In this sport, the experience is decisive

Dmitry Pechurin is a 25 years old Chess boxing player from Moscow. He has fought in 8 fights with 7 wins, and 1 loss.   Recently, he participated in the first edition of Chess Boxing Amateur World Championships held at Khudiram Anushilan Kendra,Kolkata.

How did your career in chess boxing begin?

I met with my coach Marat Shakhmanov, who told me about this sport and offered to train.

It is very difficult to coordinate mind and body together. How difficult is chess boxing?

In this sport, the experience is decisive. The more experience you have, the easier it is to switch from boxing to chess and back.

What qualities do you think a successful chess boxer should posses?

It's simple! He must be able to play chess and be a boxer.

How do you mentally prepare for a match?

It seems to me that the main thing is not to think about the upcoming fight. Try to relax, listen to music or talk on abstract topics with someone from the team.

What’s your opinion on the future of Indian chess boxing?

I think that Chess boxing in India will have a great future. The tournament that was held in India showed that, unlike other countries, Chess boxing is very popular in India. Fighters of India need to 
gain experience in international competitions.

What are your future plans?

My plan for the future is to become a world champion among professionals. For this, I need to train the level of chess and boxing.


Theatre is live and immediate

Mukul Ahmed started his theatre career with The Half Moon Theatre, London. In 2007 he completed the Birkbeck MFA Theatre Directing programme. He has since gone onto direct a series of classics, new writing and play readings (nominated for the Amnesty Award). Mukul has participated in the Step Change programme successfully and Staff Directed at the National Theatre, England. 

Internationally Mukul Ahmed has directed Faust, Devdas and Three Girls from Shakespeare by Farrukh Dhondy; night, Mother by Marsha Norman; Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare; Black Moon; Sonata by Mahesh Elkuncwar and Oscar and the lady in Pink by Eric - Emmanuel Schmitt. Future plans include Olga's Room by Dea Loher and Roberto Zucco by Bernard-Marie Koltes in India.  Mukul Ahmed is the Artistic director of Mukul and Ghetto Tigers. 

How did you get interested in theatre? 

The madness that is theatre took hold of me as I went to the United Kingdom (in 1990) where I plunged into a career in theatre at the Half Moon Theatre.  Later on I completed the University of London MFA Theatre Directing programme in 2007.  
How would you describe your work to somebody- Do you have a style or a defining characteristic that runs throughout your plays?

I should state that my first and foremost obligation is to build a strong team even before I embark on the body of the work. I work from the premise that I know nothing!  The cast and the crew are the ones who bring their experience and talent with them to me. And slowly I handover the ownership of the play to the cast and the crew.  I consider myself to be the person who brings them together to create the magic on stage. Music (mostly live) plays a defining role in all my plays.

A big number of theatre and performance artists are producing new works and new modes of expression in order to dramatize the more current and urgent sociopolitical developments. 

Do you think local political theatre has any impact on what is going on in society?

Of course it does. Any form of art is deeply political. Hence political theatre agitates, provokes and reflects the sociopolitical developments of a given society.

Do you think in this world of hyper-digitalization, face to face interaction of art with audience has lost out to internet and its mode of communication?

Not at all. Theatre is live and immediate. It creates an unique human experience that no other form of art can do. The magic of theatre makes us realise the truth. People come to see live acting in order to be provoked, challenged and entertained.

                                                                                -  Mukul Ahmed

In your opinion, what are the most exciting developments in contemporary theatre today? 

Interactive performance, creating non-proscenium theatre, minimalism in expression and live streaming.

What advice would you give to people interested in pursuing a career i in theatre?

I don't consider myself to be an authority and I am not very comfortable in this regard. However, my humble suggestion should be - Dedication, Devotion and Discipline.  


The “Mind-Body “Battle

Recently, First Chess Boxing Amateur World Championships was organized by Chess Boxing Organization of India in association with World Chess Boxing Organization took place in Kolkata. More than a hundred fighters from all over the world like Russia, India, Iran, France and Italy participated. Thomas Cazeneuve from France was the official amateur chess boxing world championship gold medalist at the tournament.

How long have you been chess boxing for and what got you into it?

My first chess boxing fight was in January 2015. It was a kind of show for a French web series on Canal+, so not a real fight, more a demonstration to promote the sport! I've been interested in this sport since a longer time but I couldn't find an opportunity to fight! I made 3 more after + this tournament and won all of them! I started fighting when I was 15, by doing kick boxing, French boxing, MMA also and now only boxing! I started chess when I was 4 years old!

What sort of strength and conditioning program do you follow?

I'm training 6 days / week in boxing. I have also a diet and I'm trying to live in the more healthy way possible! Concerning chess, it's everyday by learning theory, openings, endings etc.

What has been the most memorable fight for you?

I think the most memorable fight for me and also the hardest was my first official fight in Berlin for the Intellectual Fight Club! I was fighting Igor, a Russian man from the Moscow chess boxing club! I won the fight in the 5th round of chess after 4 rounds of boxing!

