Last month was very hectic. Each weekend I was out of town but this particular visit to Uttarakhand was very special. My friend Nihar was going to visit his friend’s (also Rajeev) farmhouse in Uttarakhand and he asked me to come along. So we headed to the other Rajeev’s place. I generally go out of town with my sketch pad and an art kit. This place was beautiful. Pahadi river hills all around and reaching the farmhouse we had to cross the river on foot and the river current was very high. And then there was the caretaker’s family. He, his wife, and his two very very talkative and active sons, elder Dheer 10 yrs and Narendra 6 yrs. I trekked 6.5 km both wayss. It was a tiring hike. I attempted watercolor paintings during the trek but just could not do it. Partly because the fellow trekkers were not interested and I alone was not interested in sitting by myself for a long time on the way up. Also, there was fear of a certain leopard. Recently, a leopard had been sighted nearby that attacked a lady. The next day I sat by a stone on the river with my all painting items and both of the kids Dheer and Narendra huddled around me and decided to help me paint their landscape as I indulged myself in the watercolors. They both were enjoying this activity a lot. I finished my painting, returned my art materials to my room, and got busy with my friends. When we returned to the room I saw that both the kids had helped themselves to my colors and brushes. Except they did not have any art paper so they decided to tear up some paper boxes that had served as packaging for sweets and used them as a canvas to paint their beautiful art. They called upon the other neighborhood friends as well. All were there enjoying making art with my paints and brushes on the flimsy paper boxes. I was happy to see this and at the same time full of sorrow. Here there were children keen to paint but did not have all the required art material. The next day I went to the market and bought art notebooks, colours, brushes, and other materials for all of them. I distributed art materials to the kids and asked them to paint whatever they wished. They made beautiful and impressive paintings. They were happy and so was I.
These are the real painters, designers, futures of India. How much-hidden talent is present in India. I started to wonder what we can do for this talent in the remote parts of India. In some ways, the realization was painful, perhaps a new idea will take shape because of this trip.
Our digital art exhibition at Triveni Kala Sangam ended in Aug. It has taken a few months to gather our thoughts and experiences and finally pen them down.
One of the videos in the exhibition had a series of images and video clips with a single soundtrack. The sound of a sculptor carving a letter on stone. To get this sound we were able to ask a sculptor friend to let us film him carving a letter on stone.
We entered the College of Art, New Delhi on the day after their student exhibition. Students presented their yearly works across disciplines of painting, woodwork, digital, mixed media, etc. Since our arrival to film was the day after the exhibition, we had missed all of this festivity and were facing the disassembly of various exhibits around the campus. Artwork hung from sides of buildings with typeface written on it. Art being dismantled all over the campus. The artefacts, sculptures, installations were part of a two day presentation. Each step a piece of stone carved or a metal art piece being disassembled. The night before, I suddenly remembered that a world away, Notre Dame was on fire just last night. Something fell, some era, some inspiration, some dreams. “Where are you?”, I rang my uncle who was suppose to meet me upon reaching the campus. “E block!” he replied. “E-block in the back where the sculpture department is”. E block was another world, each corner a stone told a story, I kept thinking, why do sculptures always look so sad to me ?
Human figures, abstract shapes out of stone, the variety was immense and the energy surrounding the area was specifically youthful. A young man was blasting music while working and in that sound he found the vein that made him look like someone in meditation. He used an electric drill to carve a piece of rock. It is an overcast day in Delhi guaranteeing me a good photograph quality for the video footage I am about to take. The sculpture court is in the green area, surrounded by trees, it is green all over. Sculptures are hidden under branches, some bark is camouflaging a multiple armed figured. We are waiting for Tutu, chacha’s friend. Sculptor artist who travels the world. We were not expecting him, we were told his student would instead carve a piece of stone for us and that would be it for our purposes. He appeared nevertheless. Not at all different from his photos. Cordial. After introductions he escorted us to the workshop area. In the back of the sculpture department, under a banyan tree, was a worktable of dusty nature that spoke of being useful and sturdy. Workshop area had all around it, finished and unfinished pieces. A woman sitting on folded knees, wearing a tunic with her hands placed on her thighs looking upward and forward. I had decided the banyan tree would be the backdrop of this clip I would be filming. It would be fifteen minutes of footage to extract ten to fifteen seconds for our use. Cyrus, a student of modest demeanor would be the artist as picked by Tutu. We introduced ourselves to Cyrus he then left us to get his equipment while Tutu and chacha began to talk about Cyrus’s work style. Specifically his inability to distinguish himself from his mentor. No matter what he does, the teacher finds his way in. “I thought of him when I saw this” chacha says while caressing a 2ft x 1ft granite sculpture with acid washed edges. “Don’t tell him that, he may cry.” replied Tutu. Meanwhile Tutu shows me photos of his work. Turkey, Russia, France, China, commissions and competitions. The peace gate in China and a port from the era of Silk Route in Oman. I am marvelled at each “Ye bhi letterform daal deta hai, har jagah. Puri duniya mein Oriya kaat chuka hai ye.” And sure enough each stone piece has in it letterforms from Oriya.
