Saturday, 9 December 2017

Delhi Kite Residency

I spent the first week of my eleven day residency in Delhi, exploring and locating places to work for a project documenting the natural history of urban black kites. In particular the unique bond between Delhi's kites and the multifaceted communities of this richly layered city. Painting in Delhi is a challenge in itself, magnified beyond anything I have previously dealt with by the intensity of the crowds, streets exhausted of all space, the unfailing curiosity and regular confusion or angst of the locals who happen upon me. These are however, elements of the overwhelming chaos that appeals. Every direction I look in this city I find another big subject crammed with information, not least the skies of wheeling kites in their hundreds even thousands. I arrived imaging large paintings and drawings, attempted several, some with success such as in the relatively peaceful space of Lodhi Gardens. Here a dead tree stands majestically filled with roosting kites, as spectacular and precious a relic in my eyes as the Moghul tombs that give this space its name. Other key locations, such as Jamal Masjid proofed harder, since large canvases create a spectacle, turning quiet observation into performance and expectation. I tried several strategies, at one point I located to a hotel roof where I thought I'd find peace, but became hostage to the manager who expected me to paint his mosque in beautiful detail for his website. I collected only a few sketches of tantalising street views and kites close enough to touch (some swiping my head expecting food) before escaping.Two significant developments came mid to me at this time, first when I made contact with two brothers who were to help me access incredible insights into the Delhi kites. The second came as a simple realisation to work small.

I set out today lighter than recent after making a decision last night to standardise the format of my drawings to an equal size, roughly A4. I thought this should proof more manageable on location and it also fits my new ideas for exhibiting the project. Keen to get out early, way before the served breakfast, I fortified myself with kettle boiled eggs and bread. Walking down the long tree lined drive, prepares me for the days onslaught. The traffic of course, as ever, was ceaseless when I reached MG road, though I have started to notice a few regulars around this time who brighten my dawn march down the dual carriageway to Arjangarh metro. The determined jogger in respiration mask pounding through the mist, he overtakes me around about the lonely furniture shop each morning, the bikes that travel the other way, so deeply laden with potted plants they appear rider less, steered by marigolds and powered by helaconia quivering on the back seat. Sometimes there is a Nighal (large antelope) or chital grazing behind the wall as I climb the metro station steps. That's the thing about these southern outskirts of Delhi; a few steps away from the clogged highway, conglomeration of hurriedly constructed buildings along it's way, shade of the Metro's looming concrete overhang and shroud of exhaust fumes, the urban decay gives way to large tracts of dry scrubby jungle and settlements resembling village like communities.  

9/12/17, Early Morning: Chatterpur. Painting from the raised Metro station.

A few stops down on the metro, the sun rises over Chatterpur. Black kites lift with the gradually warming air. Commuters emerge onto the street and the roads slowly fill as shadows retreat, noise levels increase. I pass this view every day I travel on the Metro into central Delhi. Invariably I see up to five kites circling this spot, maybe a roost nearby. This Southern area of Delhi, though busy and built up along the arterial road is deeply wooded between the concrete. From above, dry forests seem to stretch vast distances into near wilderness; scrubby trees and bare trees that kites seem to favour as roosts. The impressive temple is Adya Katyani Shakti Peeth, nearby a bright orange Hanuman statue rises above the trees, visible for miles around.

9/12/17, Midday: Meena Bazaar from Jama Masjid.

Looking down and across Meena Bazaar from the steps of Jama Masjid. Food sellers push and park their carts, salesmen spread out their wares on blankets, beckoning crowds. The steps plunge deeper into the permanent market, leading to packed alleyways covered overhead with plastic sheeting that tints the bright sunlight hues of blue, red, yellow, green as it floods the stalls of shoes, clothes, cooking utensils and household products. Beyond these claustrophobic meanderings that sink several levels, cooks line the busy streets leading to the mosques four gateways selling Moguli treats; kebabs of perfectly cubed mutton, biriyanis stirring in huge steel karahis, more mobile sellers hawk sweets, popcorn, kolfi and chai.
Black kites circle above, several hundred strong. They congregate here, since it is where people come to feed them at semi-random locations around the mosque as well as from private rooftops throughout the surroundings of this predominately Muslim area of Old Delhi.

9/12/17, Evening: Lodi Gardens. Sheesh Gumbad Tomb

Black kites lift out of a dead tree to join thousands more flying out of urban areas to roost in Delhi's green spaces. This mass exodus, happens every evening at the moment dusk switches to night, which at this latitude is a clear transition, instantaneous as a blink.


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