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Agomoni Dance: Hymn for Social Change, Krishna Goswami
A“Matribandona” (An Obeisance to Mother) is a dance video choreographed and performed by Dr. Suparna Banerjee, a dance scholar-artist from Pune, India. The song was composed by a well-known Bengali poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976). Koyeli Sarkar, a vocalist from Kolkata, has sung it beautifully. Set in raga bhairavi with a rhythmic structure of dadra tal, this composition bears intrinsically the message of social change. The poet refers to goddess Durga as janani (mother) and begs her to take on the role of universal mother, transcending religious and cultural boundaries. The choreography uploaded on the Banerjee’s Facebook page during the 2023 Durga festival exemplifies a deconstructionist approach to the traditional worship of the goddess, serving as a powerful advocate for equality. Nikhil Pajankar’s cinematography deserves a special mention.
Durga Puja is the most important festival for Bengali Hindus, connecting the goddess to nationalist desire. Durga is the ideal mother, the symbol of good, who vanquishes the buffalo demon Mahisasur, a symbol of evil. Durga puja is about adoring shakti (the feminine power). But, we often draw lines, create barriers, and make our festivals exclusive. And perhaps Nazrul, in all probability, was familiar with the distress of being excluded as a Muslim. Thus, in the song, the poet imagines his mother as resilient and free of social barriers, welcoming all of her children equally. He expressed empathy for individuals belonging to different religions, as well as those who were marginalized in society, including the untouchables, destitute individuals, and those from lower castes.
In this devotional agomoni song (sung to welcome Mother Durga to the earth for only five days), the poet begs to introduce the mother along with a brand-new hymn and an untold story of inclusivity. He imagines his Mother being preserved permanently and not immersed in the water on the Bijoya Dashami Day. Here it is to be noted that Durga Puja has been inscribed in 2021 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Until the 18th century, Durga Puja was celebrated exclusively in the elite zamindar households. Later on, the concept of community pujas became inclusive, and people from all castes, creeds, and walks of life participated in them. Since then, this festival has become a celebration of life.
The opening scene’s visual was extremely evocative for me. The Bengal autumn is described with an enthralling raga alap (melodious singing of notes without text), with the dancer holding fresh water lilies in her palms, who is seen adorning herself for the pushpanjali, a ritual of offering flowers at the feet of the goddess. With hand gestures and mime of the Bharatanatyam dance technique, the dance effortlessly embodies the fundamental principles of cultural inclusiveness as the music plays on. I feel that Banerjee’s assertiveness effectively represents the central concept of equality and humanism. The phrase “mora ek jononir sontaan sob jani,” which translates as “Our Creator is the same,” is poignant. The phrase “bhangbo dewal bhulbo hanahani” (we shall forget all disputes and break all divisions amongst ourselves), which comes as a climax is powerfully rendered, too. The whole performance is deeply meditative. Banerjee exudes profound calmness. She executes each word with lucidity. I am moved by the diligence with which she renders movements lyrically within the confine of a given meter. She has justified the passionate singing of Sarkar. The hand gestures from the ancient Sanskrit text and the drama of emotions while enacting bhakti (religious fervor) reflect the true spirit of the song. I felt the subtle energy of the prayer for inclusiveness and equality throughout the performance.
Given the daily occurrences of religious intolerance across the world, I feel that the significance of this dance video in modern society is timely. Thus, the narrative extends beyond the limited focus of religious rituals and is integrated into a broader cultural network. The piece inspires us to rise above borders and embrace people from various cultures with reverence. While stimulating our consciousness about all-inclusivity, the video is an ode to the senses.
Krishna Goswami teaches English at a higher secondary school in Kolkata, India. She is a photo artist and writer whose goal is to tell stories based on her travels and diverse cultural experiences. Her photographic works have also been shown both nationally and internationally.
