Book making

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Begin with telling yourself a story.

Close your eyes and visualise that story, one scene at a time, pay attention closely to all the details, colour, texture, shape, forms.

Where is this story situated? Imagine yourself walking through this story.

We set off with bookmaking several weeks ago – the group of boys who come home for private lessons, and I. This activity was definitely one of my favorite projects that came up spontaneously during these sessions. But T and A have a way of making the most mundane activities and scenes seem adventures, humorous, magical and dramatic.

The idea was to work on a visual story narrative, frame by frame, developing scenes and building on a sequence of events. This seemed to be the most natural process for us to explore together.

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Some sessions are super special for how much they push and challenge me as a facilitator. In getting T to visualise, I had to return to some of my favourite books from a time when I didn’t read words, but engaged with images instead.

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A Dark, Dark Tale is a book that’s probably as old as I am. It was handed down to me by my sister. An almost wordless book, it’s a dark and broody tale with a surprise scary story about a mouse. I shared this with T because I remember how arresting I used to find the illustrations. In the absence of words the pictures did all the story telling with their broad, stark lines and tones that capture emotions, set the mood and show movement.

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Inspired by this, and surprisingly picking up the edgy style, T’s book takes you through images of a forest, an isolated landscape and an abandoned house where there lived a cat and mouse, several bats and owls.

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A’s book is about motley crew of sea creatures that are making it through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s still in progress and we’re waiting to see where the story goes.

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Reading nature

December presented some fun projects for Drawing Room. One of them was a birthday party at Cubbon Park, in Bangalore. A party in the park was just what I needed at a time when working with nature was beginning to get more and more exciting for me. So I grabbed the opportunity to organise an art activity for the party, in keeping with my interest to look at all sources of the outdoors and what they can bring, and in turn using these as materials or elements for art making and storytelling.

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I organised for the children to explore a part of the park in a scavenger hunt, through an imaginary “lost land” that I called Sarandiel and the activity was to honour the land and bring back the magic that once was a part of this wooded landscape, by gathering elements that I’d hidden around the place. These elements — rocks, leaves, textures and the like — were then used to make art.

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Watching the kids work, and engaging with them in an outdoor space, made me realise how we as human beings seek being outdoors and what a difference it makes to the energy of learning from surroundings.

We weren’t just walking through the green areas of cubbon park but actually paying attention to all the life inside of it, the colours, textures and changes in trees and plants, insects and birds. Someone even spotted a shed snakeskin under a rock, and it caused a lot of excitement. The birthday girl brought her dog along, and he frolicked all over, joining in as the kids wandered about on their hunt. And suddenly I realised this madding, ever-growing city that envelopes us in cement and glass, still has this big pocket of green, where we can dip in and co-exist with nature.

As a further exercise to this, I organised one of my weekly sessions with the group of kids I teach at home, to be conducted at Cubbon Park. We set off on a typical sunny, wintery Bangalore Saturday morning, armed with art material, a mat, food and drink.

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The boys were mighty excited to be getting out and were very curious to know what we would work with. I allowed them to pick a spot for the session, and that lead to us setting up the workstation under sunny spot. They went on to looking for uncommon shaped rock and tree bark, following which I asked them to look at the object carefully to notice if they could spot familiar looking face’s, maybe a fish?, a hand?, a foot? This activity had them exploring the many features, textures, shapes, sizes of the objects they had chosen to draw.

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This intimate contact to nature has helped bring in a challenging yet meaningful understanding to the importance to a child’s development and the earth’s future.

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There are two fundamental reasons why outdoor play is critical for young children in early childhood programs and schools. First, many of the developmental tasks that children must achieve—exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge—can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. Enabling young children to learn lots and lots of things about the outdoor world. Can sticks stand up in sand? How do plants grow? How does mud feel?

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Thoughts and questions like these have set me off on an interesting turn to my teaching methodology. It’s what sparked the idea for my next month-long workshop in Goa.

It’s titled From Little Seeds Grow Mighty Trees and will feature image making with light and shadow ~ Recording natural change through a nature journal ~ Nature walks ~ Mapping landscapes ~ Scavenger hunts ~ Printing ~ Collecting found objects ~ Installation and sculptures.

Stay tuned for a poster and more details in my next post.

 Layer by layer

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Developing a close relationship with not only each child but also the class as a social organism, is something I have learnt to focus on. It has meant becoming very aware of the means to enable collaborative art practices for myself.

 The significance of storytelling, sharing experiences or observations built upon storytelling at an early age provide strong foundations and makes learning a tangible and interactive activity. This is one way for me to engage their entire beings through experience and imagination.

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 In the last week of my month-long stay in Goa I began to notice how every child was making connections with each other’s visual sensibilities and finding a rhythm of working collaboratively.

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 The studio was now ready for an intervention. Drawing lines and connecting the dots to all our explorations made over the previous weeks, I proposed that both batches of children aged 2.5 to 5 and 5 to 12 respectively, come together to work on a single large canvas.

 Layer by layer, wash-by-wash, they added textures, objects patterns, sometimes removed pigment, they built a simple rhythm and movement in collectively creating a piece of work together.

