By Priyanka Jacob.
“I think of architecture as how we arrange the spaces around us, including the small spaces. In India I have been fascinated by how things are arranged; the sweets hanging outside a shop, the bamboo scaffolds; bundles of flowers discarded at the end of the day,” said Sian Torrington, an artist from New Zealand, who was in Bangalore on a residency. I found the way she looked at the everyday things in India very intriguing; things that I walk past every day without a second thought, she found beauty and inspiration from.
About a month ago, my teacher asked me if I would be willing to help out an artist who was building a structure at One Shanthi gallery. I was told she would prefer it if those who helped her were women. At first I found that to be a strange specification, but, nevertheless, I jumped at the opportunity to work with an experienced artist from another country. I called Sian and realized she was just as excited to let me help her as I was, despite the fact that I still did not know what exactly she was building, I was excited by the mystery and couldn’t wait to see it.
The next morning I found my way to the gallery, fully expecting to be guided into a claustrophobic room with one person working on a medium sized structure. Instead I walked into the gate, welcomed by the smell of fresh paint and a huge bamboo structure on the side of the gate with colours of all kinds of material seeping out on to the street. And inside the structure I found a lively woman with short blonde hair covered in paint, happily sitting atop the bamboo, lost in the world of her creation.
I asked Sian what this structure meant to her and she told me how coming to this country helped her see so many different skill sets and material made by hand, that she had never seen before, the materials and motifs scream out the cultural heritage that India has. She used everything from bamboo sticks and painted Banana leaves to Saree material. She told me about how she felt when she walked out on the streets and saw that there were almost never any women out. When she went out she got a lot of curious looks, either because she was a woman, or because she was of a different race, or both. So she wanted to build something that she could in some symbolic way empower women.
I loved her concept and I loved that this was a kind of art I had never done before, and quite frankly, never found very appealing. But all that changed when I saw, after a week of hard work, a bamboo shelter, strong enough to live in, clad with very possible regalia of Indian culture. With its papier maché roof, topped off with a basket you normally see with the woman who sells you flowers at the bus stop in K R market, and different kinds of tinsel wrapped all around the structure, that reminds you so much of what Christmas looks like here in India. Or the many different types of cloth, cut up and used to adorn the shelter. With each piece, you can almost picture the kind of Indian woman who would wear that particular saree. The sides were covered with painted banana leaves, ones I thought could only be used to eat off of during an Onam Sadhya.
I loved how each little piece of the structure meant something special to Sian, someone who has come to India for the first time, for her it was a representation of all that she had seen that was new and different from her world and for me it was a reminder of everything familiar that I usually take for granted.
Picture credits: Rahul Accot