18th International Art Conference at Viana do Castelo Polytechnic
(Re)imagining Artistic Education in the Community, “Undisciplined” Forms of Critical Thinking
Artistic Education has contributed significantly to the development of knowledge, skills and actions in the 21st century. Through the development of critical thinking, creativity, imagination and innovation, the various artistic strands offer a powerful way to create a new learning environment consistent with the cognitive and expressive demands of the 21st century, where online communication, provided by information technologies (IT), has also proven to be a powerful and controversial tool for disseminating content on digital social networks in education in several countries. The 18th International Meeting of the Arts is another opportunity for all participants online and in person to expose themselves, but also to meet, participate in workshops and establish lasting contacts that help to establish a vital network between all participants from the different continents involved.
(Re)Imagining Arts Education offers a wide range of themes related to performing arts and visual arts, from painting, sculpture, photography and video to performance-based works and installations. In this new edition, conferences, communications and exhibitions focus on contemporary artistic theories and practices in different contexts, such as Cape Verde, Austria, England, Portugal, Brazil and India and explore the relationships between different continents, showing how intimately researchers, Educators and artists (musicians, dancers, designers, painters, engravers, multimedia), have participated in international arts debates at the Higher School of Education of the Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo. These International Meetings, started in 1993, with the presence of two internationally renowned multiculturalists, Brian Allison and Rachel Mason (UK), were inspired and directed by these and many other European and non-European specialists in Art Education, who have developed a circuit of creative partnerships over three decades between educators, musicians, artists and performers from Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Finland, Cape Verde, Angola, Nigeria, India, China, Brazil and Mexico.
In a year marked by the introduction of company recovery plans, the legal framework more adapted to their particular needs and the promotion of ecosystems in emerging societies, the 18th EIA entitled (Re)imagining Artistic Education in the Community, confronts us with sustainable social education models, using different artistic languages, and promoting bridges and affections that facilitate development, creativity, innovation, through "undisciplined" forms of critical thinking.
Symbolic Journey of Women’s Agency Through Screendance: Review of My Last Death by Dr. Suparna Banerjee,
Reviewer: Dr. Shrimoyee Chattopadhyay
My Last Death (2022), a screendance, created during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, was choreographed by dance practitioner-scholar artist Dr. Suparna Banerjee (Pune, India) for The Spirals Project, which aims to create a poetic exploration transcending geographical boundaries and to bring together the voices of women through the exchange of languages, cultures, personal stories, and artistic expressions. Dr. Hari Marini directed the screendance, and Georgia Kalogeropoulou edited it. Dr. Kaushik Banerjee shot the film in Pune (India).
This screendance was screened at the “18º Encontro Internacional das Artes (Re)imaginando a Educação Artísticana Comunidade Formas “Indisciplinadas” de Pensamento Crítico,” held at the Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo in Portugalon November 3, 2023, and received well by art educators, critics, and practitioners.
In this work, the death imagery portrays the existential concerns experienced by women in a patriarchal-dominated society. The screendance is produced in a bilingual format (English and Bangla), where death is personified and portrayed as a dark figure who tortures and annihilates, but paradoxically can steer in the direction of self-determination, self-evolution, intellectualism, and liberation.
The main source of inspiration for movement was derived from Bharatanatyam dance, juxtaposed with dance improvisation, a style defined by spontaneous movements. Facial expressions of abhinaya, the mimetic dance style, were utilized to convey feelings such as anxiety, frustration, defeat, dejection, detachment, and independence.
At the outset, death is portrayed as a vacant chamber, evoking a feeling of spaciousness. The tactile sensation of the smooth texture of the embroidered curtains alleviates the anguish associated with death. The image of dismemberment in the film is unnerving.
Body horror is provoked by the body’s mutilation and mutation. Both the visual of a chunk of flesh breaking off to the floor and the metallic odor of fresh blood are affective. The viewer is less willing to suspend disbelief and be engulfed in horror. The vivid color of the costume enhances the visual impact of the scene.
Some of the most prominent visual tropes used in the film are the woman’s body and trees. By mixing plants and humans and also evoking the imagery of other animals, the visuals provoke discomfort. The viewer struggles to reconcile the human form merging with the plants. Nevertheless, both lexically and visually, a mixture of vegetation and flesh mollifies the impact of the violence.