How is the present scenario of chess boxing in France?

I'm trying to create the French federation currently! Wilfried, Matthieu and Stephane have the same will so together we will come up with something very interesting! For me a lot of people are curious about this discipline and there is really something to do about it! And maybe a chess boxing will be organized in Montpellier in May!

Do you have any advice for youngsters who are considering taking up chess boxing professionally?

My advice will be to train in both disciplines. It's not enough if you're a good boxer but not a good chess player and the contrary is also true. You really need to focus on this sport as a whole! Also, always stay focus it's never over! Your opponent can make a big mistake on the board, you can throw a lucky punch etc. Chess boxing is very tricky, make strategy! If you're better in chess, don't take any risk in boxing for instance!

And of course it's like everything, there is no secret, there is no shortcut, if you want something you just don't count the cost and do whatever it takes to get it. Don't listen to anybody, believe in yourself, you can achieve anything you want.


Holly Riva, singing with passion and purpose for positive change.

Holly Riva Moore, 14 years old, a passionate member of the Sydney Australia arts community and Nida, Australia’s leading school for Acting and performing.   Joining The Australian Theatre for Young People at the tender age of 3 ( ATYP ) in which many of the Australian greats studied such as Cate Blanchet, Nicole Kidman and Rebel Wilson.

After staring in many theatre productions, Holly is excited to have a new challenge, being signed up for a half feature European/Australian production, being filmed in Europe later this year. Holly takes the role of “Fleur” a ghost teenager and honored to have written a song featured in the movie.

Holly’s love of singing, acting and dancing has enabled her to perform in many counties worldwide, from as far as London Park Lane to Rishikesh India. In Rishikesh India, Holly sang by the river Ganges for the United Nations “Wonderful World, “to over 5,000 thousand people, celebrating Diwali and promoting clean water and global awareness.

Holly is proud to be an ambassador for The Hope Foundation Kolkata that looks after underprivileged street children; her message is “kids for kids”. Holly shares her gift in bringing a little magic to others lives. Once a year embracing a crowd of over 3000 people in performing and generating awareness at Foundation Day Kolkata.

Holly has a passion for writing her own music and is working towards producing her own album and currently rehearsing for events in Sydney, London and India later this year. Recently she performed at the Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata organised by Earth Day Network-India.

Who/what inspires you musically?

I have a large appetite for a variety of different genres of music including jazz, soul and pop with a twist of ethnic Indian. My favourite artists include- Adele, Lady Rizo, Michel Buble, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse and Sukanya Gosh.

Any specific song that is close to your heart and what is the story behind the song?

Summertime has inspired me as an artist as it is so powerful and timeless due to its metaphors of freedom and justice of the African American community.

I heard this song when I was seven years old, it touched my heart and ignited my artistic passion to interpret and create my own version which was my first time I ever made a rendition of a song. I have proudly sung this song all around the world.

What stands out as being one of the highlights of your career?

There has been many however 3 that come to mind are;
I opened Diwali singing for the Governor General of UP and swami Chidanada in Rishikesh it was beyond belief as thousands of people lined the holy river and I felt spiritually transported. London Park Lane, Four Seasons Hotel for a private fund raising function for the Hope Foundation, many high profile people attended. It was such an honour to close the event.

I am also an actor and was fortunate to have a lead role in a 3 month production called Mum and Dad, performed on stage in my home town of Sydney Australia.

You are a young Ambassador for Hope Foundation. Do you think that a musical artist has a sort of obligation to society?

I honestly feel that as an artist we have not so much an obligation more so a choice to create awareness with matters that concern us and close to our hearts. Allot of entertainers are not interested and that's their choice. For me singing with a purpose is more inspiring and far more powerful in change making.

Pic courtesy : Oxford Bookstore Kolkata
What are some of your most memorable experiences in Kolkata?

From the age of eight I have performed in the Science City stadium in Kolkata for The Hope Foundation. The feeling of having over four thousand people watching your performance is beyond words and joining in with the children of Hope in their amazing performances is truly magical. On that stage at the age of eight I had this amazing moment when I decided that this is my passion, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

What can your fans look forward to in the future?

This year I am so excited to announce I’m acting in a short feature film called “Reflexione”. 
We are shooting in Austria and I am honoured to play the third main. This will be shown at all the international film festivals around the world. I have written a song that production has approved for the movie! It’s my first song I have written for a film.

Also continue to write songs for my future album due to be released within two years. I am hoping to also return to Kolkata late October to perform live.


Kabaddi is gaining a foothold in Kenya

Phelix Odhiambo Opana from Kenya first came to India to represent Bengal Warriors in the third season of Star Sports Pro Kabaddi.

You can take the Kenyan out of athletics, but you can't take the athlete out of a Kenyan.  What makes Kenyan great sportsperson?

