During her Indian Residency in January this year, Jacci Todd – a UK-based artist – heard about the death of the veteran Indian actor Om Puri. On the day the actor passed away, she was working on the Howrah scroll.
During our trip in November 2016, much had been made of the fact that Howrah was the setting for his (Om Puri) film City of Joy. We, therefore, decided to pay a tribute to him by sketching the image used for the film poster which also included Patrick Swayze.Todd, one of the artists who’s a part of the Silk River project
Exploring the unique relationship between London and Kolkata, 20 colourful hand-printed Murshidabad silk scrolls, each measuring six metres high, fluttered in the British sky.
As a part of this year’s ‘Totally Thames, London’, Silk River, a 10-day ‘art walk’ took place across the River Thames from 15 to 24 September. The final series of the project will conclude along the River Hooghly in December this year.
Created by Kinetika, the internationally renowned company responsible for the art installations that led the Athlete’s Parade at London 2012 Olympic Games, Silk River, is a part of the ‘Reimagine India’ series.
The event – which took place in 10 different locations across London spanning the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to Southend – also gave people the opportunity to exchange stories of both the rivers and the connections they have with communities living along the Thames and the Hooghly.
One such location is Greenwich and Woolwich. Here, the participants – through the eyes of a Lascar (Indian sailor), the ship’s cook – explored life on board Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship, which was one of the finest trading vessels that sailed between the Thames and the Hooghly.
Interestingly, at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the partakers got a chance to enhance their knowledge about the trade links between continents and living collection of Indian specimens preserved in the Palm House. Kew’s links with India, from quinine to indigo via the classic Wardian Case, were also highlighted.
Says Ali Pretty, Kinetika’s artistic director:
It was my first visit to India in 1984 that inspired me to work in the arts, using them as a tool for social change and community development. Silk River built on my experience over the last 30 years, bringing together communities from the UK and India for a meaningful exchange of stories and ideas. By sharing and celebrating the similar histories and narratives between the Rivers Thames and Hooghly, the Silk River project encourages the celebration of rich local history, and engages the community along the journey of rediscovery.
As the aesthetic design of the silk scrolls has been inspired by the traditional Bengali art form called Patachitra; they have been created by over 150 artists, schools and community members from 10 locations – each situated along the two rivers.
Through the Craft Council of West Bengal, we ordered 300 metres of silk woven in Murshidabad, thus giving a clear narrative of the luxury silk. Eight families weaved this special silk in teen tara (or the three stings), thus producing colour intensive and rich quality silk. Another main objective of the project is to revive the old trade links between Britain and Bengal through the use of silk.
The students of Belmont Primary School, through the poetry of Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore, shared ‘their own images and poems’ with the participants of the Silk River walk.
And, Mandakini Menon, a young documentary film-maker from India documented this unique journey. She said:
I chose to fly to London for two reasons. My passion for travel and love for art. Ali had offered me exactly what I was looking for – an opportunity to wander, learn, to grow and, to be a part of something great.
In order to fully understand the objective and vision of the project, Mandakini will document both series of the project to be held in the UK and India.
This will give me a clear image of each country, and their cultural and historical relationships. Ali and I discussed that the best angle to go about this documentary is to circle around young aspiring female students and artists. I want to depict not only the differences but the similarities between the two diverse nations as well.
And, if you aren’t a part of the group, do not get disappointed. You can experience and interact with the participants as the stories and activities will be available online.
(Anjana Parikh works with the healthcare sector in the UK. She's also a freelance writer based in Manchester. Before relocating to the UK in 2013, she worked as a full-time journalist with some of India's leading dailies like The Times of India, Deccan Herald and The Sunday Guardian. She also worked as the News Editor for a leading British Asian weekly Asian Lite. Apart from reading and writing, she also loves rambling and singing.)