Kindness/Udarta: Australia-India Cultural Exchange

Group exhibition, RMIT Gallery, Melbourne, Victoria, 29 June – 25 August 2012.

The following text, by Evelyn Tsitas, was published in The Melbourne Review, Saturday 7 July 2012:

AN EXCHANGE OF KINDNESS: When artists share cultures

RMIT Gallery’s exhibition Kindness/Udarta: Australia-India Cultural Exchange (29 June – 25 August) celebrates 20 years of the Australia-India Council’s successful program of cultural exchanges between Indian and Australian visual artists, writers and musicians.

More than 117 writers and visual artists from Australia and India are involved in the exhibition and accompanying publication, along with more than 23 musicians. Kindness/Udarta: Australia-India Cultural Exchange was inaugurated in New Delhi on 16 March by Dr Karan Singh, President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

The exhibition then toured to Canberra, where it was opened by Senator the Hon Bob Carr, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 31 May as part of the Australia-India Council’s 20th Anniversary celebrations. Brisbane-based artist Mandy Ridley, whose work features in the exhibition, shares her experiences about travelling to India and the impact the culture has had on her work.

“My first visit to India came in response to an invitation that arrived unexpectedly,” she says. “I was asked to participate in the 2002 Khoj International Artists Workshop in Mysore. Luckily, an AIC Grant provided funds for my travel.

“It was an amazing experience, bringing together 12 artists from India and 12 from abroad. The friendships made then have continued and infused both my life and work. The experience was so valuable that I subsequently applied for an Asialink residency in 2004, as I was keen to learn more of the traditional culture and experience and how it shaped Indian contemporary life.

“The basis of my Indian experience has been in developing warm friendships with individuals within the artist community. I have been privileged to stay with artist friends in Bangalore, Mumbai, Mathura and Delhi, so I wish to express deep gratitude for the great kindness, warmth and extremely generous hospitality bestowed.”

Ridley emphasises that “it is impossible to overstate the value of repeated visits, and the opportunity to host visiting artists here within my own family in Australia. This allows relationships to evolve and conversations to continue.

Such generosity and trust allows us to observe, ask questions and gain an understanding of each other’s daily life.

“After visiting India three times, I found that each visit gave me another layer of understanding of this complex culture. Beyond my initial travel brochure-like responses I experienced an extremely diverse society. It is a place that astounds, delights and challenges visitors on a daily basis, calling into question one’s own individual values and behaviour.

“I believe meaningful connection is more likely to occur if individuals have some understanding of the other’s worldview, beliefs or experiences. These things are articulated through rituals and objects of material culture. It is central to my process to try and discover the nuances of living cultural experience. So of course, chatting to people is everything!”

Ridley then goes on to reference the highlights of her time in India: “In no particular order... drinking tea, experiencing architectural marvels, following developments in contemporary art practice, monitoring social concerns and having fun in the moment with friends. Artists are working all the time. Usually when travelling it is more about researching. Concentrated studio time often comes later.

“My work attempts to convey something of the joy that I experience through the opportunity to engage directly with others. Hopefully this is a universal experience! I am speaking about the meaningful exchange or connection that occurs between individuals, sometimes fleetingly at a brief encounter or perhaps within an ongoing friendship; an act of kindness, a moment of understanding, even a shared joke; direct person-to-person connection.

“My works, Sunday morning walk 2011 and Studio visit 2005, which feature in Kindness/Udarta, refer to two occasions, of many, where I was invited to enjoy hospitality within someone’s home. The patterns selected refer directly to traditional craft skills that are relevant to the talented individuals depicted, a historian and an artist.

“It is the confluence of these elements within the work, which provide the hybridity I am intrigued by. In short, recording a moment of intimate engagement overlaid with patterns of geographic and cultural significance both for the individuals and their culture.

“Formally my work has been influenced by exposure to traditional craft practices and skills as can seen by my use of colour and pattern. Probably what is more significant has been the shift in thinking that has occurred through my experiences of living within such a rich and diverse culture. These skills have been critical in developing works for public commission as well as for exhibition.”

Installation view, Kindness/Udarta 2012Installation view, Kindness/Udarta 2012

IMAGES (clockwise from top left): Studio Visit 2005; Sunday Morning Walk 2011; exhibition view, the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.