My dear artists – Aabra’ca’Dabra – conjurors of urban street art

April 16, 2015, 17:45. A break between two sax-guitar-sitar jam sessions. Some of them – clothes and palms coated with thick paints – are busy with their brushes on the pitch road along Dhakuria Lake. The two amateur announcers reluctantly get up, once again rub the dust off their jeans and take yet another hesitant step towards the audience. “Here. Look at us once more – two idiots in white – the colour of peace, you see? We are Aabra‘ca’dabra. We like to do art. Art is magic. The space where we live today severely needs magic. We believe that anybody can perform a magical act like we are performing today. And in this time we live, road is the only road leading to that magic.”

They could have just uttered the spell: Aabra’ca’Dabra!


Dhakuria Lake, Kolkata

The ‘performance’ that they are referring to is urban street art at its purest. It is a nonchalantly crazy blend of paint and music, movement and sound, talent and whim; a deceptively peaceful battle of the arrogance of aesthetic-intellectual elitism (almost annoying, though intriguing) versus the humbleness of rustic-bohemian intimacy (almost endearing, though incomprehensible). Last but not the least, Abra’ca’dabra is a chant about ‘art in protest’ and ‘protest in art’.

8B bus stand: Jadavpur

8B Bus stand: Jadavpur, Kolkata

Street art is often considered to be synonymous to begging – coins all around, a thin circle of half-bewildered half-amused mostly disinterested passerby crowd, an old mangy dog. A’ca’D is all that (except the dog, as of now) and some more. Deeply influenced by certain aspects of the mystic ‘Baul’ way of life, it is not contrary to the concept of begging. Similarly as the Baul, the A’ca’D ‘madhukori’ doctrine uninhibitedly offers its audience a fair share of pleasure, faith, knowledge, experience and realization as well as a promise of an alternate way of life in a coded language of art.

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Mademoiselle Laocoon

Random drawing (gimped) sort of inspired from Laocoon and his sons and vaguely from Saturn devouring his son though it’s not clear who is devouring whom in this one, or if anybody is devouring anything at all for that matter.

Or, like a friend of mine commented – ‘I really like the Laocoon etc… Tho’ to me it looked like Kali ma first and was wondering why shiv is running away and looking so small!’


Mademoieselle Laocoon

After finishing this I got obsessed with Laocoon for a while and saw these various awesome reproductions based on Laocoon here, here, here and here.

Here is the rough version of the drawing and I in fact prefer this one; the upward face looks more upward-like (it was bit of an effort to get there, and then screwed it up later somehow) and in any case my sense of colour sucks etc.

mademoiselle laocoon unplugged

My dear artists 4 – Soutick Saha

It has not been a while since I came across an artist, whose work I liked. But it has indeed been a while since I felt moderately magnanimous to post about one. It is a syndrome with a name. It is called self-engrossment (see how gross it is just by how it sounds!). There are few necessary ingredients such as collecting some snaps of the artwork, selecting the best few – or at least the ones I like the best (unless it is someone like Tejas, who paints three beautiful canvases and goes back to Mathematics), but most of all finding a free day, when I actually feel that I have some time for people other than myself, whew!

Soutick Saha is an undergraduate student at the Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI), in the department of Physics.  I met him about a year ago in at a short art-appreciation course. It was one of those hardcore gatherings, where participants including myself determinededly and what is scarier very sincerely listened, chewed, learned, indigested, discussed and spat art all over the space. Soutick, with his many questions shot at the speaker with grave unstoppability, chilled my teeth to the roots within the first half an hour of the first session. But then in a few days I saw his paintings.

Of course this painting is called the divine love and what else can it be, but I will not hold that against it. The medium is oil pastel and soft pastel (and before I confirmed with the artist, I was thinking it was acrylic – so much for my artistic knowledge!).

Are they not beautiful? The one in the right – I think is my favourite! Take a look at his Buddhas too.

