Tushar Joag: Invisible Cities

Tushar Joag, our mentor for the month of October, is a well-known name around the Indian art scene. He studied at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, and the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda . He has done a residency at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, in 1998-2000. Joag is a founder member of the artist’s initiative Open Circle Arts Trust, Mumbai. He has participated in several shows and received multiple awards. He lives and works in Mumbai.

His project, as part of the Master a Partner program with us, revolved around the significance of looking at our city from different perspectives. I mean how many of us have ever shut our eyes just to hear all the different sounds that can be heard at various times of the day? To know more about how the workshop went, read on…

Hi Tushar. Give me a back story on how you became an artist.

It wasn’t anything dramatic. I was interested in art. I used to draw all the time. My father wanted me to become an engineer like him but once I passed with merit on the entrance exam to J.J school of Arts he was happy and recognised I was good at art.


Were you excited to work with children? 

I was very excited. Working with kids makes you think about your practice. You can’t explain to kids if you yourself aren’t clear about your ideas, they keep you on your toes. They always come up with fresh, new angles that perhaps we don’t notice as adults. So yes, it was great working with them.


Sometimes it’s difficult for younger students to understand the idea behind installation art. How did you simplify it for them?

The whole idea was to create a space that can be entered. Like a sculpture, it is 3 dimensional, unlike a sculpture though, it has an inside and outside. Once you enter you can become a part of the installation. It’s a different experience.


What was the idea behind the project you designed for them? And why did you think of it? 

My work deals with the city. So I decided to make the kids look at the city, because everyone sees it differently and has different experiences and notions. I started the session by reading from and referring to excerpts from the book ‘ Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino. The description is such that the cities seem almost like surrealistic cities. It captures the manifestation of the experience of the city. The book is very visual but taps into the readers other senses as well. Similarly I wanted it to be more of interpreting a city in a different way. So i wanted their interpretation of the city. The most common thread was the recollection of journey to school from home and vice versa, and we built up on that. They wrote a text which describes their journey. Then I asked them to pretend to experience the journey again but this time with eyes shut and concentrate on all other senses. There were students from various backgrounds so I made groups so that were would be a conflict of ideas; which is something every city has. Can two people’s ideas accommodate each other’s vision? We used cartons, glue, Velcro and paint to build our cities. The insides became the outsides, in that they painted and animated outdoor scenes like buildings, construction sites and forests on the inner walls of the cartons. It makes you change how you think and break away from the apparent monotony of city life.


Did the project turn out like you had expected? 

More or less yes. The kids could have done so much more but unfortunately we had very little time. Even though a few weren’t focused they were really quite bright as a group. The age group was good because this is when kids are the most vibrant and they experiment and start formulating their own ideas. It was quite a brilliant experience.


After talking to Tushar, the concepts that he had wanted to show us through this project became clear as I had missed the first session. When I compare the work we did to what I learned from the program, the link is lucid. Even though we couldn’t add sounds and smells to our mini cardboard city-scapes, we tried to portray what we saw on the roads on the insides and what is usually seen in the interiors of houses on the outside. Tushar asked us to do this so we could move away from the boring and mundane, but I realised that this was also lead to a dialogue of introspection. What if for a day I let go of my facade and show the world who I’m inside? What if I for a day turn myself inside out? How would I see the world then? How would I see myself?

Who would have imagined that a few sweaty hours of stitching, gluing, painting, crumpling and sprinkling while also laughing and playing could lead to questions like these?

Written by Trisha Salvi


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