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Special Feature : The Aesthetics of Togetherness

Blurb: Collaborations are like an estuary, a large river meandering and finding its way to the sea, creating a space of hospitality between strangers, between two disparate entities, to accommodate the new and the experimental. Edited excerpts from the article.

Recently, a group of South Australian artists visited Jaipur and collaborated with some locals for an innovative intercultural project. There were 14 participants, men and women, all from similar fields: art, design and craft: some of them made paintings, some films, photos, podcasts, soft toys for tourists, abstract stone sculptures, t-shirts and ephemeral conceptual artworks on walls that disappeared after a few days; some spoke English, or Hindi, and some both. A few had been trained in India’s and Australia’s top art schools (Baroda and Adelaide Central School of Art). There were PhD candidates and those who had completed school up to Standard 5. Others were experienced in life and some emerging into adulthood. 

Amarnath, Soft Sculpture. Image Courtesy of Himanshu Vyas.

Welcomed by the Princess of Jaipur and her team, they met in the City Palace; a place where foreigners, visitors and creative and ambitious types had met for centuries. The group was given a new light white gallery space under old arches to sit on marble, rugs and cushions to discuss, talk, laugh and exchange ideas for a week between the hot rainy season and the onset of cold. A Rajput sun smiled hospitably yet powerfully over them from every vantage point.

Finding the common sensibility of the artist among this group of highly skilled makers and thinkers was the challenge which informed the Sisters Sangam model, supported in spirit and material by The Palace, the government of South Australia and the Adelaide Central School of Art, and built from the ground up by artists and poets Amit Kalla, Himanshu Vyas and Tabeenah Anjum, and curated by this author. It was conceived to ask the questions: Can extremely diverse people work collaboratively, challenge existing power structures and hierarchies, gnaw at colonial legacies both old and new. Such questions were identified as relevant and important, particularly by local Jaipur artists.

Installation by Daniel and Hansraj. Image Courtesy of Himanshu Vyas.

Significantly this group chose the word ‘sister’ to be the thread between the members’ work. A sister relationship speaks of equality, but even equality among siblings is not a given. Imbalances in power are omnipresent in human communities. India is no stranger to them, nor is Australia. The legacies of caste, colonisation and gender discrimination persist here and there and in between us. So what must we work at when we aim for the ideal of sister-sibling equality? What inequalities must we name and describe before we can change their influence on our behaviours? We can only answer these questions by engaging with them. This particular engagement was prolific in nature, with the 14 artists, in various combinations, creating 47 pieces of art. These were exhibited in the City Palace and then most recently in Jaipur’s largest and most popular visual art event, the Jaipur Art Summit. It is intended that this work will travel to Adelaide next year for a major exhibition along with some of the artists.

Himanshu & Jessie, HAIGA. Image Courtesy of Himanshu Vyas.

The artists who took part were Tabeenah Anjum, Amarnath Biswas, Daniel Connell, Zoe Freney, Jake Holmes, Amit Kalla, Yunus Khimani, Neha Kshatriya, Hansraj Kumawat, Jessie Lumb, Meena Mahawar, Shama Mahawar, Anjali Shekhawat and Himanshu Vyas. The artists who came as crafters, Meena Mahawar and Shama Mahawar, generated joyous sensitive paintings and photographic portraits, a huge diversion from the stuffed toy production. Quite predictably, the Aussie artists, and more, want to come back again and again.

Daniel Connell is a practicing artist, a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia and teaches at the Adelaide Central School of Art.

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