This journal forms part of a March 2020 research trip to work with the artisans of Kumartuli (kumar=potters, tuli=quarter), North Kolkata, India who are globally renowned for their work with clay. A collaboration between Lucy Tomlins (UK) - artist, cultural producer and director of Pangaea Sculptors’ Centre - and Nandita Palchoudhuri (India) - curator and international art consultant in Indian folk art / craft and performance practices - the aim is to develop a cultural partnership that connects contemporary Western sculptural practice with the traditional skills of the region’s artisans.
Working purely from memory, the Kumartuli are best known for the likenesses they make of gods and goddesses for Hindu festivals, thousands of which are delivered locally and exported across the world every year. Their approach to their craft stems from traditional rural practices and philosophies. Their skills are embodied and they produce the idol forms entirely from memory. The clay is baked in the sun but never fired and in so doing, the clay can be borrowed from the earth for the time it is needed before being submerged in the river and so returned at a festival’s end.
This cultural exchange prioritises technical skills and craft, from diverse perspectives, to the furtherance of socially engaged, contemporary sculptural practice. It situates cultural, economic and social similarities and differences at its core, as a way to think globally across communities, to tackle global issues and to improve our cities through art and culture. This project’s outcomes and successes will stem from creating a context through which an exploration of these differences can explode new thinking, forge connections and ultimately create ambitious, innovative aesthetic outcomes that showcase the potential in bringing together diverse and unique perspectives.