April 1- 7 - COLOURING OUTSIDE THE LINES: Intercultural conflict management through collaborative art projects
Facilitated by Saba Qizilbash, the project focused on the current process of peace and creative exchange between the artist communities of India and Pakistan inclusive of Kashmiri artists. Saba Qizilbash, an artist, and art educator has a long running engagement in community arts programming. ‘Colouring Outside the Lines’ was modeled as a model visual arts workshop series designed to pedagogically intervene, and introduce inter-cultural conflict management strategies between ‘demographies’ that have had a history of shared culture, yet live in a conflict torn present, which have resulted in minimum inter-cultural accessibility and creative exchange. Coordinator’s Report on ‘Colouring Outside the Lines’ by Saba Qizilbash
COLOURING OUTSIDE THE LINES: Intercultural conflict management through collaborative art projects
Projects Dates: April 1st- April 7th. 2006
Participating Educational Institutes: School of Fine Arts, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore. Institute of Fine Arts and Music, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India.
Aim of Project
- To make the current process of peace and creative exchange between the artist communities of India and Pakistan inclusive of Kashmiri artists.
- To eradicate myths and misconceptions between the youth of Indian Kashmir and Pakistan.
- To engage the art students of both sides in a healthy progressive dialogue on contemporary issues in art.
- To bring visibility to Kashmiri visual arts by hosting an exhibition in Delhi and Lahore.
Target Audience - Artists, art students, communities of Indian Kashmir and Pakistan.
Colouring Outside the Lines is a model visual arts workshop designed to introduce inter-cultural conflict management strategies between regions that have minimum accessibility and creative exchange.
The first workshop brought together art students from Lahore and Srinagar giving them an opportunity to create collaborative arts pieces to be exhibited in Delhi and Lahore. Hosted and funded by Khoj International Artist Association, New Delhi, the main aim of this workshop was to make the current process of peace and creative exchange between the artist communities of Delhi and Lahore inclusive of Kashmiri artists by engaging them in a healthy and progressive dialogue on contemporary issues in art. Seven students from the School of Visual Arts, BNU, Lahore, were paired with five recent graduates of Institute of Fine Arts and Music, Srinagar. The two groups of students spent 1 week in Delhi sharing ideas, meals and living spaces at the perfectly located Khoj Guesthouse in South Extension. The workshop concluded with an open studio and a critique with visiting artists.
In spite of the distances and travel constraints involved, the first day of the workshop began with great attendance and enthusiasm. The last minute visa approvals and difficulty in obtaining bus seats had left the BNU students with no option but to cross the Wagha by foot and then take the train down from Amritsar. Apparently the difficulties did little to dampen their spirits as they made a pit stop at the Golden Temple before boarding a First Class air-conditioned compartment of the Shan-e-Punjab train. A few of the Kashmiri students made an exhausting 24 hour bus journey down from Srinagar, while a few of them were already in Delhi at the Jamia Milia Fine Arts department. The final Kashmiri participant made his way from Chandigarh, where he is currently enrolled as a graduate student.
After a great session of ice-breakers and group activities, we discussed the theme, objectives and structure of the workshop. The initial enthusiasm and warmth of the Kashmiri group began to be replaced by tentative silence as the BNU students took the lead with their articulate answers and energetic presence. The groups parted with an underlying sense of anxiety wondering how they would successfully complete projects in 6 days with people they had barely met. Along with that, both groups showed apprehensions due to the outward differences in mannerism and conduct. Reflective of their training, the Kashmiri group showed a keen interest in making paintings, collages and similar traditional mediums. While the BNU group flashed ideas involving inter-disciplinary approaches - combining film, installations and performance art.
The students were divided in groups of twos and threes and were encouraged to begin brainstorming with their partners. I rotated around the groups, assessing progress, hearing out their ideas and encouraging participations from all group members.
It is important to give a little background on the School of Visual Arts, BNU and its academic culture. An elitist institute, SVA has an energetic faculty of young artists, a regular presence of international artists-in-residence, well equipped studios, state-of-the art digital media labs. All these factors help forge strong ties with contemporary art happenings both locally and internationally. On the other hand, the Kashmiri students belong to an under-funded institute in the troubled city of Srinagar. My first visit to the Institute of Fine Arts and Music, IFMA had left me sad and depressed. Poor attendance, ill-equipped facilities, extremely low enrollment and an over all lack of professionalism plagues the institute. Due to lack of exposure to contemporary art practices and modes of teaching, the institute is stagnant in its growth. This was reflected in the portfolio sharing session in which questions on originality, copy work and appropriation were raised. The Kashmiri students questioned: “How is it your art if you have used references of ready made objects and popular images?” We book-marked this discussion for the following day and in the meanwhile sent out the students to hunt for inspiration and materials.
