Bengal artist explores language evolution in Kochi

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 05, 2013 20:40 hrs

Kochi: Even though migration from different communities into Kochi, the port town of Kerala has been going on for centuries, yet Malayalam continues to be predominant mainland language in this cosmopolitan city. So what happens to the languages of other communities who came and eventually settled here?

Sanchayan Ghosh, an artist academic from Santiniketan, was perplexed by this question and sets to investigate it further through a series of "workshops."

Ghosh, who is participating in the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Art Biennale here through his installation "Incomplete Circles-Invisible Voices" demonstrates how even words that seen alien can be connected through sound.

"As many as 24 communities migrated to Kochi since the coming of the Arabs, the most recent being the Kashmiris. I was curious about their oral traditions and the possibility of a meeting point for different language practices," says 42-year-old Ghosh, Associate Professor at Visva-Bharati University.

For this he developed an inter-language sound game, on which he has been experimenting for the last three years in the north-east region of the country where different communities live together.

"My sound installation indirectly address the notion of travel. This game is like a metaphor for travel. How do words of different culture evolve," Ghosh who stayed in Fort Kochi for close to three months told PTI.

The artist says he interacted with people from different communities such as the Konkani and the Gujrati among others as well as children from schools and colleges by involving them in his sound workshops. A text map of the game as well as an audio system is part of the workshop and participants have to read out a series of words.

Ghosh, who has a workshop background says he is interested in theatre and has been inspired by Badal Sircar who was an exponent of alternative theatre, known as Third Theatre.

"In particular, I am inspired by Badal Sircar's workshops which involved organic participation and interaction through games and were designed for skill development. In his concept, I found a lot of possibilities. I was seized of the idea whether these games could be shared in inter-cultural and multi-cultural situations in Kochi where different cultures and communities co-exist," says Ghosh.

Before he came to Kochi Ghosh says he read Sandeepan Chattapodyay's novel "Swarger Nirjan Upokule" (The Lonely Shores of Heaven) which the author had written about Vypin Island sitting in Bengal. He had written about relationship fo the Portugues and the local Muslim communities here. 

"I have attempted to use sound games as a method to create space for cultural interaction."

Ghosh's workshops are based on words loaned from the Malayalam, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch and Arabic languages. For the biennale, his work is based on Malayalam words.

"Earlier too, I have been holding my workshops on loaned words. Here in Kochi, I have been doing it with the help of Lokdharmi theatre group in Ernakulam."

Ghosh give the example of three words Kushini (cuisine) in Malayalam, Kitchen in English and Cuisine in French and demonstrates that the three words far removed from each other in texture and sound and drawn from language sources of different cultures do have an an underlying aural connect between them.

Members of the workshop begin repeating any one of the words in its normal rhythm, accent and pronunciation. Then stretch the word by slowing down its normal rhythm of the syllable or shrink the syllable by increasing its speed.

The process is repeated until the original letters of the words transform into a pure syllable of the other word and finally until the structure of the other word has been reached.

One rule of the game is that the shift from one word to another can't be sudden but has to be organic so that the rhythm of the syllables is not broken. "For example, you can't shift from kitchen to appam," says Ghosh.

"This game can also be played without reaching any specific destination. In the spirit of discovering like a true explorer, one can start from a destination (in this case a word) without a map and travel to invent your own way to a new place (this time a new word). In between, it can be pure state of wandering in the sea of sound. This way one can keep travelling to new words without any prior direction or planning," he says.

Ghosh says he is interested in community-based projects. "Communities are of two types traditional and defined communities, for example, Konkani and Gujarati as well as temporary communities which can be generated in temporary situations. But these can all become together in time and space in a workshop like the one at the biennale," he says.

The artist has previously exhibited his installation works in Frieze Art Fair, Regents Park, London, Light Installation in Durham, Spike Island, Bristol and Aicon Gallery, New York.

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