Inside An Organic 'Artivism' Project Reviving A 100-Year-Old House In Kolkata

Inside An Organic 'Artivism' Project Reviving A 100-Year-Old House In Kolkata
Museum of Air and Dust.

We have all heard the old English idiom “The walls have ears”.Let us say that walls have eyes too, and can also feel things. Let us imagine the pillars, the walls, the roof, and the floors of a house as living, breathing things and the house as a sentient being. Every house has its own history to tell, its unique architecture, design, and within it the memories and stories of the people who dwell in it.

When you walk along the streets of Kolkata, you will come across several old, dilapidated houses—houses that were once grand but the trials and tribulations of time have weathered them down. One can notice hanging windows or maybe the roots of a tree growing within the cracks of its walls. Some of them will be broken down soon and replaced with fancy apartment buildings or other symbols of urban modernity such as shopping malls and restaurants. One such house is Jagat Nibas, located at situated at 9/5B Nepal Bhattacharya street in the proximity of Kalighat temple and the Adi Ganga river.

But what is so special about this house? It is over a century old but soon it is going to be demolished by a crane. In that light artists from all over the city have come together to transform this old house into a thriving art space days before its demolition. The fact that they have chosen a space for creation, which is destined for destruction is a wonderful paradox. The artivism endeavor in this space has been organized to contemplate upon the unfathomable emotions that come with the destruction of such a grand old house, the process of transformations, and to reflect on our success or failures to preserve something tangible in the fast-moving world of late capitalism.

Film-makers, visual artists, performance and performing artists, cooks, calligraphers, poets, and designers of all kinds gathered at Jagat Nibas in the end of Novemeber to celebrate the life and living of the past and that of the coming times. The future is uncertain but when the death of the house becomes a certainty, it becomes a unique space to explore one's art forms. The artivism showcase was organized organically as a diverse group of artists, as well as local children and the inhabitants of the house, participated. In spite of having varied artistic backgrounds or not, several people breathed art into this house making it a canvas for mixed media. Starting from film projections and poetry reading sessions to graffiti and installation art, several forms of art sublimated into one space.

Installation Art
Installation ArtSumeru Mukhopadhyay
Poetry reading session by Ansuman, Prasanta & Somnath
Poetry reading session by Ansuman, Prasanta & Somnath Prashanta Halder

The original owner of this house is considered to be Mritunjoy Mitra. Rohan Dewanjee and his family have been living in the house for 40 years. They participated, too, through cooking, painting the walls, and interacting with the artists. Performance artist, Uma Banerjee showcased what she called Celebration Of Bleeding. She, along with fellow artist, Mitai, went from one room to another holding a pomegranate and dropping some of it on a white piece of cloth, symbolizing blood. One of the main themes behind the artistic endeavors was a celebration of the labor that goes into constructing a house. Several paintings were made on the walls and the balcony commemorating the labor of building a house. Some of the painters included eminent visual artists from the city such as Koustabh Chakrabarty, Devi Ganguly, Dhrupadi, and several others. There was also a performance piece by Uma Banerjee where she was balancing logs of wood, bricks, and other materials that are used in the construction of a house.

One of the rooms was converted into a dark room by performance artist Taufik Riaz, where various everyday household objects such as mosquito nets, uncooked fish, etc were kept. The audience was asked to enter it and feel the objects around them. Often when we are far away from home and the nostalgia of home is evoked in our minds, we associate certain sights and smells with our own homes. The purpose of this endeavor was to evoke a similar feeling within the audience. Another room was converted into Bhooter Ghor(Bengali for 'Ghost Room'), where Soumyadip narrated to the audience a ghost story. The story goes that Bhupeshchandra Dewanjee, Rohan Dewanjee’s grandfather was a British official who was returning home to Calcutta during World War II by train. On the train, he found a bomb ticking. To save the passengers onboard, he threw the bomb out of the train, killing three innocent bystanders. It is said that those three spirits followed him to this house and lived with him since then.

L: Installation Art on a window R: Paiting on a wall
L: Installation Art on a window R: Paiting on a wallSumeru Mukhopadhyay
L: Painting of a Japanese artist R: Wall art
L: Painting of a Japanese artist R: Wall artAnirban Sarkar

The entire three stories of the house,its roof, its balconies and its courtyard became a transient stage, a fleeting museum. The concept note behind this initiative is as follows:

- once upon a time there was a house

- but it's still there

- Our house

- it's still there

- I don't see it.we don't wake up there

- but some do

- they know the ghosts?

- they are being there

- do you see an artist there?

- dust and air, rooms and pillars, old drawings and markings, objects, bodies, breath

- what does s/he do?

- dust and air, rooms and pillars, old drawings and markings, objects, bodies, breath.

Death is certain and like Jagat Nibas, someday sooner or later, we shall also die, and the dust from our bones will be gone into the air. That is the reason behind naming this space Museum of Air and Dust. Till then, there is a small window of time that we call life. This artistic amalgamation and organic collaboration was a celebration of that small window and a reflection on what comes after.

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