As planned, the day opened with a discussion on what is ‘originality’ in the context of contemporary art and the role of appropriated imagery in current practices. Through a quick Q & A session, I observed the beginning of an acceptance of the issue at hand. A clear understanding is something they may or may not accomplish in a few days, but the ability to accept non-traditional modes of art, as ‘art’ was a step ahead. Two evenings of socializing and working together had eased the tension between the two groups and one could begin to see compilation of materials heaped aside each group as they worked out their concepts and sketches.
Deeba and Hyder spent endless workshop hours discussing the distinction between differences and being different. They decided to focus on ‘humanity’ as a religion and its commonality in all races and regions. For their research they visited the neighboring temple in Khirki Village and collected materials that were also associated with Islamic sites of worship. They planned to create what they referred to as a ‘smelly piece’.
Maria and Eymah began with creating an artist book that recorded the lived experiences of the October 2005 earthquake victims. It eventually evolved into a flag like relief made of green and red chilies.
Ismet, Bilal and Rabia were initially interested in the idea of becoming familiar with each other’s personalities without the pressures of political consciousness. They decided to film a causal tea drinking session which turned out a lot more ambitious than they had planned. Shaina, a Bombay based film and video artist offered them to experiment with her multiple monitors, cameras and microphones that she was installing all over KHOJ Studios. Ismet, Bilal and Rabia sat in separate rooms facing a monitor, a camera and microphone each. All three participants appeared on the screen at the same time while they chatted, exchanged jokes and interacted with each other. The forth screen remained empty with symmetrically placed chairs and table where the three were finally to convene and interact in person.
Nadeem and Moira collectively worked on a painting in acrylics on canvas. They designed a surreal composition of a clock that had, with time, merged the Pakistani green with the Indian Saffron – based on their conviction that the political ties between the two countries have been improving since partition.
The final group – Arshad, Mariam and Mehreen created three posters each, paying tribute to the rickshaws of Lahore, Delhi and Srinagar. They furthered their research by placing these posters at a chaiwallah’s stall, a local dhaba and similar public locations. Questions were asked about the aesthetics of the posters, the rickshaw designs and whether they identified the rickshaws with certain regions. They documented the responses and jotted down the witty feedback they received in Delhi’s trademark street vernacular.
Apart from an injured cornea, an Indo-Pak currency exchange drama at Nizamudeen, the students had a smooth and productive week. At this stage the students were nearing the completion of their projects.
Due to a technical glitch, Ismet, Bilal and Rabia were unable to film their piece till today. By now the students had taken over the entire Khoj building, working in each available studio space. They had steadily made their way into the forbidden office space and managed to occupy a few of the Desktops for their editing and printing jobs.
What began as Deeba and Hyder’s project on ‘humanity’ and ‘universal religion’ turned out to be a pitch dark installation titled ‘The Feel’. Hyder made an additional video piece on peaceful co-existence by filming himself and his double agreeing on common acts of annoyance. Eymah and Maria’s piece evolved into an assemblage of red and green chilies, hung as a triptych in the main studio. Apart from these surprises, the remaining groups’ projects remained more or less the same. By 5 pm all the studios were cleared up. Works were installed, hung and suspended. A volunteer went around touching up on chipped paint on the studio walls. Projectors and monitors were in place and the sound system balanced at the perfect pitch.
The Open Studio attracted a small audience but essentially provided the students with encouraging feedback on their works. The students were overall satisfied by their performance and actively participated in the critique that followed. The works were brought down, packed and stacked to be carried across the border the next morning as the group said their final goodbyes.
Outcomes of this Project
- Open Studio consisting of 6 artworks (including painting, video installations, assemblage, and a public art project). A complete documentation of the brainstorming sessions, works in progress and process involved.
- An orientation of the partnering artist community through first hand communication and exchange.
- An orientation in working collaboratively with people from diverse cultures.
- Students worked within a strict timeline and successfully located materials in a foreign set up for the execution of their projects.
- Kashmiri students were introduced to new techniques, concepts and materials.
- Kashmiri students showed a keen interest in working collaboratively with students from within India, suggesting ideas for future projects.
- BNU students gained deeper understanding of Kashmiri culture, realizing the differences with the Pakistani culture in terms of language, traditions and history.
Evaluation of the groups’ progress by the facilitator. Critical review, Open Studio.
Saba Qizilbash is an artist, art educator - graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a Masters degree in community-based art education. She has specialized in community art programming, lesson planning, non-profit management, grant writing and mentoring of at-risk youth. Additionally, she has a BFA degree in Painting from the National College of Art, Lahore, Pakistan. She has conducted workshops in Providence, (USA), Karachi, Rural Punjab and Lahore (Pakistan).