This page is the blog of my life during the period of April - October 2019, and my attempt to record my creative practice developing during my artist residencies and other creative projects here in India and Nepal. This blog, and a collection of photographs and drawings from the six months, will be turned into a short, limited edition book upon return to New Zealand, under the same name “eternal sunshine, sacred mountains”, to help fundraise for an art show in Japan, a residency in Russia, and another residency in Vietnam, all taking place in 2020.
These projects include:
Artist residency at AZIMVTH Ashram, Haridwar, India
Artist residency at Preet Nagar, Amritsar, India
Two workshops on knitting techniques (with support from Preet Nagar)
48H Art festival organized by myself and Mathilde Castaignede at Nepal Art Council, Kathmandu, Nepal
Artist residency at Bikalpa Art Center, Lalitpur, Nepal
Details of the AZIMVTH Ashram residency can also be found here
Har Ki Pauri, Haridwar
The sun pounded down on the thousands of people standing across the ghats. The weather is unforgivingly hot, with daily temperatures soaring to well over forty degrees, and only those further down in the water are offered reprieve from the relentless heat as they bathe and drink from the sacred water. There is music playing, and a sadhu blasting on a conch shell, and a bell is clanging, and the sounds of those surrounding me praying and offering puja to the river all seem to bleed together against the obnoxiously loud horns of the traffic surrounding the ghat. I am somewhere in here.
Trying to keep my legs standing straight as the swarms of devotees hurry towards the river praying in a trance like state surround me and push me down towards the river in their own quest to reach it.
Sweat clings to my forehead, rolling into my eyes and down my cheeks, as well as the air blowing off the river and the water splashed about by bathers all blend together to bind me in a cloud of mugginess surrounding me, The air is so thick you can chew it. I watch the bathers as they pray in a trance, I too overwhelmed by the surroundings and in a state of trance myself, my brain working in overload as it tries to process all the information at once. The air is perfumed with the odour of thousands of devotees sweat, smoke from the fires of offerings, food being cooked, urine, cow dung, and the spices being sold beyond the ghats in the bazaar above.
It is time for me to get away, my claustrophobic tendencies reaching boiling point, as I try to force my way through the waves of people transfixed in prayer. The crowds resist my struggles as I slowly try to break free, pushing me further into the ghats as I force my way up towards the comparitively peaceful streets of the bazaar. I am released from the crowd like a mother giving birth, the final push as I exit the womb that is Har-ki Pauri and enter the labyrinth of the bazaar. I am immediately swallowed by the market, jostling through departing devotees as we swerve around the cows, motorbikes with horns blazing, potholes, and piles of burning trash. I am yet to experience the sensation anyway else but in an Indian market of being swept through a place as if by magic carpet, never pausing long enough to be enticed by the jewels and trinkets and spices, catching only fragments of conversation as I float through hoards of people bartering, eating, chatting, and begging.
A saying I had heard on my first visit to India was that it was a country where everyone is in a hurry but nobody is ever on time. This becomes most apparent in the bazaar, where those pushing through the crowds as if in an emergency will pause only moments later to make an offering at one of the thousands of road side temples, or hover in front of shops inspecting goods and making initial offers, or to sniff at one of the food stalls that dot themselves throughout the market.
I had visited Haridwar on my previous visit through Uttarakhand, but had now been living here for almost a month, and my absolute lack of any sense of direction had finally given way, and I am able to walk through the streets with a vague idea of where I am about 70% of the time.
My home for the month was about five kilometers down the river, in a residential suburb called Arya Nagar, in a peaceful location near the river and away from the thoroughfare. Whilst I enjoy the energy of the center city and the ghats, I constantly feel on high alert when here. Whether at Har-ki Pauri or in the twisting lanes of the market that surrounds it, the profound energy of some twelve thousand people pushing together in prayer at the riverside is not an easy frequency to vibe on, and I am constantly trying to remind myself that the joy of being here is purely to experience such energy.
