March 17, Kolkata, Lahore, Mumbai, Zurich
The Mini-Zine-Library project visioned several goals from which one was to bring people together: us, the artists, from different regions, with local practitioners in Lahore and Kolkata, and with children from different backgrounds. As it turned out we underestimated the difficulties of organizing an Indian visa for a Swiss-Pakistani person (Habib) and a Pakistani visa for an Indian (Himanshu). So Mara, the outsider, the person with the precious Swiss passport and no Paki roots was somehow the connector—physically present at both the places, while we tried to keep the communication channels open between the two cities through digital tools and sending soft copies of the zines across the border. The interaction with local practitioners against the political background of such a project proved to be easier, as it showed over the period of the project that the people we interacted with don’t have problems with the idea of an interconnection between India and Pakistan. In fact, in the midst of the recent war-mongering between India and Pakistan, our collective library was being enjoyed and celebrated, albeit in a safe place in one of the local schools that participated. Visitors were curious, intrigued and touched—mission accomplished?
As envisioned, we worked in both cities with different age-groups from various social backgrounds—from girls from a poorer Muslim neighbourhood to fancy private schools kids in Kolkata and from children from a gypsy community to kindergarteners from an elite education institute in Lahore—which demanded great flexibility from us. And the zines showed their great potential: They were appropriate for any skill level. You don’t need to be able to write and still can reflect on your life, you can engage with your surrounding through questions or copying the world around you. You may never have held a colour pencil and yet you can take any colours to express what you need to or tear up a magazine for an image—everything goes!. The format of the zine (and the origami version we used) proved flexible enough to hold all expressions. The practitioners we worked with happily took the idea of zines: Either they were the group’s teacher, the organizer of an event, or practitioners rooted into other art forms, e.g. dancing or theater. In any case it seemed that in an education system like the one in Lahore or Kolkata, creativity has relatively little space. So to provide a platform to experience creative forms into a child’s life is an important selling point. To analyze the reasons for that lack in structure is beyond our capacity, but it shows that a project like the Mini-Zine-Library is relevant and important. The fact that we got openly welcomed by practitioners and institutions we visited underlines this fact.
When it comes to the community events we had proposed, the project perhaps did not turn out as wished for. While in both cities we did small public and semi-public presentation of our Mini-Zine-Library which brought together friends and family of individual groups, we failed to organize a big event in both the cities, which means that we could not bring together the children from different social backgrounds and neither could present the library to the general cultural scene in both cities. The reasons for that are diverse, the most obvious being the fact that we had, beside organizing and conducting the workshops, not much time left to work on an event of that size. Having said that, the culmination of our work, in the form of our collective Kolkata/Lahore library was celebrated in a beautiful final event in Lahore, at Imperial Public School, attended by people from different backgrounds—staff of the neighbourhood schools, artist friend’s, family members and most importantly, our authors. It was a picnic-fest with a beautiful presentation of the library, with library guests reading the stories from far and close, enjoying the colours, shapes and patterns, enjoying drawing and crafts, science experiments, games, eating, a classical dance workshop and a drum circle that shook the neighbourhood!
In a final analysis, our experience as three artists with differing visions, personalities and styles of work and practise coming together on one project, paid off really well—by being true to our own person and respecting and accepting the other. Also creating a space for dialogue and real-time ethical issues was a learning process that catered to our intellectual needs along with facilitating our artistic decision-making. Furthermore, the act of letting go of control and making space for the unexpected, allowed us to be flexible, responsive and this was reflected by the general support and love we received.
And yes—there was a lot of love around—and where there is love beauty will show up—why else do such things?