Karma Yatri Travel And Art (KYTA) 2018: Expanding Creative Enquiry Via Art, Culture, Travel & Experimentation

As is the case with most national projects that wish to inject sustained government surveillance into isolated territory – first comes the excuse for development followed by the highway or the road that eventually gives way to a burst in tourism or an inflow of outsiders. Kullu’s Parvati Valley suffered a similar fate when, by the end of the 20th century its potential as a resource rich land (to provide electricity to neighboring states which are richer and more ‘developed’) was recognised.

Set in most minds of amateur backpackers now, is Parvati Valley’s slowly (but hopefully), fraying reputation as a place limited to cannabis, psy-trance and ‘bhaijis’. The mid-range Himalayas are possibly one of the most soil and mineral rich mountains in the world; embalming floral habitat of medicinal value within evergreen mountains and meadows which give way to crystal blue glacial waters.

As a receding summer evolves into a chilly autumn, Karma Yatri Travel And Art – a 5 week long residency, subtlety charged by crisp Himalayan lushness, takes place on the edge of a hill hamlet named Kalga. For the past 5 years, Sunset Guesthouse has been welcoming an entourage of emerging and established Indian and international experimental practitioners across varied disciplines, to come together and create solo and collaborative pieces of art with the aim of engaging local folk from the village and around. Their playground – the village; and inspiration – its spectacular height and natural beauty, with the Himalayas being the youngest mountain range on the planet.

Karma Yatri Travel And Art (KYTA) is the brainchild of Mumbai based curator Shazeb Arif Shaikh along with Hashim Qayoom, who decided to station their interest in art, culture, travel and, experimentation in Kalga. The residency was set up with the idea to expand creative enquiry “across human endeavor”, through interdisciplinary crossovers with artists from across India and the rest of the world.

Based on what the curators have planned for the season, the resident artists’ work on combined or individual projects eventually become part of the residency archive. Each season accompanies a different mood, just as the artists begin to form a growing community of residents who add to KYTA’s evolving creative archive for example, the second year of the residency, (which was an Indo-French bilateral edition) welcomed artists to produce a feature length film together but were discouraged from bringing any opening ideas to the residency, hence situating it in spontaneity.

The village offers a healthy playground for experiments to take place, amidst apple plucking and evening sessions around the tandoor followed by bonfires – artists are left free to formulate their own projects which could also include engaging with rural folk, walks in the forest and general explorations of the environment. Uphill hikes stimulate ideas and creative minds while Lala Ji’s singular village shop provides for the evening warmth and rum.

Workshops, exchange of ideas and a series of performances follow the end of the residency where the resident artists exhibit their installations around the village, welcoming children and all those interested in the Open Village Showcase.

Over the past few seasons, KYTA has sustained a presence in the local community which is now, annually looked forward to by Lala Ji’s stand alone village shop, Sunset Café and some interested village inhabitants, most of who still cannot wrap their heads around the absurdity that materialises within the confines of the guesthouse and around.

However, during the final showcase, there are performances that resonate with the audience more than the ones of the post-modern kind. Last year, it was Susmit Sen from Indian Ocean whereas this time around, Tritha and her partner Fazal presented a story-telling recital that was a confluence of music and earth activism.

The residency has set up a few permanent facilities at the guest house which include a clay pottery studio and a baking oven. Under the guidance of Akash from sound.codes (a Mumbai based sound research lab), the residency has also built a binaural sound room in the guest house, which is open to anyone who wishes to sustain their practice and work on personal projects in the village.

Despite the residency’s stunted community engagement efforts, KYTA does well in offering shows and performances that unfold a seasonal excitement and anticipation amongst the few in the village, who’s ever welcoming nature allows the inflow of outsiders; for the sake of earning a quick buck through sustained tourism or, in the hopes of having their isolated land developed by people seen as ‘more literate’ or ‘bade loag’.

An annual 5-week long experimental collaborative residency program, KYTA is a gathering of a few selected artists and a close knit community of organisers and friends who, await the annual exodus to have their aching bones from urban landscapes sunned in the day and warmed by the night.

To find out more about the residency, visit KYTA’s website here.

written by Purnima Singh
images courtesy of KYTA Facebook Page

NEWS - 09. January 2019  

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