I reflect on the parallels of the two worlds I exist in, between the solitude and silence of Milford in Fiordland National Park, and the chaotic alien planet that is India. Between these two poles I find balance, but only with mindfulness can I ever grapple the stark differences between the two worlds.
In these crowds of thousands is often where I feel most alone, yet in the mountains where there is solitude I often feel the most complete.
What else I find peculiar here is my inability to pray. For me, my relationship with God (the source, otherness, or however else one may address such a force) has always been a private, quiet affair. A divine conversation of little words, a whisper under a dark night’s sky. Here I am assaulted by God, or gods, so much so I often feel like I’m having an allergic reaction to God, the idea of prayer here bringing me sick to my stomach. This sensation is unfamiliar to me, I have sought counsel from the Divine on many occasions with no apprehensions, only love and gratitude. At Har-ki Pauri I feel like an animal in heat. a creature who reeks of fear so all around can sense my discomfort on the subject. For each time I meditate here, something inside screams “get out, get out” and I leave the ghat bolting like I’m running out of a building on fire. It is perhaps the energy of Vishnu himself, left by the imprint of his foot, that scares me, perhaps it is the out in the open nature of several thousand pilgrims performing rituals that are older than recorded time, or perhaps it is my ego, using the intensity of energy felt here to ward me away from a spiritual path. But whatever holds me back, as peculiar as it is, is dwarfed by the severity of the shatki of this sacred swathe of land known as Har-ki Pauri.
In the heart of UNESCO world heritage site Fiordland National Park, a swathe of land comprising 11% of the land mass of the south island in New Zealand, lies an area known as Milford. A land filled with snow capped mountains, glaciers, lush forests, and waterfalls that seem to fall straight of the sky. It is somewhere in the middle of all this that I work, and it is here where my green picture lies.
I emerge from the forest, and am greeted with a view of mountains covered in snow. The sound of water hums all around me. The air is cool. I step out onto the platform, it is a planked pontoon that extend about 100m into the wetland, the planks still damp from a recent downpour. Here, on the exposed platform, the wind is cold. Clouds hover like a swarm of wasps in the sky, ready to attack.
I continue along the platform, through a porous landscape with earth of orange, yellow and green sponges. It has rained today, and the orange patches of moss transcend a fluorescent neon glow, from which stands of manuka in bloom sprout.
White flowers perched atop the dark leaves, like doves rising from a plume of black smoke. Above them in line stands the silver beech, stunted from growth by the influx of water surrounding the swamp. I am completely surrounded my mountains, a golden cage, in front of me lies mount sentinel, to my immediate right Mount Anau, to which beyond lies the Glade Burn, and behind me sits Dore Pass. I am completely alone here. Besides the all encompassing sound of water, all that I can hear is birdlife, and the intermittent buzz of sand flies. It is, without question, the most beautiful place I have been in my life.
I reach the edge of the platform, and circle the stand patch to stand. Facing mount Sentinel, I drop to my knees, and bow my head on the wet planks of the platform.
"Dear God", I cry,
"Thank you for my blessings.
Thank you for each and every thing that you have given me in this life.
I ask that you guide my thoughts, feelings, and my perceptions. I offer all identity to you,
I lift my head and rise to the familiar site of Sentinel, now covered in rain clouds.
Between the manuka the forest floor is an archipelago of plants, moss, lichen and flowers, rising up out of the peat moss that perfumes the wetland. Tui, kaka, bell birds, and robins form a cacophony of sound, stretching across the valley in waves of blended sound. In the several pools in front of me the mountains and forest reflect, playing with the light as clouds pass over.
for now it is time to float
in a land of rain and mist,
i am the traveller,
who's heart is open and soul is warm.
sometime, maybe tomorrow,
the rains shall come,
and let them heavens pour down unto my life.
to wash away my sins, like the flood,
and sweep me away to be perched atop a mountain,
where only the birds know my name.
