Contemporary artist Kurchi Dasgupta moved from Kolkata, India to Kathmandu, Nepal in 2005. And it was this move that created the artist she is today.
Like the first artist featured in the Places column, Meera Sethi, Kurchi’s work is almost a direct result of her finding herself in a new land; constantly observing and questioning the new and unfamiliar, and travelling in between – Kolkata where she was born and brought up and Kathmandu where she eventually moved to – armed with new perspectives. Through this interview with Kurchi, who is also a writer, TFM makes another effort to plunge into the idea of how places affect and shape our creativity.
How do both the places (Kolkata and Kathmandu) you are associated with influence your work life?
I started my journey towards becoming a painter after my move to Nepal in 2005. I had moved to be with my husband, who had moved there a year earlier to work in advertising in Kathmandu. Having made the conscious choice of making my home in a strange land, I found Kathmandu strangely disconcerting.
One has to deal with the initial loneliness, and the similarities in culture and yet the obvious differences, and the multiple layers of experience as the city reveals itself over time. Even after a decade, I find that every few months I discover a new Kathmandu city, yet another nerve centre – be it spatial or cultural.
In Kolkata, or the Calcutta that I grew up in, this spirit of inquiry and observation was absent in me. You are so at one with homegrown culture that you forget to observe and experience. It was the de-familiarizing effect of being in a country different from my own that made me not only excruciatingly aware of the nuances of the new culture I was tiptoeing into, but also forced me to reflect upon the one I had inherited by birth. It was actually the similarities in cultural practices made ‘other’ by the environment of an inaccessible language that triggered my introspective trajectory. So you could say my projects took shape thanks to my move to Nepal. I would not be doing what am doing now if I hadn’t.
Access Denied, oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″, 2013
What were the early growing up years like in Kolkata? What were some of the early creative influences? Your parents were actively involved in arts too.
Well, difficult to say. It was a different kind of time I remember when Indian cities did not glitter as they do now. I remember spending hours under the open sky on the terrace that adjoined our barsati flat at 67 Jatin Das Road. What comes back to me now is the time I spent with the wind, the clouds, the sky and the city’s skyline surrounding my terrace island. And a lot of interesting conversation – our home used to be a hub for intellectuals, artists, professors, theatre professionals to drop by every evening and on weekends. So I grew up listening to a lot of challenging thoughts.
My mother was an actor/playwright who wrote her own monologue-based plays and staged them – often on Saturday evenings at home and sometimes at well-known theatres around town. She was ahead of her times in the issues she raised. My father used to be a painter/writer.
Till the age of twelve, I think I was quite sure that I wanted to be an artist – a painter – never quite understanding that the job of an artist was quite different from what I had in mind! My uncle, who continues to be an abiding influence in my life even today, held us together like a nucleus. He was a rare professor of comparative literature, a subject I later majored in from his very department at Jadavpur University. Life was a continuous flow and ebb of discussions, plays, art shows, books, reviews, paintings, films and a lot of bohemian craziness. I think a willingness to embrace the new or unexpected and an equally strong belief in one’s own ethical stance was what permeated that environment.
It was the de-familiarizing effect of being in a country different from my own that made me not only excruciatingly aware of the nuances of the new culture I was tiptoeing into, but also forced me to reflect upon the one I had inherited by birth.
Tell me about your move to Nepal. When and how did that happen?
My husband moved to Nepal in 2005. I was working as the CEO of the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films at that time. I stayed on in Kolkata for a year but soon realized that Karno, my son, was missing out on being with both parents. I chose to move and join my husband in Kathmandu. Though I kept my job at The Ray Society for more than a year after the move, and traveled regularly to Kolkata on work, the move to Kathmandu allowed me the time to reflect upon what I really wanted to do. So I picked up my son’s paint-box one morning and did a water-colour. I kept at it for the next three years, mostly flowers and stuff, and began reading what was happening in art around the world. Those three years were a time for quiet learning and reflection. I started doing oils, by myself, as late as 2008.
What are your favorite places to visit in Kolkata and in Kathmandu?
In Kolkata, I do not have any favorite places anymore. Everything looks different, and I have lost track of my associations with them. If I think back, weekend outings to Victoria Memorial and the New Market and Park Street area with its cinema halls and eateries have left a mark – the Academy of Fine Arts for the art exhibitions and plays. Later, Nandan was a favourite during the university years, and of course attending lectures at Jadavpur University and more importantly, hanging out with friends over bunked lectures, were remarkably enjoyable. Now the city is too full of malls and shops. I can connect to the people but not the places.
In Kathmandu, I do not have regular haunts. Walking around Patan and Ason is something I do often though. And if you find me anywhere, it would probably be at events held at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, Bikalpa Art Centre, the Nepal Art Council or Theatre Village.
I remember spending hours under the open sky on the terrace that adjoined our barsati flat at 67 Jatin Das Road. What comes back to me now is the time I spent with the wind, the clouds, the sky and the city’s skyline surrounding my terrace island. And a lot of interesting conversation
Could you talk about some particular moments in Kolkata or Kathmandu, or while travelling which felt like a major creative breakthrough of sorts?
No special moment of epiphany, or nothing that I remember as having a unique significance. Just that my constant displacement between the two cities made me more and more aware of how cities, people, cultures function.
Also, a few of my friends introduced me to meditation, and that opened up a different dimension of understanding. I think because the mediation of language was absent in everyday life, I was suddenly face to face with things as they were, as opposed to a situation where words predetermined my responses to things and events.
Do you visit India often now? Do you get to meet other contemporary artists in India?
Not too often, at least once a year though. Usually to visit or participate in art events, or visit family and friends. Yes, I do meet contemporary artists in India and experience their work since most of my visits are art related.
Are there any particular places you head to if you are feeling low or facing a block of some kind?
Not really, unless you call the terrace in my Kathmandu home a destination. I actually take refuge in Google when I face a block. It always yields exciting insights – not only through theoretical advancements in various fields – but by the very structure of responses each Google search yields.
Is there a particular way in which Kathmandu inspires you?
If I knew how or why it inspires me, I would be out of here by now. It continues to intrigue and surprise me with its strange cultural and temporal oppositions.
But one sure reason is that it reminds me of a reality I had experienced when growing up in Kolkata in the 80’s. Now I can sit back and watch and analyse the various elements that make up this reality, and try and trace my own artistic and critical development back to the same.
In Kathmandu, I do not have regular haunts. Walking around Patan and Ason is something I do often though. And if you find me anywhere, it would probably be at events held at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, Bikalpa Art Centre, the Nepal Art Council or Theatre Village
I actually take refuge in Google when I face a block. It always yields exciting insights – not only through theoretical advancements in various fields – but by the very structure of responses each Google search yields.
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Kurchi Dasgupta’s photographs have been provided by her. ©
The other images are artworks created by Kurchi Dasggupta. ©