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Collaborations bring a sense of togetherness and joy to the learning experience. It especially thrills me to see children actively appreciating each other’s efforts, and to see that appreciation grow over the weeks of going through the process of working together and making discoveries along the way.   

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 I stepped back, watching this process and saw each one of the children play a role in making selective decisions for the canvas that they worked on together, over a period of one week.

 The morning batch would come in and work on it with some guidance following with the batch in the evening come in to see the progress made and took over seamlessly, to add the next layer of elements.

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This has been the most exciting process for me. This work was a coming together of all the collected memories from nature and stories shared over the month, along with the studied observation from our studio nature table.  The progression of not just the elements we brought in to the work, but the synergy in terms of collaboration, and the result – the finished canvas — was mesmerizing to watch and left me feeling so full of emotion.

Drawing Room – Goa from Niyati Upadhya on Vimeo.

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Travelling with Drawing Room

It’s been a busy few months and the new beginning I made with Drawing Room is slowly unfolding into some exciting projects lined up.

Right from the start, my dream has been to be able to create Drawing Room as a travelling entity that can go to anywhere that children may be seeking an opportunity to make art. Free from the boundaries of classes, or schedules and timetables. I wanted to be fluid with the destination, and open to going to children, rather than having them come to me at all times.

I’ve been working at expanding the reach of my interactions through workshops and private sessions across cities, to make this as true as possible. So far we’ve had workshops and private sessions in Bangalore and Mumbai (see here and here) with incredible regularity and it has been all kinds of exciting!

Later this week, I’m off to Mumbai once again for private sessions, after which I’m taking Drawing Room to Goa in September. Stay tuned for more information about that!

Thank you all for the support and encouragement all along. I would like to share a peek into Drawing Room with you all, to see how we unpack ideas and allow them to take form into stories told through drawings and painting.

 

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Beautiful Oops!

When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.

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Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg.

There have been times when as a facilitator, I have had to explore ways of unlearning concepts and some of the strong conditioning that I come with, both as teacher and as a child. This challenge has many a times brought me to discover wonderful ways of unlearning and re-learning.

I’ve grown up hearing adults and teachers at school say, “making a mistake is part of learning” or “making a mistake is part of life”, yet I never wanted to believe either of these statements. When you use the word “mistake” to describe an artwork for instance, you immediately imply that it’s far from perfect, or that it can be better. Whenever I heard the word, it was hard to not compare my work to something that was right and perfect. Because as we all know we celebrate our correctness over our mistakes a lot more.

I took this up as a challenge in my role as an art facilitator (and also for myself in life, in general) to learn to try and accept, and to celebrate my mistakes as much as I celebrate the times I am correct. Initiating that change meant creating an accepting and trustful environment for the kids to work in. Which in turn meant keeping in mind a nonjudgmental language when critiquing their work.

Looking back at my student life, I have come to realize certain phrases lock in judgmental ideas about the artistic processes. These phrases, the very language of feedback, right, wrong, mistake, easy, etc, cues a focus on performance, competition, comparison and risk of failure. Even though it requires constant attention to break these habits, it is well worth the effort.

In Mumbai, I taught a group of children aged 4-9, and one of the sessions was structured around this extraordinary book, Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg. It’s a simple book that shows young readers how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. Creatively made, Beautiful Oops! is filled with pop-ups, flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope” to demonstrate the magical transformation from blunder to wonder.

Introducing this discovery to the class brought about an immensely positive change in the way the kids explored and expressed themselves. It seemed to have set off a cycle of change where each of them discovered their strengths, while encouraging each other to work with a sense of spontaneity, acknowledging their mistakes and learn to work towards what they wanted their work to look like, regardless of the blips along the way.

Here are a few images from the sessions after having introduced Beautiful Oops!

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By Om Ahuja. Age 5.
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By Ahilya Lulla. Age 5.
2Akira
By Akira Kini. Age 5.
3Antalya
By Antalya Gupta. Age 5.
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By Azad Rao Khan. Age 5.

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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.

Notes On Remembering Else Where

May 2013 came with some overwhelming surprises one of which was a much awaited residency at Khoj in Delhi as part of the Peers 2013 Artist in residence.

A packed Suitcase with my essentials and a bunch of art material, and I was ready to begin my month of discovery at Khoj.

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 My work so far has always drawn me into the intricate details of the narratives that exist deeper within the lives of people I see on a daily basis, in the citys i have traveled to over the past few years, I have watched, observed, interacted with and documented the lives and work of practitioners of pre-modern. that dot the cityscape, jotting down ideas that I have later woven into  narratives of contemporary urban street culture into my work.chandi chowk6rs

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During my time at Khoj, I explored the urban street culture at Shadipur Depot which is home to an assortment of street artists and performers, from singers to puppeteers and magicians. 

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 I interacted with a slew of Shadipur’s singers, puppeteers and magicians, spending my time documenting their work, their lives and their home. The work that I  developed at Khoj resulted in a translation of my experiences in Shadipur on to a wall in my studio, which played the role of a page in my visual diary.

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Matchboxes, as faded bits of memories help translate the experiences through my interactions with the people of Khirki Village.Marking patterns of my memory on the wall of my studio, was like unfolding stories.

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how and when does an experience become a memory?

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.

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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.

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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.