An International Artists Workshop 2005

Two week-long Khoj International Artists Workshop has just been held at Thane, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Khoj is an autonomous, artist-led, registered society, based in New Delhi. Established in 1997 and now in its eighth year, it aims to encourage experiments in artistic possibilities, create new links with artistic communities in Africa, the Asia-Pacific Rim, our neighboring countries and Euro-America and foster a climate of debate within the public realm about diverse art practices.

This year the artist-led initiative included a walk through the 'many faces of Mumbai' ' covering the colonial Fort and Kala Ghoda area, the changing landscape of Mumbai's textile mill area and even the slums of Dharavi- to complete the contrast, and to give the artists a feel of ground realities.

The artists together visited these areas, interacted with people, and gave vent to their creative expressions together. They worked on site-specific artworks, had interactive sessions, among themselves as well as the people.

It's a platform where several international artists come together and work with Indian artists to produce works of art in a variety of media. The artists also participate in outreach programs within the local community, including schools, colleges, and other venues. This participatory and creative event generally culminates in a show where the works accomplished by the artists during the workshop are exhibited to the public. In the recent years, artists from the UK (Scotland), France, Israel, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Japan, Argentina and Mexico have participated. This year 20 artists from around the world had assembled. As Somapala Pothupitiya from Sri Lanka reveled, this workshop is a great learning experience, a sentiment shared by all participating artists.

Khoj began in 1997 as a search that sought to question through an art workshop the divides between: urban and provincial; post-modern and modern; local and global; male and female; left and right; and the visible versus the invisible. The first group of transnational participants were Wendy Teakel from Australia, Rini Tandon from Austria, Luis Gomez from Cuba, Yoba Jonathan from Namibia, Ludenyi Omega from Kenya, Iftikhar Dadi from Pakistan, David Koloane from South Africa, Muhanned Cader from Sri Lanka and Simon Callery and Stephen Hughes from Britain.

As stated above, the idea is to build connections between artists/artist communities within the region and internationally, through workshops, residencies and exchange programs. What makes Khoj different is its informal, almost casual atmosphere, and the spirit of learning among its young participants.

The quest for a platform that brings together artists from various continents, cultures and styles was pioneered by Englishmen Robert Loder and Anthony Caro of the Triangles Art Trust at New York State in 1985. The annual effort gained immense popularity among the artistic community. When Pooja Sud of the capital-based Eicher Gallery floated the idea of Khoj in 1997 on similar lines, the British Council immediately backed the idea, and supported Khoj with exhibition space.

Khoj 99, held in October-November, brought together Indian artists with those from Taiwan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Poland, Thailand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, South Africa and China. The highlights of the event then were an Open Studio Day, which encouraged people to see and question artists on their art and a symposium on multiculturalism. Huma Mulji, an artist from Karachi, had then stated, "This was the first time I participated in an international artists' workshop. It provided me exposure to a variety of media, styles of work and techniques that are rooted in the cultural traditions of the artist's birthplace. Also, the workshop strengthens the spirit of discussion and debate," she says.

'The main achievement of international workshops like Khoj is opening up a comprehensive dialogue between artists where we can learn from appreciating the nuances of our cultural similarities and differences," feel the participating artists. Painter Subodh Gupta, one of the founder members of Khoj, recalls that when they began as a motley group of seven in 1997, they wanted to capture the essence of contemporary Indian art.

As stated above, this is an artist-led initiative to strengthen vital links and networks within artistic communities. Art critic Suneet Chopra feels that these workshops-essentially demonstrations of the merits of installation-help young Indian artists discover traditions that have always been here, and such attempts at participatory art help raise awareness among young artists. Artist Sunil Gawde also believes that such projects should be encouraged as they provide a healthy dialogue and exchange of ideas among the art fraternity. Bangalore-based artist, Ayisha Abraham, who joined Khoj International Artists Workshop 2005, gathered several inputs on installation art. In fact, it was a great learning experience for each participating artist.

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