Installation art: India Abroad

Installation art: India Abroad

On 28 September, three weeks from today, a giant, back-lit, inverted pyramid will hang in Old Billingsgate, which is situated along the Thames near London Bridge. Made of 3,000 delicately cut paper panels, the structure will be suspended from a high-tension cable and span the hall’s roof amid the room’s towering iron pillars and high ceilings. More than 700 guests will sip cocktails, dance and dine under the installation.

The creators: more than 8,000 children from villages across 12 Indian states

The installation—called The Light—will be one of two designed by Kaaru, the New Delhi-based design and architectural firm founded by Sanjib Chatterjee and Anjalee Wakankar. The giant paper chandelier, along with a black-and-white mirrored tapestry, will be used as the centrepiece and backdrop, respectively, at the Pratham charity ball, scheduled to be held there. Pratham was established in 1994 in Mumbai with the help of Unicef. The stated goal was to make primary education universal across Mumbai. The programme has since spread to 21 states, according to the organization’s website. It was named one of the top three development projects by the World Bank in 2000.

“I want guests to gasp in amazement when they see the pieces and realize how many hands participated," says Chatterjee. “I want them to think, ‘this is India’."

To make the chandelier, the children drew, painted and wrote on the paper before it was sent back to the studio. It was then sent to sanjhi (paper-cutting) artisans to design and stencil, using 4"-5" scissors, in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. The small pieces were then combined into 3,000 larger panels.

The intricate paperworks will be assembled on the day of the event, forming a 25m-long and 16m-wide inverse pyramid with its apex 4m above the ground. “The piece is about the spirit these children have despite all the difficulties they face," said Wakankar. “It symbolizes the restoration of childhood."

Wakankar, a designer and entrepreneur, teamed up with Chatterjee, an architect and painter, 10 years ago when they met in a New Delhi design office. Wakankar, a fashion designer by training, had worked in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with rural artisans. Chatterjee’s paintings have been exhibited at galleries in India and abroad.

“I felt contemporary design was a symbol of the West. I felt that the work here is incomplete," he said. The two jointly created Kaaru.

Empowerment underlies Kaaru’s vocabulary, whether in the design and architecture of its buildings and furniture such as tables, chairs or cabinets. Kaaru, which means “giving form to action or one who carries out an action" in Sanskrit, works with, and pays, artisans across the country to incorporate their craft into contemporary architecture. Kaaru, with a team of five in-house designers, creates pieces using age-old art forms in a style that transcends all borders, all the while supporting poor artists.

The design company identifies participants from different parts of India and imparts training suited to the skills of the villages. Kaaru used artisans it had been working with over the years for both charity ball installations.

Against the backdrop of “India Rising", a joint initiative between the ministry of tourism and Indian Council for Cultural Relations, involving a series of events in the UK from July to September, the design firm envisioned enormous space installations as the feature element for the Pratham show.

The River, the other installation at the fund-raiser, will drape the room using more than 1,000m black-and-white fabric. The fabric has been tie-dyed and embroidered with 350,000 hand-sewn mirrors by more than 600 village women, from Gujarat to West Bengal. The primary portion of the chandelier features a wave embroidered in the kantha style from West Bengal.

The installation, which took more than five months to create, will be lit so light can reflect off the mirrors. The heart of The River lies in the middle of the tapestry, say Chatterjee and Wakankar. A bold river pattern dominates the piece—an appliqué created from thousands of cloth pieces donated by Pratham children across India.

The scale and size of the project is enormous, says Chatterjee. Twelve villages spread over more than 8,000km participated, using 12 village coordinators. In addition, 7,000 sq. ft of textile and 650km of thread were used.

The piece represents the steady flow of life, and the need to sustain it, said Wakankar. “This piece shows a traditional way of living that needs sustenance," she said. “It shows that there are alternative ways of living." Six truck-loads worth of material have been sent to the hall in London and both pieces will be assembled there, just before the event, by 100 workers in about 12 hours.

Event management team, The Admirable Crichton, will work with chefs such as Rohit Khattar at this year’s event. Also on the cards is a live performance by popular singer Kunal Ganjawala.

Guests will also participate in an auction where events such as a trek through the Himalayas and items such as jewellery by well-known designers will be put on the block. Guests can also shop at a Meena Bazaar, a traditional Indian market.

What will happen to both pieces after the charity ball is over is still up in the air. According to Sunil Mehra, Kaaru’s director of communications, several prestigious London museums are interested in the installations.

The company is now working on a temple for the Jain community in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, in addition to building a 10-acre Heritage Arts Centre in Bellary, Karnataka. “We create spaces that are culturally alive," said Wakankar. “Places that will inspire you."

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