Assam is one of India’s most extensive territories of the “Seven Sisters” area, and its landscapes, shaped by uncontaminated nature, are a mix of different ethnicities and tribes. Over the centuries the territories, rich in reserves and archaeological remains, have been controversial by neighboring states as well as discovered by merchants and colonizers.
Today, thanks to the passion and the visionary spirit of Paolo Rosso (artistic director of Microclima in Venice), the capital Guwahati and the surrounding areas are investigated by a group of Italian artists based in Venice, here personally invited by Rosso to lead long-lasting researches. Since 2011, therefore, the metropolis, located on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, hosts the Guwahati Research Program: a training and research context and community specific program, institutions free, self-financed and activated through other dynamics.
The purpose of the program, as the curator says, “is not so much the production of artistic work but to offer to the artists the opportunity to rethink themselves in relation to their personal artistic research”, in an unfamiliar context, in dialogue with the community, the geography of the territory and its historical and cultural traditions, all without imposing a time constraint. Central is the way in which the curator relies on the choice of the invited artists, primarily esteemed as people and belonging to the typology of the researcher and thinker artist.
Over the years, therefore, each of the invited artists has done nothing but to activate his sharp critical sense and spirit of observation and, in total freedom, trigger very heterogeneous practices and processes among themselves. For example, Mario Ciaramitaro with A strange darkness has dispersed various messages in the public spaces of a constantly changing city, Riccardo Banfi told of “being caught by the events” then impressed in the photographic work I found myself in Guwahati. Otherwise, during his stay, Martino Genchi chose the writing, while Matteo Stocco and Matteo Primiterra used the video for the documentary Shatalol. Edoardo Aruta, on the other hand, recently went to Assam with “the idea of doing pure research” and testing his skills in “an unexplored India source of stimuli and curiosity.”
Other artists have been to Guwahati several times over the years, such as Giuseppe Abate who worked on the Bhujia project between 2016 and 2017, where the image of the snack packets was designed to decorate the fabrics made by him with Assam’s finest textiles; or Alessandra Messali, who came for the first time in 2013, then returned in 2016 and 2017. The long lasting stay over the years has evolved and slowly transformed her knowledge of Assamese culture, then elaborated in the articulated project Emilio Salgari e la tigre based on the study of novels by the Italian author and on the relationships and inconsistencies between text and context. In her research, Messali discovered that Salgari, unknown to the locals although he set up his writings in Guwahati, had never gone directly to the site. The entire project, therefore, was conceived by Messali “as an experiment in which books are used as tools to reflect on what it means to represent a culture and what it means to be represented.”
The most interesting aspect of the Guwahati Research Program is to create a bridge between the West and the East, capable of activating a lasting link in time that favors the encounter between different approaches and visions of being and living the world. The ambition of enriching the imagery associated with the site, through practices based on the principles of sharing, collaboration and participation, is represented by the Guwahati Bamboo Walkway made from 2013 and now 400 meters long. It is a jetty designed by Paolo Rosso and William West in collaboration with the community and with local craftsmen from Majuli Island, experts in bamboo processing. The catwalk, conceived as an “experiment and a means to know the context”, has been instrumental in creating a public space because oriented to a pristine and virgin area of the city where the naturalness of the landscape nests the gaze of unique views, conveying the concept of the program as a container open to multiple practices and study perspectives.