A powerful portrayal of the physical environment is also presented in this work. The film shows the transformation of Pune’s fallow agricultural land into concrete buildings. In order to represent the impact of death and destruction, the artwork portrays a barren landscape covered in ashes, burnt plants, and broken tree trunks scattered around as an abandoned place. Towards the end, the superimposed image of a fragmented hand holds a bud (using the hand gesture mukula) pointing to the earth, signifying decay, while the other two hands resemble a blossomed flower, symbolizing the continuation of life and beauty. The imagery of the lotus in Hindu mythology demonstrates a potential quest for intellectual illumination and spotless beauty. The concept of spirals is intricately intertwined with the life-cycle events of dying and being reborn through the imagery of a lotus.
At the end, the echo of Banerjee’s Bangla recitation of the original poem (translated by Kisalay Sarkar) was poignant. The end symbolizes the spread of roots elsewhere, shown with the tree sequence reimagines fertility as a solitary female power whose never-ending journey triumphs over death. Furthermore, the image of waking under the open sky implies freedom, while massive tree imagery that lives for many years makes an allusion to immortality. The power of patriarchy, like death, is too imposing to be defeated; nevertheless, the protagonist rises above it.
This film serves as a powerful method for enhancing the influence and eliciting emotional reactions of horror, pity, and empathy by illustrating the thematic examination of death in visual forms. A plethora of sensory stimuli, including visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile painful sensations, contribute to the deep involvement of viewers, enhancing their ability to temporarily suspend their disbelief. The film brilliantly reflects the connection between inner turmoil and the external environment, both visually and metaphorically.
Overall, this piece is thought-provoking. Also, the film editing and art direction merit recognition. As an artistic creation, it makes a key contribution to screendance in general and the symbolic portrayal of women’s agency in a patriarchal society in particular.
About the reviewer: Shrimoyee Chattopadhyay has completed her PhD from the British Studies program at the Doctoral School of Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Debrecen, Hungary. She does research in contemporary South Asian diasporic fiction and film, but her interests include gender studies, urban studies, food culture, memory, and trauma studies. She has presented her research papers in esteemed universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, among others. Her scholarly articles have been published in several national and international journals.
“A Short Mystery Fiction”, by Krishna Goswami
Kumartuli, the Potters’ Quarters in Kolkata (India), is the traditional hub of the clay artisans sculpting exquisite clay idols for various festivals all year round. Whenever I have the chance, I go to Kumartuli in the hopes of photographing Hindu deities, particularly Durga. In September of 2023, when I made my most recent visit, it rained. It made the place feel eerily mysterious. A brief, enigmatic storyline emerged from the moments I recorded is shared with you all. I captured some moments from which a short mysterious fiction unravelled! Drawing the eyes of the viewers into the story, one is exposed to a mysterious plot which thickens as the story progresses. I label all of the photos with a phrase and leave it up to the viewers to make up their own stories.
Points of Arrival, Jingqiu Guan
Points of Arrival is a 15-minute multimedia dance work inspired by the poems carved on the walls by immigrants who were detained and interrogated upon their arrival in the US between 1910 and 1940 at the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco. Over 500,000 immigrants from 80 countries were processed through this immigration station during this time. Most of them came from Asian countries, and more than half were Chinese. Their words carved on the wooden wall testify a dehumanizing and discriminatory part of the US immigration history. Besides recounting their experiences of arrival, this work also engages with the dancers’ individual experiences and family histories to ask the questions of why caring about stories of those who we may or may not directly identify with and how their experiences remain relevant today in the larger narrative of the US immigration.
Choreographer: Jingqiu Guan in collaboration with dancers
Dancers: Natalia Cervantes, Indigo Cook, David Liu, Amare Swierc, Azie Zong
Visual Design: Jingqiu Guan
Original Music by Karam Salem
Voice-over: Bryonn Bain
Trailer available at: https://vimeo.com/894712271?share=copy