual artist but for a colloquium that would seek to galvanise the entire Indian art scene, the journal, if and when fully realised, could have an immense formative impact that would bring together dozens of contributors even in its prototype issue, and draw in upcoming generations of young artists.