A Kenyan sportsperson I think is natural on their system since practice starts from childhood to date depending on a chosen sport of a person’s interest.

How did your interest for kabaddi happen?

I meet Simon kibura at the gym invited me to check out on the game and that's how the interest developed.

What is the present scenario of kabaddi in Kenya?

Kabaddi is the biggest game now in Kenya but with little government support but we hope for the best in coming days.

Is kabaddi gaining popularity in Kenya?

So far kabaddi is the talking game in town everyone is interested in knowing how it’s done especially after our performance in 2016 world cup and last month beach kabaddi tournament in Mauritius.

You have played various sports. How supportive were your parents? Was there any person who inspired you?

My family is a sports family. My dad is a military football coach and present referee in Kenyan football federation while my three sisters are international football players in Norway and United States of America. My mother used to be a volleyball player so there is positive support and my dad is always my mentor.

According to you what qualities should one have to excel in kabaddi?

To me experience first, agility, awareness, strength, flexibility; fiscally fitness too adds a plus to a kabaddi champion.

How has been your experience in India so far?

India is the best place to be.


Oneness and compassion for all beings

Jules Febre is an internationally acclaimed Advanced Certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher. He began his practice at the age of 6. Jules travels the world teaching Jivamukti Yoga, Hip Hop Asana, as well as immersion programs and retreats.  Jules teaches a rigorous class with creative sequencing permeated by yoga philosophy with joyful wisdom that inspires uplifts and serves all those he meets. Recently he conducted a Yoga Workshop at the Indian Council For Cultural Relations, Kolkata.

What brought you to yoga at such a young age?

I can’t say that there was any real divine inspiration on my part. I have an aunt and uncle (Sharon Gannon and David Life) who are very much into yoga practice. They are the one who started teaching me yoga. So I started practicing pretty regularly  from a young age. At the age of 13, I spent three months in India; two of which were spent in Mysore studying Ashtanga Yoga with Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois. During that time I was invited to share satsang with Swami Nirmalananda and Shyam Das.

Could you explain the basic philosophy of Jivamukti Yoga?

There are two elements. We advocate that the goal of yoga should be remembered by the practitioner and by the student. Sometimes, Yoga these days is only concerned with very short term benefits.  The aspect of the Yoga practice that really differentiates it from other things is the intention. The intention is to have an end result that benefits more people than just yourself. Jivamukti Yoga is interested in this idea of yoga of moksha/mukti/nirvana with using compassion as a means. Compassion not just for humans but for non human animal as well. We have a strong emphasis on ethical vegetarianism.

Also, the practice is very rigorous. We want the teacher and the students to challenge ourselves/themselves intellectually and to be engaged politically. We want to be role models socially. We want to have large impact as possible. We want for yoga practitioners to be synonymous with those of good character who are interested in improving the whole world.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from a life devoted to learning and teaching yoga?

Though there are several lessons, one of the things I try to remind myself is an act of sense of humility. Humility is not false modesty. Humility comes also with some responsibility to make change but it also not so arrogant that you don’t hurt others unnecessarily on your way to try to make the world a better place even in some small way.

What do you want your students to take away from your classes/workshops?

The main thing is-What we do matters. Only thing that matters is what we do. We live in a world culture that encourages us to take advantage of other people and of other non human animals of the world and that if you don’t take something you will never get it. What I am hoping is that through the yoga practice we start to see that the world doesn’t belong to us and that we are incredibly dependent upon the world.

What is Hip Hop Asana?

I teach a lot at risk children- children who have had trouble with the law, they have been to jail or might stand a chance of going to jail, or they have been kicked out of school or they are homeless. I come from a hip hop background. A lot of these children come from a hip hop background. So if I show up in a probation centre or a homeless centre and if I am playing a kirtan they wont relate to that. I was in a similar situation. Yoga helped me to understand the importance of my own action. Hip hop for me is the common language. So I have some hip hop beats but everything else is the same- breathe awareness, meditation technique, asanas and the philosophy. The whole idea is also to inspire people even if they didn’t grow up with hip hop. Yoga is multi dimensional -you can keep it pure and still let it be influenced in some ways by other things.

There are yoga sites that offer online subscriptions to follow yoga classes.  Your thoughts on online yoga classes?

You can’t undermine the value of having a teacher.  I haven’t met many people who claimed to be enlightened from an online course or had profound spiritual experience from online courses.  I think that in a world where people are so on a move, if it is a question between nothing and some form of daily inspiration may be better to have some of form of inspiration but it’s not to replace the relationship between the students and teachers.  This is invaluable because the teacher acts as a mirror. We live in an age where everybody knows everything and this leads to a certain kind of jaded interaction and people lack appreciation lot of human contact.

What is the Importance of Yoga in the modern world?

My teacher believes that the reason that yoga is so popular today because the earth needs more people to slow this incredible process(not necessarily progress) that is causing massive destruction on a scale that we have never seen before. Yes we have more information but it’s not always having the desired outcome. I hope that yoga causes people to have an awareness of how our actions continue to resonate and affects other people.

