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Future Watch: Shaon Chakraborty

Shaon Chakraborty is currently working on what will be her first major solo exhibition to date. In our interview, the MFA candidate and Guldbagge winner speaks about the nature of her process and a body of work which revolves around the potential of public space; how to create and activate together – without claiming the space.

Shaon Chakraborty, Förvaret i Flen, 2011

C-P: You have a background as a photographer and filmmaker and was awarded a Guldbagge for Best Documentary alongside Anna Persson for 2015's Förvaret. What an accomplishment! Now at the Royal Institute of Art, how are you finding navigating in the realm of contemporary art?

S.C: Thank you! That film is what it is because of the collaboration with amazing people. Of course, Anna Persson, but also the producer Anna Weitz lies in the core of the film. Everyone connected to the film was sincerely dedicated, not only through their profession but also to the subject of the film, which I think comes through. Those five years fundamentally changed my relationship to art and life!

In regard to creating, I have always focused on the intention and the process of my work, choosing a medium depending on the need. So to answer the question, it is like “coming home”, being in the realm of contemporary art.

Shaon Chakraborty by Martin Brusewitz-Hernandez for C-print

C-P: While pursuing your MFA, you have so much on your plate already. There’s for example your collaboration with curator Joanna Warsza and CuratorLab (Konstfack) in Stockholm that has led to your working with public space as an artistic matter and which began with finding wooden logs from chopped trees close to home. Do tell.

S.C: The grove outside my home came to my attention during the close-down of school in March. The sound of chopping trees caught my attention. I asked the park management if I could take care of the material. My initial idea was to create sculptures and a meeting place in this public space using the wooden logs, where I, as an artist, would invite neighbours, friends and other artists into various cultural activities, such as film screenings, readings, performances, etc. While I was working there, I observed how the logs in this common space got moved around.

Becoming aware of this movement, I changed perspective and started to ask questions about the potentialities of public space; how to create and activate together without claiming the space. It is from this “outdoors studio” that my collaboration with Joanna Warsza and CuratorLab departs and is still ongoing.

Shaon Chakraborty, Earth body point: Belonging in silent interaction

C-P: What signifies the social exchange and collective actions carried out on this site? From where do you trace the interest?

S.C: Because of people moving the logs, I became curious about silent communication, the movement and interaction between us neighbours where I live. For me, the movement of these logs becomes a manifestation of our interconnections, traces of presence and communication. What is a collective practice? Can it be a collective practice while sharing the same space at different times? How to fully understand interdependence? What is the I? And the others? What impact do the differences have between the I and the others? Audre Lorde writes about the intricate play between individual beings, sameness and differences, in The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House;

Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies the security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Differences is the raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.

Our interdependence is something that becomes clear with the current pandemic; the invisible bond of breath.Through the project Earth body point: Belonging in silent interaction, I investigate the relationship between individual and collective being. Is it possible to say that we are in collective practice just by walking on this earth? And if so, how would such a sense of interconnected collectivity affect how we relate to, and encounter, one another in our everyday life?

Shaon Chakraborty by Martin Brusewitz-Hernandez for C-print

C-P: You’ve told me that you initially looked to the Royal Institute of Art after our mutual friend Theresa Traore Dahlberg turned your attention to an artist photo book course there. On that note you worked for your years on a photographic book project which derives from Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a subject that is close at heart for both of us. What stands at the fore of this specific project that relates to desh?

S.C: Yes, dear Theresa did send me a screenshot of the course The Photographic Artist’s Book and told me to apply. I am so happy she did! I have always wanted to attend the Royal Institute of Art and applied for bachelor’s studies many years ago and now I am here.

It is such a fortune to be able to share experiences from Bangladesh with you! I mean Bengal has over centuries been the great centre of culture and a hub for intellectuals in India. My work in Bangladesh surrounds my family home where 7 generations have been living at the same place. The house was built in British India which later became East Pakistan and now the same earth under our family home is called Bangladesh. I started to document my family home 11 years ago and quite soon I realized that my generation is the last which will have had the experience of living in this house and remember the pulse from there. All my cousins now live in different places around the world and my father’s generation is getting older.

The artist book Our House Has Stood In Three Countries can be read as a story that deals with changes, shifts and identities. But for me personally the images feel like snapshots from a weird dream, from which I am not fully able to translate what they really mean. I see them as a powerful source in my work since I am in constant dialogue with them. Bangladesh and my family are so close to me and yet so unknown that it is like staring into a mirror with no distance. That makes me go back to the images over and over again. I would love to work in Bangladesh from my family home in the future.

Shaon Chakraborty, (lilla boken) Bakggrundsbild: Arkiv. Image from the book, Our House Has Stood In Three Countries

C-P: Wow, 11 years is an eternity but arguably the amount of time a project of such great breadth like yours deserves in dedication. It’s unfair to ask but what is one pivotal image in Our House Has Stood In Three Countries that you are particularly invested in?