“That one! Wait, go back, that one, looks like Russian? ” I read out the carved Russian word. “You are… you know Russian ? ” “No, I speak very little and I can read some, I mean the script, I can read the script” “Dobrey utra”
“Ye dekho, Russian seekh ke baitha hai.” said chacha.
“Mai jahan bhi jaata hoon, wahan ka thoda thoda seekh leta hun.” said Tutu.
Oriya letterforms in Oman, Russia, France, China, Egypt. He talks about the ancient world as his inspiration with its Silk Route. “I don’t go to Modern Art Museum. I don’t like it, I go to National Museum, there I feel like making.”
“Ye dekho, ye daraar hai, ye destructive hai bohot, mai destructive hoon.” He leaves a cut or fissure in all his works and then very visibly patches it up. Whether via metal or paint. What is this secret? This need or better philosophy. What is it? The ancient when it starts to fall apart, we have to renovate it. Fix it. Preserve it. I remember immediately that the Notre Dame spire collapsed last night. I ask them. They talk about how upset they are. “Four times I have been, Kal raat ko news dekha toh mera muh latak gaya.” Eight hundred years of history but I had spent all morning wondering what was burned by them to erect their churches but I shouldn’t go down that path right ?
Cyrus returns. I film him carving the stone with chacha’s directions. He is consistent every time with the hammer. Once in a while, he stops and slams the hammer hard on the table to readjust the stone with the wood underneath it. There it is, stone carving stone.
Before we had entered the workspace for filming, Chacha, Tutu and I found ourselves in the hallway outside, they reminisced together about days of learning. And out of nowhere I heard “Cut sir”, cutsir a name ? Cut sir they said, a sculptor like him not known in India. Tutu describes an art installation of two heavy rocks that Cutsir worked on, Cut sir insisted on a ditch being dug under it so he could carve the structure from the bottom. Everyone warned Cutsir of the danger of digging this ditch. But Cutsir, he could not be told No. “Haan! Bhadak jaate the! Kiski himmat? ” remembers chacha. Cutsir climbs under the structure after the ditch has been dug. He does his work, climbs out and two heavy rocks collapse right after to ascertain that he would have died had he taken a second longer in the ditch. But those rocks waited to be made beautiful before collapsing. Cutsir was known to disappear for months. And later he would be found, next to some creation of his, on some mountain he had resigned to for that period.
Chacha recalls identifying a sculpture by Cutsir once when he went in for a meeting with some government official. The structure stood outside the center, and chacha noticed Cutsir’s name in incomprehensible state. In his meeting chacha took up the case with the official to have the mistake be fixed. “No one like Cutsir. Only once in a long while.” so they said. He disappeared, he was just wearing those chappals he always wore and walked out of class and we never saw him again. It has been …. Twenty years ? Where is Cutsir? We don’t know. Later Chacha tells me in the cab. He knows what might have happened. They had made him incharge of a committee and that very day he disappeared, he had warned he would reveal all their scams to the world. The money misuse, bureaucracy, all of it. And he was gone before sunset. We don’t know where, a man who would cut stone and carved beauty out of sturdy mountain stones. Where did Cutsir go? Balbir Singh, was his name, a sardar man. In Mandi house gole chakkar there is a sculpture by Cutsir that one can see.
Yesterday we opened our very first digital art exhibition presented by Kaleidoscope Digital Art Gallery at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. “Fontwala: Stone to Mobile, what remains ?”
Photos above are from the first half hour of our opening on July 27 2019, 10:30 AM. Kaleidoscope Digital Art Gallery was taken over by thirty or so children came to Triveni Kala Sangam for a drawing workshop. I assumed that the workshop co-ordinator wanted these kids to experience a digital art gallery. I gave them a short spiel during which I quickly realised it’s better to show them how to experience the space rather than talk about what it is and what it is not. By observation I learned a lot about what spoke to them and all that is possible. It was a fantastic start to our opening day.
A change in medium does not mean the tough questions posed for an artist will disappear. In fact, in many ways the inquisition further intensifies. Following are the phrases I captured during the day that I was not entirely surprised by : “This video only has music in the background, there is no voiceover …. that’s it ?” I quietly listened and stopped myself from getting up and explaining why that music to me accentuates the transformation of a shape into a letterform, that each stage is a few centuries of change endured by the letterform. I did not need to explain it in the video, I did not want to explain it to them in person. Explanation to me, gets in the way of experience. Some visitors were bold enough to question, suggest and confront us because there wasn’t enough information posted around the video screen to tell them what they will be looking at or what they should take away. I learned a lot about how work is received by various people. Why one pines for explanation, labels, descriptions, when all one has to do is put on the headphone, surrender to the visuals on the screen and let themselves trust that whatever it is they are experiencing is all there is or may be there is more that can lead their curiosity, the work in front of them is an offering, an invitation, the road will still need to be walked by the viewer and hand holding is a surefire way of diminishing this adventure.