What is your advice to yoga beginners?

You can always tell when someone is a beginner. They are always worried about the goal, the end result. When you talk to somebody who is well practiced then they sees that the path is almost endless.  The end result may never come. So patience is very important.  If you are interested in overcoming the fluctuations in the mind that cause lack of self confidence, if you are interested in overcoming  the habits that cause mental and physical distraction/sickness  to yourself and others then practice yoga. You have to willing to put everything in your practice. Change usually doesn’t come when you are comfortable. You have to be willingly to be uncomfortable.


Thumbs up to hitchhiking

Ensar Sevindik started hitchhiking when he was only 15 years old. He used to go to school in local public bus. The government sold it to a private company. They raised the prices of the ticket. Ensar says “I and my friend decided not to use the bus. I have read about hitchhiking. I thought of trying hitchhiking with my friend. I still remember the driver of the car asking me “Where are you going kids?” We said to him that we were going to school. He said to jump in.” That’s how it began. Everyday Ensar used to hitchhike to school. During the summers he used to hitchhike to beaches. Later on he started to hitchhike to other cities. Ensar fell in love with hitchhiking. “Hitchhiking is undoubtedly a glorious way to experience the essence of wandering. You can make new friends. Exchange experiences, thoughts and stories with your new companions, get to know them. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn!”

Talking about inspiration Ensar says,” It is not about the destination, rather the journey. It gives the chance to meet locals, learn more about their country from their point of view and have a more in depth insight into their culture.”

Ensar found India to be the most Hospitable country. “The sheer love that was showered on me by random people was overwhelming. I landed in India with $2 in my pocket. Our flight company lost our luggage. So we convinced the security guards to let us go out from the airport since the cost of food inside the lounge was expensive. So I played ukulele on the street and people gave me money. One memorable incident was on my way to Nepal. I reached Raxaul at night. The hotel didn’t allow any foreigners. But this one guy in Raxaul was very helpful and rode for 2 hrs with me.”

Ensar feels the driving speed on Indian road is a challenge for a hitchhiker. It’s not good to hitchhike at night.  The most seasoned hitchhikers, when reaching India, often jump on a train. Ensar says that hitchhiking in Turkey is very famous. Children’s in high schools are hitchhiking. There is a Facebook page on hitchhiking Turkey. More of female are getting into hitchhiking.

Ensar’s word of advice for people who are interested in hitchhiking“First start, in your city. Then make short distance hitchhiking. Wear clothes that area clean and decent. There will be times when you wait no more than few minutes, but there will also be times when you wait for hours. Have considerable patience. Give a good excuse to get off if you feel uncomfortable with the driver. Hitchhiking at night is definitely not as easy as during daylight. So try to avoid night time hitchhiking.”

Ensar left his engineering studies. But he considers himself to be a student of University of Life.

For details check these links-


Art-An Imitation of Life

As a painter and calligrapher, Ziba Vishteh, from Iran, paints portraits of men and women and -in the process dives deep into their personality traits, narrow curves and tiny voices of their psychological intent. Her compositions seem as if the world has been buried under the blind patches and bold strokes of warm colors reminiscent of the works of those German Expressionists. Ziba was one of the Fifteen artists from eight countries who came together recently in Kolkata to express their vision to create a symphony of visual, where the artists have tried to remove boundaries. Sixth Dimensions organized this International Art Show titled ‘WE DO NOT WANT TO DRAW THE LINE’ at Birla Academy of Art and Culture.

When did you realize you had an aptitude for painting and what motivated you to take this route?

The Art has come to me naturally there was no motivation or inspiration factor. After graduating from Technical University in Architecture, I couldn't pursue in the field of architecture due to certain family reasons but since I always wanted to do and achieve something in life, I started learning Painting and Calligraphy, with passing time my interest in Art kept developing and I continued with experience the Painting is a passion for me, I enjoy my each new painting

What is the inspiration behind your paintings? Does each piece have its own approach and inspiration, or is it just simply that you enjoy painting and painting what comes to mind at the moment?

My paintings has many stories, they are inspired by my friends, life incidents and the people around me. At times when I see some unusual happening or object ,first I think about it and see it again n again then it gets registered in my mind and finally it drops down on my Canvas ,but to tell you the truth it is always me on the canvas(portrait) .

What has been your biggest struggle as an artist so far?

At times my art is affected when I see, many of my people in pain and this pain travels to me and makes me depressed as well . The other problem I see being a woman that in all circumstances whether it is human relation ,family life or society obligations,only woman suffer the most ,though I never say men don't suffer . The other concern for me this war in world, these conflicts among religions, societies and countries, as an artist I look for peace for all human being.