for perhaps now it is time to float,
through the air, diaphonous,
across a body of water.
perhaps a dream,
like a glimpse of god,
all shining and bright.
a pursuit for the breathe of god
if god dwells within me,
she lies deep down dorment,
under a pile of earth and stone.
sometimes i feel her breathing,
and the air is sweet and hot,
and flowers bloom all around.
but then she goes to hiding,
and i am left alone again,
with only the scent of her breath
in my throat,
and i'm empty again and weeping.
were i get down on my knees,
five times a day,
would she offer herself completely?
or tythe ten percent or my earnings,
would you keep me warm at night?
or traverse the sapta puri,
a noble heavenly yatra,
would she send me to moksha?
i pray for an understanding,
to a seemingly unanswerable question,
to be bathed in a pool of soft light,
all golden and shining and warm.
i pray a song for tomorrows sun,
and for the sweet breathe,
of the mother,
I AM A BIRD NOW
During my residency at Preet Nagar, literally translated as “abode of love”, I worked on several projects, including an installation of some of the work I have been making here in India, as well as two workshops with local children. One at Satya Bharti Ardash school, near Chogowani in Punjab, where children were taught how to arm knit. I taught this technique so that the children can make hammocks which can be sold as a means to help fundraise for the school.
It was my first experience trying to teach children in this way, and my first time trying to do so in a second language (I am practicing here my Hindi skills). The children involved all successfully learned the technique, and I look forward to returning to the school to see how successfully they have implemented the technique as a means to help generate funds for the school.
I also taught another group of local children from the village surrounding Preet Nagar how to arm knit, and then finger knit friendship bracelets. It was here that the children came up with a poem to help remember how to do the technique, which if I teach this technique again in an area that speaks Hindi I will use this poem as an aid to remember. This workshop was held in conjunction with the opening of the installation of I AM A BIRD NOW, and it was wonderful to see young children get excited by traditional techniques and have great enthusiasm towards learning.
The materials used in both workshops were remnant pieces of cloth, saree’s, and old torn clothes which we cut into strips and knotted together, as for me the hardest thing about being on the Indian subcontinent is the lack of education around rubbish, and recycling. I was determined throughout this process to try where possible to minimize this, and try educate young people about the value of making something out of nothing, and to help minimize wastage. This was received so well that by the end of the workshop we actually had too much material per child, but I had an excellent feeling attached to instilling this value (around recycling what you can and minimizing wastage) and to see children respond to this with understanding.
ABRACADABRA: Celebrating the Magic of Nature
Together with French artist Mathilde Castaignede I organized ABRACADABRA, a 48h festival at Nepal Art Council in Kathmandu. We selected artists from across Nepal, India, France, Russia, Israel, and New Zealand to make work in response to a simple question: “what does your relationship with nature look like?”.
The artists involved responded via a variety of mediums, including photography, fashion design, installation, performance, poetry, and textile. The festival garnered positive attention from both local’s and tourists, and many visitors were excited to see something so contemporary taking place in Nepal.
The artists involved include:
Wesley John Fourie (New Zealand, textile, installation)
Mathilde Castaignede (France, photography, video)
Shaul Solomon (Israel, poetry)
Arthur Bouchon (France, poetry)
Anil Subba (Nepal, performance, sound)
Pramila Lama (Nepal, performance)
Sabita Dangol (Nepal, performance)
Kishor Maharjan (Nepal, photography)
Tiffany Bailet (France, performance, video)
Sarthak Saxena (India, fashion design)
Samia Singh (India, etching, painting)
Ratika Singh (India, photography)
Maria Bagaeva (Russia, performance, installation)
This was our first festival organized together, and we are hoping in the future to host more events across Asia, so we may introduce contemporary international art on a public level which remains respectful of culture, whilst still allowing space to question the role contemporary art can have in the day to day lives of the communities in which we host events in.
Our intended destination for the second festival is St. Petersburg, Russia.