Drawing Room: this is where it began

When I began the Saturday Art Club (as it was called then) my approach was simple. I started with the very basic idea to engage with the visual form, and use it to study objects and ideas closest to us.

Over the last few years of my practice, and some involvement with interacting with children, I’ve observed that the practice of teaching art has become unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome – involving expensive tools, stationery etc.

It was interesting to see that the children came from backgrounds in formal art education either through a previous art class or at school. Most were already initiated into art and craft through formal/conventional structures, bound by rules and guidelines typical to a classroom set-up. What I didn’t anticipate was the couple of sessions and time and effort it took to undo and break through those existing structures and frameworks they already belonged to.

Thinking back to my own years in school, and my early interest in art, I remembered how intimidating and off-putting a structured classroom set-up made me feel. So, I realized if my goal was to help children begin to engage, react and respond to the visual form freely and fearlessly, it was essential to break away from the rules and the pressure to create “pretty” things.

This is where looking outside the field of art education alone, helped my learning, how to initiate and kindle a sense of free exploration in children. As a facilitator there were so many wonderful connections to be made between the formal art education (such as learning perspectives, colour theory, colouring inside the lines etc) and the simple learning through the perspective of each child’s imagination.

By allowing children to explore their own memories, ideas and other visuals they wanted to bring to life, I found a method that balanced the two. This was the beginning to a journey I later titled “Dear Imagination”.

In the 12 months that I interacted with this group of children, it became clear to me that creating an environment that celebrates each child’s uniqueness was the best way to educate myself about what art education really means to me, and where I want to go with this.

Follow my experiences with teaching art with Drawing Room on facebook.

The man who crossed the river every day

Certain experiences manifest as blessings and one such experience last year was my trip to Varanasi. It was my first time visiting the Ganges, and as I walked by the side of the river for the first time, everything seemed still, yet charming and timeless. The morning was foggy and cold, the winter light came through the clouds greeting the river and the massive flocks of migratory birds flying really low around, all the boatmen played before my eyes like a scene from a film.

As I walked from one ghat to the next, taking in all that I possibly could, I was drawn to an old man sitting by this boat, and instantly knew he had a story to tell me. Banwari Lal, looked at me and asked if I would like to go across the river and offered to take me in his neatly painted green and yellow boat.

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Dressed in a blue and white checked lungi and a brown jacket/coat Banwari Lal gently maneuvered this boat and brought it to shore. Asking me to step in slowly while it rocked and lapped in the river. He was such a gentleman and as he pulled the oars of his boat he told me about his relationship with his boats that have stayed on the banks of the Ganga at Prabhu Ghat for the last 32 years. He and his boats have crossed the river, floated back and forth from one bank to the other, witnessing the transforming life of people and moments that pass through the ghats, year after year.

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He told me how every season he witnesses new changes, makes a few friends some of them re-visit while some don’t, but he and his boats remain a constant. He told me how he is driven by the art of rowing and that is what has kept him going. He continues to manually row his boat, despite the fact that many boats are now motorized. Banwari Lal chooses to continue to row through his journey with grace.

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Varanasi – December, 2014.

Cult Of The Street travelled to Bangalore.

Cult Of The Street.

Bone setters and Barbers shops  An exploration in mixed media,

documenting these unique professions though photographs, drawings,video, sculpture and sound.

Cult of the Street Niyati Upadhya

This is a compilation of 2 bodies of work that traces the lives of two of Bombay’s most queer professions: the bone setters and the barbers. The exhibit takes viewers thought some of my picked documentation of the city’s streets, which showcases the nature, dynamics and reactions of the people and their business, with the common man, set stage in the by-lanes of Mumbai city and a few other cities.

My exploration led to representations of what I saw, in a mix of different media.  I have documented these dying professions with a keen closeness to the senses.

2 business, 1 human body

While the compilation depicts 2 very different professions, they are both closely linked to the same human body.

Bones speak of fragile bodies, mortal remains, healing and restoration form within.

Barbers shops speak of beautification of the body, sexuality, male power, and vanity depicted through the curiosity as an on-looker/passer by, to something that is considered to be otherwise private.

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Cult of the Street travelled  to Bangalore and had a rather happy opening on the 19th of April, at 1 Shanti Rd  An Artist Collective Center, run by Suresh Jayaram and Cop Shiva.

It was great to be doing a show in the very city I have been brought up in, where the seeds of my explorations were first sown.

Being in Bangalore gave me a sense of familiarity, but also came with the extra effort of putting up an entire exhibit in a city I don’t live in anymore. Right from transporting my work to Bangalore, finding the best framers, getting all the props and electronics I needed, finding the right printing support and finally setting up the show was a great learning experience.

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For me, it was also special to see my work up in a space totally removed from the space it originated from. Putting up a show also brings with it a sense of separation from my own work. The minute the frames and sculptures find their place within the defined walls of a gallery, there is a detachment, where I stop viewing the work as my own, but as a subject that finds interesting reactions in those that come to view it. Gauging what people take back from what you have left them with, completes the entire process of creation, for me.

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Having this opportunity to share the Cult of The Street story with people I have grown up with, as well as those I have come to know through my recent interactions as an artist, was a special one. It was good to see the sense of curiosity in the minds of people who visited. There were lots of questions about the subject and why  I was drawn towards it.

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And for an artist, it is always nice to see peoples’ reactions to something that is new to them, but that grows more and mroe familiar to me with every passing show.

Cult of the Street, The Bone setters and Barber Shops.

The Cult of the Street is a series of visual diaries that documents the ‘professional underbelly’ of the Indian city. It is an essay in mixed media, exploring the Naayi and the Had-vaid through photograph, drawing, video, sculpture and sound. The stories of the bone setter and the barber are sometimes poetic, sometimes dark, and always poignant.

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Poster Design By Mana Dhanraj.