Communicating through Dance

Ady Elzam is an artist, dancer, teacher and choreographer, with a deep technical background in contemporary dance, improvisation and performance. For many years Ady has been exploring movement dynamics in partner work, his main interest is in the communication that creates clear understanding between partners, as if no words are needed. This applies also to the relationship of the observer and the observed. As a performer he’s interested in the artist’s ability to expose oneself, evoke emotion in the audience, and the connection between the two. Recently he performed at the ICCR Kolkata "It Couldn’t Have Happened Before” (Choreographed by Dafi Altabeb & Nini Moshe, the piece is danced and co-created by Ady Elzam and Noga Golan)

When did you first realize that dance was your passion? 

When I was 5 or 6 years old, I have seen Michael Jackson dancing on TV and I was imitating him.
My family saw me and was clapping and smiling, it made me feel the first test of dancing in front of an audience. Then when I was 6 ,I started to go to gymnastic but didn’t like it, so at the age of 10 I joined an Israeli folklore dance group and have been dancing ever since...

How did you decide to follow it and what keeps you energized in its pursuit?

From the beginning it was clear to me that I was doing what I love to do, But when I was maybe 14, I met the choreographer that made me want to grow up to be like him. Then it was clear to me that this is what I will do in my life. What kept me going all this years is the feeling that if I don’t dance I feel empty and have no reason to get out of bed. I have no choice but to dance, it's my life. 

How did you get interested in movement dynamics?

From the work, as the work became deeper to me I had to explore more into it

Do you think improvisation is an art, and choreography is a way of achieving this? 

Improvisation is an art, no doubt about that. And its one of my main practices. Choreography is the art of setting the piece or charting the frame for it. Dancers and Choreographers use improvisation to explore a theme or an idea. 

You can see more on my website about this:

Who has been a significant source of inspiration/influence for you in improvisation?

In Improvisation my main inspirations are, Sharona Florsheim, Katie Duck, Yuval Goldshtein...

You have performed here in India. Do you notice a difference in audience compared to other places where you have performed?

I think the there are small differences in what is acceptable culturally and how people watch and respond to the performance. It was lovely to have a talk in the end of the performance and hear the audience speak.

Do you have any advice for aspiring performers?

Yes, practice practice practice! The only way to become a performer is to log as many hours possible of on-stage experience. If you can perform every week do it, if can every day do it. Go to dance classes, acting classes, singing classes, practice improvisation every day, make your performance practice part of your everyday life. You can perform on the street or in the studio. 


Canvas of human emotions

ToTran Bich Thuy is a Lecturer of College of Arts, Hue University and also the Member of Thua Thien Hue Literature and Arts Association Member of Vietnam Fine Art Association.  She was one of the  20 contemporary artists from Vietnam whose work was exhibited at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Kolkata. This exhibition was organised in collaboration with the Alliance française du Bengale and the Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam in India.

When did you first start painting?

I started painting in 1988.

How supportive are your parents and the rest of your family when it comes to your being a painter?

When I got myself enrolled for fine arts study, my family supported my decision. After graduation, I stayed at the university to teach and my parents and family gave me permission.

What inspires your paintings? How would you describe them?

Human life and nature have given me inspiration. My works depict human emotions in so many different levels, My statement:”Personally, the most precious happiness is found in sadness. The unhappy is found when happiness is gone” And “Let's explore the world of color, you will find the echo of your life”

Which was your biggest exhibition?

I have participated in many international exhibitions and I still think that my solo exhibition in Thailand in 2003 at Silpakorn University was the biggest and most meaningful exhibition for me. Through that I could assert the process of artistic activity and personal style.

Do you think being a female artist makes a difference?

As a female artist I find no difference much from male artists

What is present scenario of contemporary art in Vietnam?

Contemporary Vietnamese art is a strong innovation from the previous periods. It is the embodiment of visual art with changes in expression, color, and construction. Structure and light in the work.

Vietnam's mainstream art has three main trends: the main current was the Indochina fine arts in the years 1930-1945, the Socialist realism fine art in the years 1954-1984, and DOIMOI fine arts in the 1990s onwards (the word đổi mới was used in extenso in Vietnamese spelling to specify it country of origin and characteristics)

DOIMOI painting enhances the role of the individual, personal style, and freedom of artistic creation. Artists are aware of and deeply aware of the role of independent, self-selecting ways of impact on the community and society.

The Vietnamese art scene is changing with the changes of modern society. Vietnamese artists have been approaching the world of painting in general. Vietnamese artists are living together, co-writing and sharing common issues with foreign artists. They always aspire to achieve a space of contemporary art with the desire to contribute to create a new entity: Contemporary Vietnamese art.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

As a painter who has experience of more than 20 years of composition, through my own experiences, I can give some of the necessary feelings for the painter to maintain his creative work:
1- Always nurture feelings about life
2- Regularly develop skill training
3- Always improve the knowledge to improve the creative thinking.