Among the works of Soutick that I saw I felt that paint is the right medium for him, or at least he is definitely more comfortable with it. But he has a way with pen drawings too and among many of his drawings this is the one I thought I quite enjoyed:

He has a set of thickly lined, serene but quite emotional pastel landscapes that verge towards the abstract. Some of these I liked instantly and some took a bit of time but eventually grew into me and I finally decidedly to consider myself lucky that I went to attend that art-course.

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Travelogue 08 – basement 21 3rd Improvisation Session


Place-Alliance Francaise of Madras, 24 College Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai

Genre-Dance review

State-Cold (sitting in an abominably air conditioned room for three and half hours)

About-Improvisation in contemporary art.

”Preethi pulled Chandana into her circle of obsession and in turn acquired Chandanas’s stable serenity. She countered Chandana’s proposition of an abstract definiteness with a frenzied narrative of familiar gestures”… it was when I wrote this line I simultaneously realized that I was increasingly sounding like a football commentator gone slightly askew in her mind, and that it was really three whole hours that had passed since I came in. It was not an extremely intense technique-based three hours. Rather cornily, it felt like a fun time that allowed both a bit of work and a bit of gobbledygook, and finally seemed to get over before one would like it to. The genre of fun might have had a shade of the obscure, or more appropriately a hint of uncertainty. But that might have been the whole point of the session –one that probably made each participant think, search and improvise beyond the grids of the auditorium of the Alliance Francaise of Madras.

The ongoing rant is about the 3rd Improvisation Session that took place on October 1st, 2012, organized by basement 21, a platform presenting the ‘contemporary’ in art. It involved a group of musicians, dancers, theater-artists and painters –encouraging them to collaborate in arbitrary pairs and later in larger groups, to connect and communicate through their personal tools, techniques and temperaments (be it a violin or a body, a text or a canvas, a voice, a wish, a reluctance, an itch…). The broad goal was to smudge down the lines between those unfamiliar forms. But more locally, it was about learning to watch, hear, or just sense the presence of another person, irrespective of the apparent gap in their performance languages, to the point of being able to instinctively predict what the other person had in stock to express –a joint exploration of mixed media.


Not that one always had the right amount of time. The 3rd improvisation session allowed a pair of artists three minutes for a basic initiation and a mutual appraisal of style and temperament, followed by a short discussion and possible corrections, both by the artists and the audience (each of whom was encouraged to participate in the performances). Finally it was a full five minutes for them to explore where they left it, or to build something afresh. The time was not always practically sufficient for the duo to settle in, have a feel for one another’s responses and then fully explore the extent of that partnership. But in some sense it brought out the need for crispiness and quickness of thought for an improvisation to click -it was a research of the present, not supported by, thus also not burdened by a compulsive past or a future.

For me it was the first of that sort, for whatever I had composed till then as a part of a group of performers, unless it was an accident, always lacked a spontaneous common language within the group. They had either been blind pursuits of a mastermind, or juxtapositions of several isolated singly-processed fragments, since it had been easy that way; but as is known, and as it was mentioned and seen repetitively during the October 1st session –what was easy was usually what was to be avoided.

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My Dear Artists 3 – Octavio Arizmendi

Octavio is one of those totally involved hardcore mathematicians, with whom the first handshakes are always heavy with the weariness of having to touch a super intelligent alien from the ultra whateveritis galaxy. A PhD. student in Saarland, Octavio is on the verge of submitting his thesis within an obscenely short time period of two years since he began.

He is from Mexico, inheriting a brain full of complicated logic, coming from a family of lawyers. And he intends to learn German by watching German movie every Tuesday evening, without understanding ninety eight percent of the dialogue. But then the ways of super intelligent aliens are bound to vary from the common.

