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Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

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Ongoing through the year

Since Khoj established itself with a physical space in Khirkee in 2002, it has worked towards building its ties with the local community and has developed a rich body of community based art projects over the years. As the neighborhood itself continues to change and re-invent itself, so has the organization recognized the need to continually adapt its community arts program.  In 2015, the dialogues and debates which emerged during the Negotiating Routes: 5 Year Meeting has led to considered reflection upon the nature of community-based art practices at large. Critical self- examination has prompted a series of challenging questions: How does one measure the impact of a project? Is it actually helping the community or it is only furthering the artists practice? What responsibility and accountability should an artist have towards the community he/she is working in? Is intent enough?

At present, Khoj is in the process of restructuring its Community Art Program in an effort to make it more sustainable, and to establish a more in-depth engagement with the Khirkee Community(s). Rather than launching into short-term projects emphasizing the final outcome, Khoj will shift its focus to structuring exchanges over an extended time-period, affording greater opportunities, more meaningful relationships and genuine exchange between collaborators and participants.

One ongoing initiative has been a small series of exercises and exchanges with students from Swarn Public School, a small neighborhood school in Khirkee. The school is one of the few to have a demographic which consists of Indian, Somali, Afghani and Nepali children. The intention of these exercises is to guide students in cultivating a feeling of ownership and pride for their local community and their fellow classmates.

An initial workshop and neighborhood walk was led by eminent Delhi Historian Sohail Hashmi. He took the students to visit the two 14th century monuments situated in Khirkee- the Khirkee Masjid and the Satpula Dam. Hashmi captivated his audience for almost three hours as he effortlessly drew connections between the local history, geography, ecology and politics. The students demonstrated a serious engagement with the subject, and were fascinated to learn new facts about the rich history of their immediate neighborhood.

The second exercise took the group back to the Khirkee Masjid. The masjid is considered an architectural marvel of its time, boasting 89 perfectly geometric domes. The students displayed and interest in having a sketching session at the masjid, where the Khoj team helped the students break down elements of the 14th century monument through the lenses of perspective, the play of light and shadow, texture and scale. Many of them used charcoal for the first time and were excited to discover and experiment with the multiple uses of the medium.

 Networks and Neighbourhood

Revue Artists – Sreejata Roy and Mrityunjay Chatterjee have been working on a year long community art project ‘Networks & Neighbourhood’ with Khoj International Artists’ Association. This project explores why public spaces in the locality remain male dominated and how they can be shaped to be equally hospitable to men and women.

Revue have been working with a group of young women from the neighbourhood, engaging them in mapping exercises, interviews and wall paintings. They recently launched ‘Mulakaton Ki Galiyan’ (Lanes of Encounters) a local magazine on the Khoj Terrace. The magazine hopes to create a common platform for the diverse voices of Khirkee and Hauz Rani- localities with complex demographies and cartographies. The magazine is an attempt to create a shared space to articulate and to listen to local narratives and encourage exchange.