Art Reflecting Life

Damon Kowarsky studied printmaking at Victorian College of the Arts and Glasgow School of Art, and Advanced Figure Drawing with Godwin Bradbeer at RMIT. Since graduating he has travelled extensively in South Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Architecture and the colours of earth and sky inspire much of his work. Kowarsky is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards including Toyota Community Spirit Artist Travel Award, Australian Print Workshop Collie Print Trust Emerging Victorian Printmakers Scholarship, Creative Victoria New Works Grant and Australia Council Asia-Australia Creative Partnerships Grant. Kowarsky exhibits regularly in Australia and abroad, holding solo exhibitions in cities including Melbourne, Hong Kong, New York, Philadelphia, Wellington, Cairo, Damascus, Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. He is currently working on a series of etchings inspired by recent travels in India, Oman, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  Abhijit Ganguly speaks to Damon Kowarsky.

You started out as a classical musician. What made you swap your tuba for a pencil and paper?
I hadn't begun traveling when I was playing music. But, looking back, and in light of how much I have traveled over the years, I probably realized that traveling with a tuba was completely impractical. Whereas, with pencil and paper you can pretty much go anywhere and record the world around you...which is something I've been doing now for quite a while.   

Do you see yourself primarily as an artist or a printmaker?

I was trained as a print maker which means I worked mainly with etchings of copper plates.  I work in a studio that's a print studio.  I do consider myself a print maker of course I am an artist but print making is my medium so generally, I talk about myself as a print maker.   

Is printmaking more or less popular than some other art forms?

Print making has a slightly different function to other forms of art.  It's both very portable and practical in that it exists in its editions so that there are multiple copies of each artwork.  Which means that it's easy to transport and easy to share with people.  So, whereas a painting or a sculpture generally will only exist in a single place and is often quite cumbersome to move around, a print can be rolled in a tube and shipped anywhere.  Which, in light of how much I travel and the exhibitions I have held around the world, this makes it extremely useful. 

As an artist, what inspires you in your artwork?

I get inspiration by looking at the world around me and taking the time to draw the things I see.   So a lot of my work is concerned with architecture and people.  I spend a lot of time sitting and drawing the people and the buildings that I see.  Because in every place those things are different and they give me a lot of ideas for my work. 

Damon with honorary consul for Pakistan Melbourne Ms Ayesha Bux
It’s obvious you have travelled a lot. Where has been your favourite place to sketch and why?

I have traveled a lot and there have been many places that I'd love to visit.  Of course, India is fantastic but most recently I was in the west of France, the region called Britanny.  It's extremely beautiful, it's a rural area so everything's got lots of greenery, trees, fields, rolling hills, beautiful little old houses.  And that was absolutely wonderful spending 3 months drawing there. 

It was in 1997 when you first visited Pakistan. How has the art market changed since then? 

The art market, in Pakistan has developed quite considerably since 1997.  Since then the country open up to quite a lot of international exposure as the artist's there receive the recognition they deserve, and also with changes to the world – mainly through the internet and social media – it's meant that art is accessible from many places and to many places. 

Many of your activities are realized in collaboration with other partners. How important are collaborations for you? 

Collaboration is very important as it allows me to get new and different ideas, both from my work and the other artists I work with.  I find, each time I collaborate, I learn something new about making art and my work changes...often in ways I wouldn't have been able to predict.  So, there are two driving forces behind my art.  The first is the travel which exposes me to so many new things, people, places and ideas.  And also to the collaboration which is a way of getting some of those ideas and generally having a lot of fun, too.   

In an age of digital imagery and mass media,  do you think original prints are still important?

I think original prints are even more important in the digital age.  Digital reproduction has made producing original images so easy but the surface of a digital print has uniformity.  It's made by a machine.  It has flatness.  Whereas, when you produce a print by hand, it's much richer.  And, I think, with the ubiquity of digital images -or not just digital images, it could be with machine-made anything whether it's clothes or food or art – the things that are made by hand are so much more distinctive and people respond to them because they have that presence of “craft” in them.  


The New Silk Road

Marion Hera Gorr is a New Zealander who lives and operates her textile business in Australia .She enjoys textiles and garments as an art form, and expresses her feelings for nature and beauty using these wonderful silk fabrics and colour dyes. She has been making her own clothing from about 10 years of age and also working to provide her school book money and so on. Her mother had a tailoring business and so Marion Hera Gorr earned a love of textiles early on.  Textiles kept coming to her, and despite many business ventures not really taking off, her textile trading has been a good sustainable business. Marion Hera Gorr trade textiles in Australia mostly Asian origin textiles, India and China being her main supply line.  Currently she serves her customers mainly online and in her spare time she does a small farming hobby, growing South American fruits and organic vegetables.

How did you start your brand- Beautiful Silks? What inspired the vision behind your brand?

