Event 1: Celebrating Women in Indian Art – The Kalyani Festival (January 18th, 2020):
Few know, and fewer still appreciate, that the woman is the cynosure of most Indian art forms: music, painting, dance, sculpture, poetry, literature, theatre. Be it a lovelorn Radha in a painting or a Hindustani classical bandish, or an apsara (nymph) sculpted on the wall murals of temples, or a representation of the divine goddess Durga in painting, dance or music – the woman, as the quintessential naayika, remains the protagonist in most artistic mediums in ancient and modern India. This was the essence of a day-long arts festival held at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center titled KALYANI, named after one of the thousand forms of Durga, as well as a well-known raag in Carnatic music.
For curator Yosha Gupta and producer Jayang Jhaveri KALYANI was a dream come true. “I had discussed this idea with Jayang in 2017 during rehearsals for a concert with the City Chamber Orchestra, and it took us the better part of two-and-a-half years of planning and anticipation to bring this to fruition”, said Yosha, founder of MeMeraki, a startup that promotes the work of traditional and rural Indian artisans. “Given Yosha’s deep links in the world of Indian art, and my background in music, KALYANI was such a no-brainer that it had to happen.”, added Jayang, a tech entrepreneur and the chairperson of In Harmony Arts & Culture, a non-profit that promotes Indian classical and folk music.
As a combination of visual and performing arts exclusively featuring Indian women, this festival was a first for Hong Kong. For many of the twelve artists and performers, this was their first ever foray outside India, making the event even more special.
The day began with exhibitions and workshops on Madhubani paintings, led by artist Pratima Bharti of Bihar, and Thangka art, led by Krishna Tashi Palmo of Ladakh. Young and old would-be artists clustered around tables, eagerly trying their hand at these traditional art forms.
A resident of snow-clad Himachal Pradesh, Krishna is an inspiration, with her story of struggle and mastery – not only over Thangka art, but also her physical disability (polio in both legs). Her ever-smiling face belies a steely determination and single-minded dedication to her chosen art, which also led to her passing on the tradition to future generations through a school run by a local NGO in her town.
Pratima, an exponent of the Madhubani style of painting, hails from the eponymous region in Bihar state and is a mother of two. She and her husband have dedicated their lives to this unique art form, which involves the use of intricate lines and curves to represent nature, mythology and festivals.
The afternoon, featuring live music and dance performances, was opened by prodigy folk and Sufi singer Maithili Thakur. In a world where reality music shows have presented numerous young talents in popular music every year, 19-year old Maithili stands out as a YouTube sensation who has built up a sizeable following through her power-packed performance of folk ballads of her native Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. She regaled the KALYANI audience with bhajans, wedding songs, semi-classical thumris and Sufi qawwalis sung in a fulsome voice that was breathtaking in its fluidity and range. What made her performance particularly endearing were her cherubic younger brothers Ayachi on vocal support, and Rishav on tabla. For some, it is truly all in the family!
Groomed by her father and nurtured musically by her grandfather, Maithili’s is an inspiring story: from a small village in Bihar to the urban sprawl of Delhi, her journey has had its share of ups and downs. Home schooled until the sixth grade, she soon became a favourite at inter-school singing competitions and all night jaagrans in Delhi. This was her first trip overseas.
Maithili’s rousing performance was followed by a rare exposition of Manipuri classical dance from the eponymous North Eastern state in India. Steeped in ancient tradition and drawing heavily on the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Manipuri (also known as Jagoi) is known for its graceful and subtle hand and upper body movements, as well as for its unique costumes. Four pieces, mostly centered around the love story of Radha and Lord Krishna set in the spring season, were presented by four members of the internationally acclaimed Manipuri Jagoi Marup troupe led by Rajkumari Sanahanbi Devi, who has practiced and taught this dance form since the last four decades. She received training from acclaimed Manipuri maestro Padma Shri Thengmaijam Babu Singh and has performed extensively around the world with her troupe.
The finale featured the young and upcoming vocalist Tejashree Amonkar, disciple and granddaughter of the legendary Gaayansaraswati Kishori Amonkar, the grande dame of Hindustani classical music. Accompanied by Yati Bhagwat on tabla and Siddhesh Bicholkar on harmonium, Tejashree presented Raag Shuddha Kalyan, an evening melody creating a calm atmosphere, followed by Raag Bhinna Shadja, a night melody with an intense feel. True to her Guru’s oeuvre and the stylised presentation of the Jaipur gharana, Tejashree gave her performance an emotional appeal, underscored by a gradual unfoldment of the contours of each raag, ultimately bringing them to a climax.
The specially constructed stage set, a recreation of the pavilion of Rani Rupmati’s palace in Mandu, befittingly let a surreal feel to the three performances. Each performance was preceded with a short video where artists spoke about their life journeys and their take on their chosen art. A special KALYANI thaal (platter) adorned with lights and Kumkum was handed over by each artist to the next in line, creating a bond of continuity. Ruby Mathur and Nancy Chan tied together the performances with their anchoring in English and Cantonese (perhaps a first for a purely Indian cultural event).
The enthusiastic audience response to what was most certainly a comprehensive cultural experience, complete with delicious snacks and chai, surely prompts an obvious question: what more do Jayang and Yosha have in the pipeline for Indian culture buffs in Hong Kong?
Event 2: Split personality of an artist by Urmila Menon
There are five series on display. Want to know the story / concept behind your favorite piece? Scan the barcode under the displayed artwork!
Home series: No matter how far you go in life, you always leave a piece of you back home. This series is my most personal expression of indelible childhood memories. There is a nostalgic story behind every piece.
Passion series: there is something very beautiful and raw in all of us. The energy of passion is a fire ready to roar. When we meet our soulmate, this passion elevates to another level, you become this one burning flame that engulfs your unison. This series is a celebration of that red-hot flaming passion!
Kennedy town series: when I moved to Hong Kong this neighborhood became my home for two years. These are all moments sketched on location. This lovely neighborhood was my solace through all the ups and downs of being new in a city.
In my head series: often our mind can play some really messy tricks with us. Self-doubt and anxiety are like the relatives who keep coming over but you never want to welcome them. This series is acknowledging all those dark thoughts, dark days and just sticking it out till it passes over.
So, this is me, breaking free, listening to that inner urge to express. I am sharing some raw expressions, no judgement, no rules. Each of these have a story to tell, ready to be heard. Shades of my personality expressed through lines and colors. These describe emotions, the only constant in this volatile mirage we call life!
Urmila Menon, is a Hong Kong based, Indian artist who uses different mediums and styles to express her creativity. Having worked in the corporate world, she decided to follow her passion in 2015 and delved into art. She is an active member of different art groups in Hong Kong. Her vibrant art is regularly featured in local media. It was recently featured in Zanna Art Magazine, UK and The Urban Sketching Handbook, ‘Drawing with a Tablet’. She currently works as an English teacher while still moonlighting as an artist.
All of her art is an extension of her personality and a reflection of her mood. So, you can see a lot of colours and some black and white as well. A lot of her pieces are very unplanned and impromptu, like her life.
Event 3: An Art Exhibition by Kashunutz Art
Kashunutz Art Studio is an institution founded with an aim to provide a platform for aspiring artists, mostly from the Indian community in Hong Kong to exploit their artistic talents through learning and mastering drawing and painting techniques. Since our establishment in 2014, we have held hundred of art classes for children and adult student who created excellent art works measuring up to professional standards.Each year, we aim to host an exhibition to showcase the outstanding artworks of our students and to recognize their achievements
We had our event Artists in the Making 2020 on 19th January 2020 Student Art Exhibition.