Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nani at Artist Residence: Day 9

On the last day of residence, though tired from 
cumulative sleep depravation, I woke up even earlier than my 6 am routine. I prepared my ginger tea and headed to the library for my daily meditation before getting to work. 

When I got there, I walked over to the exhibition space and lit a small candle at the altar. I decided to meditate right there, in front of all of my ancestors, in front of all of the stories and images.

Through the residence, I had been terrified of the responsibility of
 telling my family's story. 

I felt a bit intimidated, embarrassed even about sharing such intimate details of my life, of our lives
...diagrams of the building where I grew up, that tender memory of sitting on my grandfather's lap, anecdotes. 

I was especially blocked with how to talk about death. 

In chapter 3 of the book, when my grandfather Dada passes away, 
the dynamic changes. 

It is at this moment that Nani transforms into the super magical character who lives in her suitcase and travels to all of our homes, bringing ceremony and celebration with her.

I had thought that if I managed to finish Chapter 3 during residence, my process once I got back home would be easier. 
I barely began the chapter on the last day of residence, when I realized that I could not rush it. And that more important than actually making the drawings, was all the previous work I had been doing which was helping me to reconcile not only with death, but with taking upon the role of being the family's memory. 

I felt grateful. 

Photos courtesy of CarlosGrassa Toro
La Cala de Chodes

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nani at Artist Residence: Day 8

On the eighth day of residence, I was going to be interviewed and the footage was to be used in the short film that would be produced about my residence, recompiled with all the bits and pieces that had been recorded throughout the week. 

The day before, Carlos Grassa Toro, the creative director of the residence (La Cala de Chodes), told me that he wanted to document me explaining the wall, and that in order to do so in a natural way, it would make more sense for me to have a public and invited his photographic team and some intimate 
friends who run an exhibition space in Zaragoza. 
What I thought to be a half hour of filming turned into an entire afternoon. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, but at the same time 
I was excited to share the work.

Beforehand, I began putting the final touches onto the wall.

It was clear to me that in eight days I wouldn't possibly have been able to map out the entire book. But it was important for me to make all the most important links visible.

Stepping back and looking at the constellation of images, keywords, 
ideas, letters and photos, I began to understand my necessity for telling this story even more.

I also begun to understand just how to tell it. 

Around mid-morning, I realized that if I was the story-teller, I needed to set the stage. I felt the need for ritual and theatre.

So much of what Nani transmitted to me was ritual and ceremony, 
that her honor, I improvised an altar.

And began to tell the story... 

This was the first time I was telling it to people who knew
very little about me, and their reactions helped me learn a lot
about my process. 

Between explaining the wall and the post-celebratory dinner of tandoori chicken, spinach raita and mango lassi, Carlos interviewed me, with the wall as my backdrop.

The film can be viewed here.

Photos courtesy of Rubén Vicente & Grassa Toro
Film courtesy of Rubén Vicente, Beatriz Ballabriga & Grassa Toro

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nani at Artist Residence: Day 7

Chapter 2: Casablanca Nights

From about the fifth evening of my residence, I began to work on the second chapter of the book. Unlike the first, in this one, a lot of my childhood memories appear...the house in which I grew up, 
my only clear memory of my grandfather, Dada the first day he came to visit with Nani. While drawing I remembered the smells of my childhood, the colors, the way I say on Dada's lap when he gave me my present which I have guarded as a treasure and which has has travelled with me to all of my homes. 

I have always felt that during the process of creation I relive the story, a new layer of sensibility awakens within and accompanies me. I receive and understand information that I was once unaware I had. During the residence, and since, this happens a lot. 

Making this book is a constant celebration.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nani at Artist Residence: Day 6

While drawing Nani's early life, and throughout the book, I decided to allow myself a large space for creative license, for imaginings of my own. These little escapes from the actual facts which mark the structure of the story, began to turn into little wanderings of mine where through research magical coincidences began to surprise me. 

In one of the parting scenes between Nani and Dada, when he leaves for Ghana without her in 1946 to begin to settle their life there, I had written that he leaves by boat. I don't know if he actually did, but I knew that the scene I imagined had to be by boat. 

I began to research boats that would have been used in Sind on the Indus River departing from Hyderabad in 1946, and found this wonderful image. 

The caption accompanying this image reads: Flat bottomed ferry boats are used even today to help travelers cross the Indus River near Mohenjo-Daro. Under the image of the tablet reads: Three sided molded tablet. One side shows a flat bottomed boat with a central hut that has leafy fronds and two birds on the deck and a large double rudder. Discovered in Mohenjo-Daro in 1931. Since iron was not yet discovered in the Bronze Age, the Meluhhan, the Mespotamian and the ships did not have mariner's compass at their disposal.
The Harappan ships probably followed the coastline during daytime; in case they accidentally lost the way and came to open sea, they seem to have kept in their ships birds, which on being released flew towards land and thus showed the way.

Thrilled with my research, I made my image.

And as a final surprise, while hanging it up on the wall, the background music was an old Bengali folk song by Nitin Sawhney which I hadn't heard since my London years, and which I did not understand. When I went over to the computer to read the title of the song I laughed and cried all at the same time. 

It is called The Boatman:

Baroshekar aador meke
Bheshe elam sagor theke
Baleer toteh notun disha

Adar theke alor mesha
Batash bhara bhalo basha
Ke kandare baicho toree aral theke

(Something) caressed with love
I drifted ashore from the sea
The sand shows a new way

The light blends with the darkness
The wind is full of love
Who are you boatman who paddles this boat, 
whom i cannot see

It is little big things like this that make me feel 
that everything is falling into place, 
that the book is growing into what it ought to be.

The song The Boatman talks about exile.
And accompanied me through the next image also.

Photograph of 1947 exile by Margaret Bourke-White. 

 Imagined image of Nani's migration.

When these little big things happen, 
despite the heartbreak that inevitably 
comes with making a book such as this, 
I am filled with strength. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Nani at artist residence: Day 5

By the third day of residence, I realized that a very important of my process for this project was collecting material, researching and interviewing Nani as well as other family members. 

As I had access to the exhibition space next to the library, one morning, in a fit of frenzy, I began hanging up images on the wall. Within minutes, I understood that what I needed to do was to make a visual mind map, some kind of constellation with all of the fragments I had been collecting. 

Seeing everything together on one surface changed my perspective completely. It was the first time since I began this project 4 years ago, that I allowed myself to look back at everything I had done. 
The feeling was overwhelming and quite magical. 

And then there was the magic of being able to draw on the walls, 
which somehow evokes almost the prehistoric necessity to make a mark and communicate something or tell a story.  

All the while, in the library, I continued working on final artworks for Chapter 1. I had occupied the entire table in the library with my photographs, sketches, notebooks, light-box and pencils.

Such a luxury...

Photos by Grassa Toro
La Cala de Chodes