I have a very good friend and mentor in New Zealand Susan Holmes who is a wonderful artist, she suggested I start selling silk at some textile events she was attending, and silk was not being offered at these events.  Her advice is always worth listening to so I decided to try it.  I took along a suitcase full of silk pieces that I had and people appreciated this, and bought the silks.  When people spotted me at my little stand they would exclaim, ah Beautiful Silks. Therefore the name Beautiful Silks was gifted by my very first customers.  Of course I diversified to all natural textiles now, so it is known as Beautiful Silks and Naturals.

I did not have any money at the time but after a year or so Peter Lucena, who had been trading silks in New Zealand for many years and had supplied me when I was a dress designer in that country, invested in my business in Australia and so I bought stock with his guidance and that really gave me a good start.  Not long after that, I had been away trading silk and another textile trader suggested that I attend an auction being held that day.  I happened to have money in my pocket from trading and managed to buy a lot of smoke damaged silks at the auction for very little money. I then dyed and printed those silks and sold those at a profit and this really did give me a boost.  Having the skills of dyeing printing and making has always stood me in good stead as I can develop products myself without huge investment of money to do so.  Plus I can advise my customers and help them, as they have technical difficulties etc.  So for anyone going to start a business, it is a great help to like what you trade with and also to know a bit about it.  Also my husband is a lawyer and his guidance with government compliance and insurance, tax etc has been invaluable. Without his help, I would have had to outlay money with lawyers accountants and other expensive professionals to set up.

What’s it like to work with silk as a material? What is it about silk that appeals to you personally?

Silk is a material that has been used by humanity for at least 6000 years.  It is warm yet it can breathe and adjust the body temperature according to the weather, so that on a hot day, after an initial warming, the body and the material adjust accordingly.  Also the silk worm cannot have pesticides close to it so it is protecting the environment for us as well.  We do have to kill the pupated silk worm to obtain the silk in industrially produced silk, however in India you produce ahimsa silk and this is available for people who cannot abide by any violence to any creature.  All parts of the silk are used, and the pupa is very high in protein and other enzymes, often there is nil waste and no pollution from the silk.  It is very light on the earth. Having said that however some silk worms of course get through to reproduce and silk husbandry is a huge science.  The silk worms have co-operated with humans now for millennia and in doing so some of them get to reproduce so cleverly they have decided to go along with us in giving their all to us.  Also their DNA structure means that most other moths, silverfish and other pests do not find silk palatable so silk will last, as long as it is not kept in strong sunlight and away from rats and mice it will last for many hundreds of years.  Some silk has been found in caves and is said to be over 2000 years old.  The history of silk is immense romantic and the textiles are alive and wonderful to match all this history.

Where are Beautiful  Silks products dyed and made? Can you describe the process?

About 75% of my products originate in China and 25% from India. Most of the products I import to Australia are undyed.  This is because of the objection I have to dirty dyeing practices that have ruined water around the globe for many people.  For instance the cheap clothing being made for the Australian market in Bali has contaminated water and I have heard this has happened here in India as well. A lot of my customers are natural dyers and come to me for good textiles to do their dyeing on.  Some of my customers use synthetic dyes as indeed I do myself on occasions but if it is done carefully with no runoff minimum pollution occurs.  In fact if silk floss is used as a filter at the end of the process you capture any salts etc in that filter. The discovery about silk filter was made by professor Zhang at Zhejian University in China which is one of the main silk growing areas near Shanghai.  Beautiful Silks also has a small production unit where we and I personally get behind the sewing machine design and make garments in house.  These are always limited edition and we do them when we have time, for example in the winter when it is too cold or wet to work on our dye plant gardens, or on the too hot summer days. I also hire designers and sewing people to come in from time to time to do small productions for us, a picture of that unit is attached.

What would you describe as the most significant development in your work as a fabric collector over the years?

The interest of textile artists and workers to understand the process of production and to care about the people making the textiles, and the move toward natural dyeing as mainstream practice, this has dictated to me what to focus on, and has been a symbiotic transfer, as knowledge became available through for example the very important book by India Flint, called Eco Colour, we were shown the way to a cleaner way of practicing our craft and our art.  Also with the revolution in information we now hear about bad practice and the impact it is having on our environment, the animals and human lives, we want to avoid harmful actions. I agree with these principals and therefore have driven the business along this path steering away from negatively impacting all others.

India is the only country that produces all the four commercial varieties of silk. However we have not yet been capable of making any significant impact in the global silk market. Your thoughts?

Price is the core value. Firstly, Indian silk is quite different from Chinese silk in that it is not organized through one organization.  In the days of Chairman Mao silk was via one arm of the government, and any person buying silk in those days had to get a permit to visit the production houses. This of course has changed now but with the opening up of China many of those units have co-operative and privatized with high tech weaving equipment, also silk husbandry is efficient whilst silk is still grown at the commune level, the eggs are delivered to the farms, cocoon are grown in small units, then taken back to central processing.  Processing is centralized and highly efficient. Roads and transport are highly organized - Costs are low and shipping costs from China are also very competitive.

One of the reasons I have got onto a flight and come to India during my usual holiday time is to meet my suppliers so that we can communicate on a one to one basis and sort out difficulties.

