Jet Lagged Kolkata Night
In this brief interview, Bhaswati Ghosh speaks to artist Sudeshna Sengupta on her audio-visual collage, Jet Lagged Kolkata Night.
“Words, intaglio prints, video, editing, sound design, & concept: Sudeshna Sengupta © 2014″
Bhaswati Ghosh: First things first. Is Kolkata your hometown?
Sudeshna Sengupta: I don’t know if I ever had a hometown.
So far, I have lived about half of my life in India and half in the US.
I grew up in Kolkata till I was 15 and then on an off until I immigrated to the US with a green card. But there’s still this sense of pull and push … something of a “maan obhimaan” if you will, with the place. That will probably remain with me for as long as I live. If I were a trust-fund artist living off inheritance, I mean, if I didn’t have to make a living, I would have loved to still stay in Kolkata. But I couldn’t find a job there and so I moved from place to place — eventually landing on the other side of the globe… the most basic migration story. My ancestors migrated as well from the eastern part of undivided Bengal that existed before the partition — so we were not quite original Calcuttans to start with. I guess, not having a place to call home did help reinforce the concept of … we are just passing by.
BG: How was this film conceived?
SS: I am not sure if I can call it a film in the conventional sense. It’s meant to be a part of an installation — accompanied by spoken words, whenever possible. However, people seem to relate to it as a stand-alone piece as well, which is cool.
Back to how it all started — I was visiting Kolkata after a very long time, by myself, staying with a friend. It felt disorienting to revisit a place from the past, a place that’s an essential part of me yet I had no home of my own, to go to, any longer — every street corner felt like I must have been there before, yet at the same time, I was a stranger, looking from outside … so much change had taken place in the meantime, at the physical space of the city itself as well as within me. It was like a surreal experience where everyone looked terribly familiar yet I didn’t recognize anybody.
While I was exhausted after a long plane ride — I decided to capture this very intense experience by writing, sketching, and documenting it in whatever ways I could during the sleepless jet-lagged nights, sometimes sitting inside the mosquito net — sometimes staring out the window at night from a 4th floor apartment.
Coming back to the US after the trip, I worked on it as an independent project in film editing and sound design classes over two semesters — juxtaposing my poem “Reclaimed Remnants and Unclaimed Remains”, images, video and sound clips from the trip, together with digitized versions of some of my own hand-pulled prints from a series that started decades ago in India. An attempt at layering all these together — came from a yearning to create a sense of closure perhaps.
BG: I am curious about the tagline “Reclaimed remnants and unclaimed remains.” Could you elaborate a bit about each of those two phrases?
SS: Oh, it’s just that — just how it felt standing at an intersection of past and present … at the risk a cliché … in the ‘journey’ so far … in a lost and found and lost again kind of way. 🙂
BG: The use of sound is striking in this short film. What was your approach in selecting the sound treatments that weave the words, thoughts and visual motifs throughout the film?
SS: Thank you, Bhaswati.
I started recording the sounds literally during a jet lagged night in 2012 soon after I reached Kolkata and couldn’t fall asleep right away. The sounds were so familiar yet so totally different from the laid-back orderliness that we take for granted in small town America, where I live. During the trip, I tried to capture sound clips from the nighttime streets — some of it, from an apartment window as I listened to the typical Kolkata sounds … a watchman walking by, dogs crying in the distance somewhere, and then crows announcing the arrival of the dawn, a radio playing at a tea stall nearby, people greeting, yelling, and what not — as the day starts again. Also a generous acquaintance in Kolkata let me use a short sound clip, to help me finish the project. In the final soundtrack, I tried to weave together a collage of these fragments — with the intent of recreating that hauntingly emotive experience that brought to the surface — the question of illusion and reality of belonging and not belonging, of our comfort zone or the lack thereof.
BG: Thank you!
Sudeshna Sengupta received her Bachelor’s degree in Painting in 1983 and Master’s degree in Printmaking in 1985 from Visva Bharati, an international university in India, founded by the humanist-artist-poet and 1913 Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore.
She has taught art and textile design at college level for over sixteen years, including at New Mexico State University-Alamogoro where she established its first intaglio studio and developed its first Color Theory and surface design/silk painting courses in the late ’90s. Since the late 1980s, her intaglio prints have been exhibited at various invitational print biennials in France, Germany, India, and Norway. She has also curated Native American and New Mexico sections for some of these exhibits.
Besides pursuing studio art and design in conventional as well as digital media— she often conducts workshops, presents lectures and community-based art with civic, cultural, and community groups and organizations.
Contact info: SudeshnaSen1@gmail.com/ Phone: 575-652-1947
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction and non-fiction. Her website: bhaswatighosh.com.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.