Before every work of art, there is a scribble on paper. Unlike the finished creations, such registers rarely make their way to galleries. An exhibition by a curator from Surat, Karishma Shah, now brings the private jottings of numerous artists before art lovers, critics, students and other artists. The show, titled “Baat Chit 2”, is stopping by Pune on its way to Mumbai. The first edition was held in Surat. On display are 19 notebooks filled by 18 artists from across the country and one from the US.
“There is so much potential in the sketchbooks and daily diaries of artists that, sometimes, I feel that they are more interesting than the final work. I decided that I wanted to know more about the artists. This made me plan a project that wasn’t about the finished product but the sketchbooks. I wanted to make the books accessible to people who like art,” says Shah, who taught fine arts at South Gujarat University in Surat till last year.
In one notebook on display, Surat-based sculptor Pooja Mehta, who also experiments with food, traces her fascination with edibles to her childhood kitchen duties. Kaushani Bipin Patel, who lives and works in New York, has filled her journal with photographs, texts and drawings. “My practice is an attempt to understand the sense of self in domestic spaces that are particular to women; like the kitchen and the power plays involved in these spaces,” she says.
Mumbai-based Sajid Wajid Sheikh has two books filled with brushstrokes. In one, he is “having a conversation with the viewer in vibrations”. In the other, Sheikh has conversations with the cast of his lucid dreams. “The sketchbook is more of a dream journal. The drawings were mostly made first thing in the morning or post REM (Rapid Eye Movement) during late-night hours,” he explains.
Shah’s curatorial process was to send the artists notebooks — especially made by an organisation called Wild Child — to keep for two months. “If they know that the books would have to be returned to me and be exhibited, how would they respond? Would they think, ‘How can I give my personal sketches away to someone?’ How would the fact that the world will see their notebooks affect them? When you have a daily diary or a sketchbook, you don’t think about opening it for anybody else. You do it for yourself only,” says Shah.
Patel, who maintains a journal as a daily practice, says that the project was very revelatory. “I was aware of the journal having an audience at some point, but this is also how I process ideas in my daily practice. Journaling, sketching and photography deliver a kind of immediacy of thoughts compared to the final works. The project was an excellent way for me to witness my own thoughts, ideas and moods over a period of time and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she adds.
Savia Mahajan, a ceramist from Mumbai, who works with clay, paper, minerals and organic material in her art, fills her journal and diaries with notes, recipes, quotes, ideas and lots of found images that are stuck like in a scrap book. “A book as an object is an important part of my ongoing practice. I fossilise books in clay and I am very interested in its layers and the many metaphors that it holds as an everyday article,” she says. When Shah sent her a notebook, Mahajan treated it as something that is alive. “The book as flesh, the book as bone, the book as skin and the book as spirit — cutting its pages, filling it with bees wax, inks and turmeric, scarring the pages by singeing the surface of the paper, tearing pages to reveal the spine of the book, bruising the papers and so on,” she says, explaining the treatment.
“The curator was open to receiving the journal in the most explorative and unusual way possible and was okay with opening up multiple conversations through the artists’ journals. Hence, I went along with an intuitive sense and treated the journal like an ‘alive entity’, revealing all its flaws, secrets, questionings and turmoil gashed in the pages,” she says.
How did Shah choose the artists? She asked herself, “Whose sketchbook would I want to see?” “A few artists were chosen because I knew their work and felt it would be interesting to see what was behind these. There is a performance artiste, Vijay Sekhon, and I thought, “What would a daily dairy of a performance artist look like?” The result is an exhibition that allows the public to enter into the maze of an artist’s mind.
The exhibition will be held at TIFA Working Studios on July 27 (4 pm to 8 pm) and July 28 (noon to 8 pm)