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Establishing An Art Destination in India – KYTA

Design Log 30 Aug

What is KYTA, where did it start and what does it hope to achieve? Shazeb Arif S. from the artist residency answers our questions and brings us to believe in the program’s vision of establishing Kalga as one of the choicest places in the world to experience and create art.

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Close up of artist Maria Cukor's installation from KYTA 2016

For Kalga, a small hamlet 3 hours from Kasol and with only 35 homes, the past year has brought about quite a change. Rates of living in the hamlet went up 3-4 times this year as compared to last year and the face of the village is changing with locals sprucing up their lovely little homes.

This is simply one aspect of the impact a program like Karma Yatri Travel & Art (KYTA) can create in a region like this. Started in 2014 as a social-travel-art experiment, the experimental artist residency program has, over the years, moulded itself to look into the larger vision of the village which, according to Co-founder, Curator and Residency Director Shazeb Arif S, “is to be able to establish it as a global art destination”. In fact, the team behind the program are already looking at extending KYTA from an initial 5-year plan to a 10-year one to bring this vision to life.

“The feeling I got from visiting Kalga for the first time was indescribable. The place manages to extract a deeper feeling, an emotion that brings about a certain depth in the art”, says Shazeb of Kalga.

The fourth edition of the program will take place this year from September 08 to October 15 and will be a trilateral program featuring 16 artists from India, Switzerland and South Korea. “This year onwards, we plan to do a showcase within the village itself. It will be a 4-day showcase with exhibitions and live performances”, says Shazeb.

Art installations from KYTA 2014

Design Fabric: To start off, can you give us the lowdown on KYTA? What’s the story behind it, how did it come about and who is it for?

Shazeb Arif S.: Hashim, my partner, runs Karma Yatri, an experimental travel company, and has been visiting Kalga for years. He always felt like there was something special about the place that made artists thrive there and so he was trying to figure out if we could do something there, a basic residency framework to begin with. He got in touch with me six months before the first edition. My work is mostly in the experimental space and so we went forward in that direction and established the residency.

In the first year the idea was to have 10 artists from 10 streams who come together to make one piece of work and the human result was fantastic. The 10 artists had built this admiration for each other and ended up putting together a 22-minute film of their works titled Alpha. At the end we had such a good feeling from the whole thing so we decided to do it again and in the same place. I knew that unless we kept pushing the artistic production that resulted from the residency it would die because there was no funding initially. So, in the second year we invited artists from France and India – cultural exchange has always been important – and tasked them with making material for a feature length film in 6 weeks. None of them had any feature length film credits to their name, so this was quite an experience.

There were a few hiccups initially, but in the end we had a film that took us around a year and a half to finish after the residency ended. There was a solid result and it reinforced why we were doing what we were doing.

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KYTA 2015

Initially we wanted to make it a travelling program, however, after the first two years, the feedback we got from the artists was that they loved Kalga. We decided to continue doing it in Kalga for a 5-year period and build the private art collection of the village but more importantly focus on building the identity of the village.

To that extent, we work with 3 aspects:

  1. The residency

  2. What the residency generates: From artworks to private art collections that are out in the open, or showcased in homestays or available on e-archives.

  3. We want to make modest, humble facilities so artists have a reason to go to Kalga throughout the year rather than just for the residency.

Last year, we set up a small-scaled pottery studio, this year we plan on setting up an audio environment and hardware lab and by next year there will be a few other facilities. We also want to set up an extreme subject library that is open to people from around the world to send in books in hard form that are extreme in their subject nature and go deep into different streams.

We’re trying to create an ecosystem so that over time when the collections grow, Kalga will become a region that people will want to visit.

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Artists, Sachin Shetty  and Sam Heesen, at work, KYTA 2016

DF: Given the geographic location of Kalga, there are little to no resources available locally, save for the natural resources and basic tools brought by the artists. Has this ever been a hindrance?

SS: Actually, that was another wonderful discovery for us as we wanted to see how different practices came together and fed into each other. I mean, we sometimes do call for a few things from Delhi, but the stripping down, where you don’t have primary materials, leads to a different way in which artists function. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when you leave the artists without their materials they happen to find a way to express themselves.

DF: Certainly with a project like this, and in an area like this, there will be certain challenges that you face. Can you tell us a bit about that?

SS: The only barrier we saw for KYTA was when we thought about how we would support it. We knew we wouldn’t have any institutional support because of the nature of the project. Over the years, it has been supported by Hashim Qayoom and Karma Yatri and now it’s slowly building a life of its own, allowing it to go beyond us. And that’s what’s important.

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Artists at work from KYTA 2016

To be honest, not having any support from the government and them not being present in the region has been quite an advantage. We can do what we’re doing and there’s a sense of autonomy. The 35 houses that exist are extremely happy to help us however we need.

And this year we’ve got an institutional partner on board and that will help us build KYTA further, show credibility and really push it to the next level.

DF: Lastly, a few collaborators of Design Fabric – Sanaya Ardeshir and Arsh Sayed – have been part of earlier editions of KYTA. Can you talk about their contributions to the residency?

SS: Yes. Sanaya was an artist in the first year and it was awesome of her to come be a part. It was also her first residency. For her to be an artist whose work has an experimental side but also remains in the mainstream made her fit in. She formed collaborations with two other artists who along with her formed the music department in year one. Besides this she also tried something new since she started working with sensor-based electronics as opposed to synth-based ones. So, I believe she also came back feeling impacted by the experience.

With Arsh, he came to year one as a friend and a guest and got involved in doing portraits of the artists. He, then, came back in the third year along with Grazia magazine who did a 8-10 page story on KYTA and that was awesome. As we move ahead, we would like him to do more pieces and hold an exhibition within a homestay.

Art installations from KYTA 2016

To know more about KYTA, you can visit their website here.

Design Log is a weekly design document logging every relevant art and design occurrence in India.

Image source: Karma Yatri Travel & Art (KYTA)