My main difficulty with my Indian supplies is keeping up the consistency.  Quality can vary from shipment to shipment - often vastly.  A global market has to be able to rely on the consistency of dealings with people. Business people all look for reliability in our trades.  We understand that a natural product varies a little, but weight size etc is something we can adhere to. To capture the global market Indian silk must be marketed for what it is - an artisanal product handmade and grown at the village level. It is friendly to the environment and absolutely something to own and to treasure.

Silk is a sustainable artisanal textile with durable healthy properties.  There have been too many cheap and nasty silks on the market for too long, silks that are frail. Businesses making a quick buck with frail silks made into garments that fall to pieces in 5 minutes. These types of production damage the image of a fine product; there is no brand of Indian Silks that the market recognizes.  So people don’t understand the wonderful qualities of for example hand loomed Indian tussar and they won’t until they are told about it.  I think if India wants to capture more of the global market, resources have to be put into the right areas to make people aware of what Indian silk actually is.  A lot of people are very ignorant in terms of textiles and do not understand the health benefits of wearing clean and naturally dyed textiles, this must be publicized.

Films of people harvesting, reeling, spinning and weaving, of the real people in the silk story, need to be made and this story needs to be promoted on social media and in documentary form so that globally people are educated about this resource. Health benefits need to be explained. Dermatologists have to be interviewed about skin diseases and why people wearing plastic textiles suffer fungal skin diseases for example. Making silk cheaper than China is not going to happen; the Chinese are too advanced in their efficiencies. India is a different place with different products those products need to be promoted. India needs to focus on what it does well, it makes wonderful films, it makes textured marvelous silk textiles, it has amazing cultures and people, this story needs to be told to the global audience, and resources have to be put toward it.  For too long the textile workers have been down trodden and taken for granted.  Until Indian itself sees what it has got, it will not appeal to the global market either.

What advice would you give to upcoming textile designers that want to start their own brand?

Start small start local. You will learn more about yourself this way. 

Listen to what your customers ask you and always keep your promises about deliver on time, appointments you must be reliable. 

Keep out of debt as much as possible. This gives you power over your destiny even though going into debt is promoted as something you have to do, it is not true, it takes your power away.

Be creative with labeling packaging and so on.  For example newspaper looks wonderful when it is used creatively, I have seen designers do block print on newspaper and use it as wrapping. Cheap brown paper looks amazing with a simple print put on by you.

Save money on all expenditure eg- hand make swing tags and look at your waste stream - textile scraps see what you can reuse for labels etc.  This will display your authenticity, and in today’s world, the customer is looking for that.

Spend money on good equipment and keeping up the quality of your work. Good equipment can be second hand, and inexpensive if you persevere and look for it.

People like to see creative work.  If you need people to help make sure they can do the work to your standard.

Don’t expect miracles overnight it is a lot of hard work and setbacks will always come it are common to have challenges.

Look for wealthy customers who might help and support you.  Ask them to give you an order and always get paid up front, this is especially true when dealing with wealthy people. Some people use the power of wealth to belittle others; do not let people do this to you.

It is very important to teach yourself how to ask for money and be strict about that.  If people don’t have money to pay you today they are less likely to have it next month.

Produce a line of items that are lower in cost, eg so called ‘bread and butter’ items that people can buy as gifts and so on. It could be a small bag or a scarf made from recycled saris, for example.  Friends can then buy those from you and be able to help you.

Finally enjoy being a creative artist in your field that is the true success in all business, if you can enjoy what you do, and love your work, it will show and you will find a good life.  If you have money to invest use it wisely, we all have luck and chances happen from time to time, make the most of what comes along to you.

What are your future plans for Beautiful Silks?

Beautiful Silks is a lean well run organization, after the retail sector slowed down in Australia I built my own warehouse on land I had bought many years before, and spent money on our current website. That means my overheads have dropped significantly and I can reduce the mark up margin on items.  Mail order is sent out daily and we have over 8000 customers, 10% of these are offshore from Australia.

We are developing a range of products for babies with sensitive skin, some we are making in house some we are importing, from wool silk and hopefully Indian Organic cotton.

We are also looking for ethical producers to work with as we change and grow and meet our customers’ needs.  Unlike other businesses we sell product we hope will last, some of our linen sheets etc are designed to last 30 years plus of hard ware and washing.  So when we sell we are looking to provide earth and human produced items that not only are reasonable price but don’t cost the earth.  Already I am visiting my Chinese supplier’s factories regularly, work conditions etc need to be of good standard and in fact they are higher in many cases than factories I have seen in USA.  Wages are also of a good standard.  I would like to develop those sorts of relationships in India and it takes time. India has its old culture hierarchies I don’t understand and so I have to be aware that I am not imposing my own standards on systems that work well for people on the local ground. Hopefully a younger generation will take on the Beautiful Silks business and develop these ideas.


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