Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Morning song

Woken to the conversations of car horns, tuc tuc beeps and the caw of crows. I had been so tired I slept through the anticipated wake up song of the call to prayer. From the window I can see rickshaw street sellers, preparing vegetables for sale, placing cauliflowers, mooli, tomatos and beans on their barrows flicking them with water to brighten their colour and keep them fresh in the growing heat. Men watering plants in their roof top gardens, preparing for the day. Jasmin cooked a type of parata and fried some grated carrot, courgette, onion, chilli and coriander for breakfast - wonderful food. We started slowly, still sluggish from the flight.

Pulak met us and we walked to Britto Arts. Crossing roads takes courage, Pulak indicated that the use of an outstreatched arm and full hand were the tools to use to stop the traffic, although this seemed visually out of proportion to the wall of metal that made its way toward us, with a bit of side stepping and a final scurry it seemed to work! I decided that eyes in the side as well as the back of my head would be useful on some of the busier junctions. Traffic cameras haven’t yet reached Dhaka so a traffic officer with a big stick tries to keep some assemblance of order on the larger junctions. The thought of steel toe-capped shoes also came to mind when walking along the streets dodging the rickshaws which came very close to my open toes. So many things to see and my eye being caught by all manner of things: the street stalls, small 1 room shops, hand painted bill boards, colourful cycle rickshaws, It was all so visually busy and at the same time having to look everywhere for traffic, it was difficult to stop and see things and at the moment I am uncomfortable taking photo’s of what I see …

At the Britto offices we met some of the members of Britto, Mahbubur Rahman, one of the founder members and Riaz a painter who also works in the government conservation department restoring paintings.

They are organizing an all night show, 'odd space', a live video link project with another arts organization in Vancouver and one in Karachi. Britto is one of the few arts venues in Bangladesh working with digital media.

Riaz took us on to the national museum where we met Keya another Britto member.

A dusty museum – lots about the natural geography, geology, flora and fauna of the country. But then the most amazing craft displays showing the basketry and textiles metalworking, boat building and carving from across the country, illustrating the cultural mix and ancient history of the country. Exhibitions moved through to the more recent painting and literature and the historic events of the freedom movement, the partition of India, the formation of East and West Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

There was a vast amount of information and too much to hold, so we made the decision to visit again with sketchbooks and pencils, unfortunately there is no photography in the museum.

I’m conscious that all of the Britto members are increadibly well traveled and experienced undertaking residencies and placements around the world. Feeding and informing their practice.

Enroute to the museum we passed the daily news pasted on a wall available for all those who can, to read.

There were also many markets and street sellers, the display and colours are wonderful.

We had a brief look at the studios at the art school and saw the work of graduating MA students.

Students talk of their study as 4yrs programme, due to national strikes and opportunities to intermit and take other projects, sometimes the study can take considerably longer.

We found somewhere for lunch and sat and talked over Lunch learnt a bit of Bangla ‘Dhono bad’ - Thank you’, ‘Tham Koto’ – How much? ‘Eta koto’ - how much is this? ‘Boro’ - Big, ‘Choto’ – small. As we left the restaurant I became aware of the sound of the ricksaws, the cacophony of noise had gone for a while and we had relaxed, to the quiet. Then, coming out of the restaurant for a brief moment there was a flow of rickshaws as they drifted past and the tinkle of their bells was like a river glistening in the sun, for a brief moment the horns of the cars had gone, a river of rickshaws.

We went to the house of Mahubub and Lipi and spent time talking and eating till the small hours. Walking through Dhaka at night, the air is still full of a mist which seems to desend with the fading light, a mixture of the fug of pollution from the cars and what seems like of building dust - the city is constantly being built and demolished and re-built, building materials are delivered directly to the sites and the dust fills the streets, the fine powder hits the back of your throat and is the constant dryness on the lips. Its surprising the plants and trees survive with their thick layer of grey powder, it gets everywhere and coats everything.

At night the rickshaw drivers use no lights and they weave their way down the roads dodging the potholes.

Shower and bed.