Within a few days I came to know that he was a footballer, and a painter too – thanks to Moritz Weber, a disciple painter under Octavio, working in the same department in the university. And while Octavio’s work in mathematics often brushed past my skull, without leaving a trace of understanding, I was much engrossed by the vibes of the tiny paintings of dark silhouetted buildings against yellow evening sky, made by him as a gift to Moritz. I was curious to see more. It was an ideal opportunity once John and I were invited by Octavio, Carlos and Barbara to visit their sixth floor apartment over an excellent Mexican dinner with chicken cooked in orange juice by Carlos, yoghurt pelted with apples by Barbara and red wine.

cuadro domino

The above is one of my favourites of his. I am worse than a novice when it comes to water colour, but it is not just because of his skill; what attracts me most in this, is the impression of a conversation that just came to a halt as I intruded in it. Once it feels like it was just a mellow correspondence, the next moment – an intense plot…


I wish I had a copy of better resolution of the above painting. If he had told me that he really saw a rhino pushing a dead tree with his horn in a silent marshland, I would have believed him. But then if he had said that he saw in his dream an mountainside river with evening looming in, and later copied a rhino out of a children’s book of animals just to decorate, I would have believed him too. Point is, it did not matter, the effect was overwhelming…

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My Dear Artists 2 – Koustabh Chakraborty

Koustabh Chakraborty and I met through an usual cobweb of innumerable via-media university-friends and drifted away, till I rediscovered him during the celebration of Dr. Binayak Sen’s bail on behalf of united students forum. I had been away from my city for long, hardly knew anyone with whom I could share my part of joy and overwhelm, and halfway through the program I started considering my presence as that of a mildly unwelcome naive tourist trespassing into the realm of intense involvement of thousand souls. It was a small relief finding his familiar face among them. I knew that Koustabh wrote poetry. What I did not know was that he was a painter too. That time I was in search of a painter for designing a website, and it was just out of casual interest that I formally befriended him in Orkut, soon to be bowled over by his “Tomar Ghore Bosot Kore Koijona” (How Many Reside in Your Heart):

Acrylic on canvas is his favored medium. Another masterpiece by him is his Dalisque “An Odyssey from Nature to Cluture”:

I happen to be a proud buyer of a copy of his Untitled Landscape (because it reminds me of my childhood for some twisted reason) and he owes me a treat ever since.

Some of his work that I love just because of the strength of their colors and compositions:

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My Dear Artists 1 – Tejas Kalelkar

The idea of sharing here the random pieces of art that I had loved, is solely and shamelessly stolen from the Global Art Junkie. But fans have their own dirty rights of interpreting/copying/stealing their idol’s ideas. I ardently believe what Mario Ruoppolo told Pablo Neruda in one-of-the-most-beautiful-movies-of-the-world named Il Postino, as the poet accused him of seducing the fiercely pretty Beatrice with sly uses of his verses: Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it. However, I cannot at the same time deny that I have somewhat been meaning to do this for a very long time. So many scraps of papers – smeared with paints, strokes, words… Some lovingly presented, some carelessly left at, some taken notice of only by vague chances.

What makes this essentially different from a general post about art is that I know these artists personally. None of them are anywhere close to professionals, but just forced to have sat and produced something out of a sudden whim that has been almost uninvitedly bothering them beneath their pituitary gland for a while. Thus my judgments, or rather emotions towards their work are very personal, as I believe it is indeed so, admitted or not, for any art appreciator living under the sky.

My first advertisement of one of those artists dear to me:

This is “Eyjafjallajokull” (the volcano in Iceland that was erupting just then), the Cracked Skull of Tejas Kalelkar. A unidimensional mathematician, a religious follower of jerky web-comics, a biker, a talker, a trekker, a meditator (specializing in Suryanamaskara that involves bending one’s body in certain queer positions for the entertainment of the viewers), an occasionally-aspiring-but-often-given-up-on-his-talents painter, and a friend. This is his second attempt ever to make a painting. His blog, where he writes down his thoughts once in a while can be found here.