Friday, October 30, 2009


It's a double blog post! I can see this could turn into a recurring feature. Combine a myriad of things around me with quiet evenings and a desire to share some of this city with whoever is interested.

The mornings here are cool and its the best time to get out on the street. The morning sounds are sweeping, washing, chanting, chopping.

I walked to the Dhakuriya Lakes, 10 minutes from the studio. Busy at 7.30 am with people walking, meditating, eating, chatting, swimming ... and I only passed three joggers.

I came back via a different street, past this street shrine for the goddess Jagadhatri. She's a beautiful incarnation of Durga and her puja follows Kali Puja by about two weeks. It is a significant one in West Bengal.

My neighbourhood.

edward and kate alkin

On Wednesday, I went to the Lower Circular Road Cemetery in search of the Alkins grave ... my great great grand- parents. It was surprisingly easy as the records held in their office go back to the early 1800's.
So there they were, together under a very precariously balanced headstone.
The inscriptions are legible and it is true that Edward died in the vicinity of the Sunderbans, at a place called Madaripore on 18th December 1895. He was fifty-three years old. Although Madaripore is to the north and east of the Sunderbans (now in Bangladesh), it is still connected to the delta and waterways of the area. So did he die in the Sunderbans or in Madaripore. Maybe he was taken there and pronounced dead.
This small detail, the date Edward died, has opened up further avenues to explore. There are a number of archives in Kolkata and as I'm here for five weeks, it might just be possible to uncover some more of this story. I'm intrigued.

khoj kolkata

Khoj Kolkata is hosting my residency here. It is a small and very lively group of artists, writers and academics who develop and facilitate a whole range of projects, residencies, workshops and exhibitions. While they do have an international residency program, their focus also lies closer to home in some challenging projects with communities in Kolkata and West Bengal.

The project I am working on over the coming weeks will be included in an exhibition curated by Dr Paula Sengupta, one of the founders of Khoj Kolkata, artist, writer, lecturer and curator. I also want to acknowledge here Abhijit Gupta who is really the backbone of the organisation. He too has many hats ... artist, designer, project manager, meeter and greeter and general problem solver for resident artists like me. My thanks to both Paula and Abhida for their support and assistance.

Here's the Khoj Kolkata website ... ... read more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

purna das road

My third morning here at Khoj. It's quiet, the light in the studio is beautiful.
This week is turning into one of planning, waiting, wandering, exploring.
The residency is comfortable, basic and south of the centre ... about 15 minutes walk from Kalighat Metro stop. Lots going on along the streets, a fabulous market and vendors with stalls along Rash Behari Road, off which Purna Das runs.
I bought these bindis yesterday, along with a bucket. Today I'm sewing some red velvet I brought with me, and imagining a wall or walls covered in such an arrangement.
Oh yes, I found some bones yesterday.

Monday, October 26, 2009


kolkata touch down ... 22.35


Sunday, October 25, 2009


I heard recently that there are over five million British bodies buried in India.

I'm thinking about the Crown Jewels, about the incredible collections of jewellery in British Museums.

They dug up precious stones and filled the ground with bones.

the sunderbans

This is the Sunderbans in the Bay of Bengal. Its name means 'beautiful forest'. It is vast and mostly impenetrable. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it also contains the largest tiger reserve in India that is home to around 250 tigers.

My cousin David Marland is visiting Singapore for a few days. He is an avid family historian and his visit is very timely.

He tells me that my great-great grandfather, Edward Alkin, supposedly was the Harbourmaster in Calcutta sometime in the late 1800's. Information is vague though we know that he had not been in the post very long before he died ... in the Sunderbans. He was buried there, and some time later his body was exhumed and re-buried in the Lower Circular Road Cemetery in Calcutta.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Next Monday, 26th October I fly to India to begin a residency at Khoj Kolkata. This will be my fourth visit in five years. The first time in 2004 was with my mother Sylvia who was returning after more than fifty years. It was quite a journey and I knew then that I would go back. I began to consider possibilities of new work in relation to this place.

It's difficult to locate the starting point for this project but its true to say that my travels to Kolkata have helped crystallize some of my thoughts surrounding it. I won't write much about the details of my research right now, it is still unfolding. Briefly though, it relates to tigers. In particular a tiger cub that was given to his father when he was a boy. It also builds on earlier work concerning boundaries and liminal space and looks at colonialism and the British occupation of India.

This image is from a series made in 1992, entitled 'Drawing on Memory'. In this work, I was thinking about objects, the body, about histories and the way in which we move through the space of memory, time and place.

Time to re-visit.

australia council for the arts

I am grateful to the Australia Council for being a recipient of a New Work Grant (Established Artist). It would be a very different project without it.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

For more information, go to