A medieval castle has stood the test of time in the narrow bylanes of PK Tagore Street in Kolkata. With its crumbling walls surrounded by a spiderweb of cables and advertisements, Tagore Castle rests silently amid the ruins of its oriels, turrets and castle gate. Architects Martin Burn & Co. had built the castle in 1850 for the merchant Kali Krishna Tagore, modeling it on a fortress in the Scottish Highlands. It is occupied by dozens of different tenants today. It was here that the seeds of the Bengal Renaissance were sowed. An exhibition, “Calcutta: Chitpur Road Neighbourhoods, A Kolkata Heritage Photo Project” at Triveni Kala Sangam, looks at many such mansions in north Kolkata.
Presented by the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts and Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, the photography exhibition comprising unique, handmade pigment prints by 21 German photographers is a result of efforts of German photographer and professor Peter Bialobrzeski, who devised a project to archive Chitpur Road’s structures as a historical record. In November 2006, he along with his 21 students from the University of the Arts, Bremen, set out in teams into the city’s crowded dusty lanes.
Documentary photographer and curator Tanvi Mishra, says, “ The aim is to raise a few questions. What is our heritage? The architecture built by the British appear to be in good shape and well preserved, like the Victoria Memorial. But look at the ruined state of these houses built by Indians.”
Large, manual colour pigment prints have taken over the gallery space with the grandeur of beautiful architecture, caught under the clutches of tragic decay. The collection of 58 photographs showcase narrow quarters and palatial mansions as a whimsical mixture of the East and West, with courtyards built according to Indian architectural tradition, and boasting of facades with Corinthian pillars.
With an eclectic blend of styles hovering between Moghul architecture and Classicism, people erected the “Bengali version” of industrialists’ mansions. With this, Mishra helps raise more questions, “If these private Bengali mansions had become public buildings, would they have had a better chance of survival as heritage properties?”
The exhibition is at Shridharani Art Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, till February 18