S.C: Well, I will give it a try. There is one image in the book that is not even taken by me which continues to captivate me. It is an incredibly beautiful archival image; it looks like a painting that has been perfectly composed. The photographer’s name is Sirajul Islam, and he had a studio in Rajbari at that time it was captured on May 6, 1975, four years after East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Yet it feels like it was captured hundreds of years ago. In the centre of this image lies my late grandfather’s body on the ground. He looks peaceful; my grandmother, aunts and uncles are seated, gathered around him with all the neighbours surrounding them. I never got to meet him since he passed away before I was born. Who were all those people surrounding them? What happened before his time of passing? How can one make sense of one's own history? I spent most of my time with my aunts and uncles before I moved to Sweden. They are so young in the image. How natural and yet at the same time painful it is to see life in its full circle.

It is strange to witness a fragment of a moment that is connected to many of my experiences in my life. All these moments to moments to moments which take place, relating to all the previous moments. I could write hundreds of stories inspired by this image. The photo feels like a seed to all my images taken years later, trying to get close to something I can never fully reach.

Sirajul Islam. Shaon Chakraborty's late grandfather Kumaresh Chakraborty, May 6 1975

C-P: You actually reported for us from the last Dhaka Art Summit in 2020. How connected and attuned do you feel with the art scene over there and its trajectories?

S.C: My parents have always been associated with the contemporary artists of their time, both in East and West Bengal. I have memories from my childhood of musicians, writers, actors, and artists visiting our home. Spontaneous gatherings of musicians playing music in the evenings, reading poetry, smoking cigarettes, making jokes and talking about politics. Through my mother, Bengali cultural life has always been present – even as we moved to Sweden.

In many ways, it felt important to visit Dhaka Art Summit and get to know some of the Bangladeshi contemporary artists and their work. I met quite a few artists from Bangladesh and being able to talk about their art was humbling and exciting on many levels. Getting a more in-depth understanding of my Bengali culture and having the opportunity to get to know what it is like to be an artist working from there was inspiring. Those conversations have continued since I returned home last year in February. Recently, for a future exhibition, I was invited into an artist group initiated by the Bengali artist Farah Naz Moon (consisting of Hasna Hena Porosh, Ruxmini Reckvana Choudhury, Saurganga Darshandhari, Renu Bariwal, Tanjil Tushi, Renu Bariwal, Seiko Kitayama, Sumana Akter and Nitu Purna). Most of them have known each other since before, and as a newcomer to the group it is crucial for me to get to know them. We have had a few conversations on Zoom, largely about our experiences of the pandemic and how it has affected our work. Once again, it feels like coming home, being a part of this group.

Shaon Chakraborty by Martin Brusewitz-Hernandez for C-print

C-P: I’m very excited about working together with you in my role as a curator at Konstnärshuset, in what is your first major solo exhibition towards the end of the year in Stora Galleriet. I have so much faith in this project and feel so inspired by and with you.

S.C: Ashik, I am so glad for the invitation and so excited about working together with you. I love how we have a dialogue about the work and how involved you are in it. One of the first things you said to me was how important it is for you to be engaged in the process from the beginning. I must be honest that it made me a bit nervous, not knowing what you meant. But getting to know how you work, it is really intriguing to experience your commitment and the way you challenge me in a delicate way. Both you and Koshik (Zaman of C-print) are so generous not just with me but with the whole art scene in general.

Thanks for your knowledge, support and faith in this project, I feel the same, inspired by and with you! In this process we have managed to create an open, creative, unfiltered space for the work to take place. That creates a safe ground which according to me and many other artists is fundamental for being creative. It makes me think of Ravi Shankar, the late pandit sitar player and composer talking about Raaga (could simply be defined as a large group of traditional melody patterns)

“You cannot treat the Raaga as if it was your servant. You cannot sit on its chest and order it to go your way. You should delve deep into its mysteries, dedicate yourself totally to its spirit and allow it to seek expression through you as a medium. Raaga also implies colours, as Rabindranath has it. It is the colour of your mind. The colour that you spray on others´ minds too. Thereby a Raaga spreads warmth among those that listen to you and binds both performer and the listener in an invisible bond of love and rapture.”

Ravi Shankar

I guess it is a matter of meditative practice to be able to channel one’s creativity in that way as many great artists have done. Regarding my work, this is the stage I am in, in my studio working; laying the foundation for the exhibition, where the thought process is in dialogue with the materials, getting woven together. Alongside our close communication I am in dialogue with a few other fellow artists and professors at school. There seem to be some notions which recur over and over again in my work that deal with movements, borders, breathing and healing.

Shaon Chakraborty's solo exhibition at Stora Galleriet, SKF/Konstnärshuset (Stockholm), curated by Ashik Zaman, opens Nov 12.

This feature was originally produced for C-print's The Future Watch Issue in print, a close collaboration with the BA3 Class in Graphic Design and Illustration at Konstfack, and released (May 2021) and sold at Index Foundation in Stockholm (our main distributor).

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