Photos below : Rajeev Prakash Khare as Guest speaker at National Seminar on calligraphy Kalakshar 2013.
Day one also showed how an opinion expressed at the start of the day which may seal a thought can be totally debunked by the end of the very same day. While my uncle (chacha) Rajeev Prakash Khare, the main artist of this exhibition provided calligraphy of names of guests in person who were attending, one such guest pointed out while making an instagram story of the calligraphy happening in front of her. “It’s a dying art really, calligraphy.” He being so engrossed in the movement of the letterform, simply nodded and replied with a yes yes, if anyone would have asked him if it would be ok to drive a truck over the building at a moment like this, he would have simply nodded and replied with a yes yes. I watched and took this in, calligraphy is a dying art. Towards the end of the day we were visited by alumni of chacha’s alma mater BHU, students who had taken his workshop years ago. They remembered his elaborate visual poetry of calligraphy in the hall where he went wild with paint on paper. They remembered it to be different from anything they had seen happen with the letterforms.
Amongst these young enthusiasts was a self taught calligrapher who spoke with chacha for long. He mentioned a group he was a part of with the sole mission of reviving calligraphy of Indian scripts. With infectious enthusiasm he showed me his work and admitted to me that he was not going to recommend our event to his group till he had seen it himself. He was inspired by our use of digital art and wanted to explore it further himself within the context of calligraphy. I remembered the girl from earlier in the day. In the same day I had heard of the death and resurrection of the art form. I look forward to being witness, spend the rest of these three weeks learning more about the observers who come into the dark room where they can rely on no explanation only on their own willingness to immerse.
In 2017 I began interviewing my uncle Rajeev Prakash Khare about his work as a typographer, font designer and calligrapher. In the past two years, I have heard him recount and share with me his journey as an artist. His fascination with Indian letterforms, that began at a very young age, holding on to that fascination and making the decision to pursue arts, having the opportunity to immerse in learning his craft in an iconic place that is Benares and experiencing the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur who wanted to place Indian languages at the forefront without compromising on their aesthetics, when digitisation of text became inevitable.
He created a software VSOFT, that produced Indian letterforms on the computer long before Google translate was around. The challenges of an artist trying to make it as an entrepreneur, an artist who must incessantly figure out the balance of art and commerce has been engrossing for me. As a theatre artist I envisioned this story for the stage and have used the interviewing and documentary theatre techniques from my training with Ping Chong and Company. However telling the story of a visual artist / entrepreneur allowed for exploration through more mediums.
Fontwala is now shaping up to be an experience that is finding its voice through a digital exhibition, a documentary and as originally intended, a live performance in the theatre.
We will be exhibiting at the only digital art gallery of its kind in all of New Delhi. Kaleidoscope Digital Art Gallery sits in the vibrant and beautifully designed Triveni Kala Sangam, a haven for visual artists, musicians, dancers, sculptors and many enthusiasts of these disciplines. Upon entering the building, once you have looked into the exhibitions of visual artists on the right, peeked into the sculpture courtyard on the left and entered the hallway, where an amphitheatre on your right catches your eye with its pristine green grass on the stairs that make up the seats, you may altogether miss KDA if you are not careful. If you land in the cafe, you’ve gone too far. Right before the cafe to the left are stairs that take you down to a humble space with six to seven screens where several artists in the past year have presented work they explored via digital medium. To me KDA in this atmosphere is quite symbolic. One must go looking for it or if you run into it, you will find an entirely different arts experience than all the rest in the building. Here we will present the journey of the letterform. Calligraphy and concept by Rajeev Prakash Khare, animation and video editing by me.
Details are here :
Kaleidoscope Digital Art is excited to present Fontwala: Stone To Mobile, What Remains? by Rajeev Prakash Khare and Shubhra Prakash from 27 July to 17 August 2019 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (Sundays closed) at KDA, Triveni Kala Sangam 205, Tansen Marg, Mandi House, New Delhi 110001.
A show that surveys the development of Devnagri script from it’s earliest stone engravings to its digital adaptations. The show explores the journey of the Indian letterform, specifically through Devnagri script. It investigates what is lost and what remains from times when legacies were written in stone and metal to the present; when the complex letterforms of Indian languages found their presence on various technical mediums after the development of the unicode. Through Khare’s perspective and experience as a typeface designer and calligrapher, the exhibit reflects on the pioneers who maintained the aesthetics of the letterform, the challenges experienced in transition from one medium to another; and the possibilities that lie ahead for the letterform and a call for technical adjustments to accommodate the legacy of notable Indian scripts.