2012 - 2016 |    socially engaged - hyper-local activism

Born out of a small community-building project created in reaction to the current state of fragmented cultural affairs of the rapidly growing metropolis of Pune. This project was ignited by a need for change, and through its evolution grew into a disruption of status quo amongst local artists, galleries, institutions, patrons, and viewers, by asking, “What is a ‘good’ artist? Who sets the standard? And where does the newcomer immerse oneself? How does one engage fellow artists in meaningful artistic exchange in one’s grassroots?” I felt the city lacked a cohesive platform for contemporary interdisciplinary arts when I moved back from New York City. I was keen on finding my artistic community here in Pune.

On 12/12/12 GAP launched its Facebook page and shortly afterwards, regular ‘Mixers’ – open networking discussion forums gained diverse outreach and great attendance. Simultaneously, with initiatives like Art Today, Pune Biennale, Chitrabodh, Chitra Samvaadh at Mahahrashtra Cultural Centre, Intach Heritage Walks Pune, Artphere, and Gyaan Adab were offering new interactive, nurturing avenues for artists, on their respective sides of the river. Pune, being a highly segregated social space, lacked a common ground for healthy interaction across barriers of language, class, generation, medium, caste, and gender within the contemporary art context. Thus, GAP was welcomed. Its strong interdisciplinary focus offered a non-judgmental and all-inclusive open platform.

By the end of 2013, Pooja Sood gave a talk at the fourth GAP Mixer at Ayatana Gallery, the space was bustling with about one hundred art enthusiasts, practitioners, and patrons. The prospect of a KHOJ workshop in Pune was presented to the wider community of serious artists and supporters. This launched GAP into the dynamic, tumultuous, and gratifying journey.

In mid-2014, Hotel Wellesley – a raw space still under transformation to become the future TIFA Working Studios – came on board as the venue sponsor for the international workshop. Our date was set with Trishla Talera and artists Prashant Kumar, Rajyashri Goody, Rucha Kulkarni, Snehal Kulkarni, and I forming the local working group.

Here, a spontaneous collaboration with Parris Jaru and Kiritin Beyer, two travelling artists formerly associated with Gelato Arts Salon in Brooklyn, gave birth to GAP Co[Lab]. A pop up, 'underground' public art event at TIFA was conducted over the weekend of 31st October to -2nd November 2014. We had an attendance of 400 people who came to interact with our topic of 'Natural Pigments' 

This ignited by the energy of the workshop, we set out to convince funders in Pune to sponsor our ephemeral, experimental, public art workshop consisting of 20 artists from across the world. Our enthusiasm found many deaf ears, and our art lay hidden behind the murky vision of commercial concepts such as logo placement, deliverables, return value, and relevance.

At this juncture, Arti Kirloskar helped us by organising
a fund-raiser. Another mentor, Satish Magar, helped us reinstate, “if culture survives, then the city survives.” We wanted to share our interactive public art with the overwhelming influx of populace of Pune. It was the need of the hour, for artists as well as the public, as things fell into place. Finally, it was with the help of KHOJ and our growing network of supporters, who contributed in small ways, with their time, effort, money, and barters, to pull off the workshop.

The site Hotel Wellesley and our residence Hotel Shalimar was the true heart of the workshop. GAP Mother Sarita Challa, with the help of Prutha Girme and Prutha Pathak, kept the atmosphere warm with their dedicated contribution to being there, no matter what. We were reminded of Pune’s charm by the overwhelming response of the food donated. A total of thirty meals for thirty people served everyday at TIFA were sent with love, appreciation, and admiration towards the artists. Such soulful generosity helped us believe more in our cause.

The blank canvas of the site and the city were exuberant in their enthusiastic response. The workshop space was abundant with all kinds of experiments. With regular evening sharing and discussion sessions, the artists were getting to know each other deeply. Our neighbors, ranging
from IT professionals to Pune Municipal Transport department mechanics, frequented our works in progress. The time and effort of volunteers Ashwini Chothe, Vinit Nemmaniwar, and the Hotel Shalimar staff was sincerely invested in aiding the realisation of vibrant concepts in the
grassroots structure.

As the small window of fifteen days shut and it was time for the much awaited Open Day, our new family of creative spirits boasted a wide array of works that were, in many ways, an ode to our city of Pune. We inaugurated the event with a bit of flair – a motorcycle stunt by Prashant Kumar – and embraced an unforeseen power cut with live saxophone rhythms. The people poured in, along with sudden rain on the 1st of March, 2015.

I believe that Khoj Refracting Rooms has truly created history in the artistic space of Pune, not only because of the high standard of experimental art that was produced and performed within such a short span of time, but also because the public of Pune responded to the art and us artists wholeheartedly. Rucha and Snehal Kulkarni were monumental in bridging the gap between the traditional side of town, and Trishla hosted Punekars from both sides of the river, thereby merging disparities that are dividing the scene in Pune. Thanks to the dedication and network of Rajyashri Goody, Prashant Kumar, and Sarita Challa, GAP was enabled to provide immense support to artists and their projects on a large scale.

I am truly grateful to Pooja Sood for patiently guiding us through every step of this journey. The power of KHOJ has inspired and catalysed vast amounts of energy to come together and implement change on home ground. Subsequently, GAP has innovated many new paths of thought and interaction over the few impactful and original events it has put out to the city of Pune - as an artist run, socially engaged, practice under KHOJ mentorship.

Pune is has been a tough city to crack. But its small town vibe has proven to foster this our artistic community. Such instant connections in combination with the throbbing growth and possiblity has allowed for us to be so empowered and dynamic.  Everyone from artists, institutions, and patrons have helped in strong sustainable activation of this KHOJ-activated solid foundation. The ripple effect continues. As GAP exists as a fluid organism of goodwill and good times among artists, thinkers, dabblers and leaders of the world. Everyone is a 'Good Artist' by association due to being an open networking platform.