As a sadhu sat teaching one of his students asked, “What is an artist?” The sadhu answered:
“Two birds perched in the branches of a tree. In Bengal it is auspicious to feed the birds and a human came and scattered seed on the ground. One bird flew down to peck while the other looked on. “Come down and eat!” he called to his friend who watched as he began. Soon he called again, “Come and eat, there’s plenty!” But the second bird only looked on.
“In this world”, said the sadhu, “there are two kinds of people. Most people are the bird eating. Some people are the bird watching. The artist is both”.
The story above offers a metaphor for my practice, describing how painting for me has been entwined with journeying, living and learning. Painting offers a way of looking at, reaching out to, and connecting with life. Journeys in their complexity provide life-altering encounters with people and place. Bringing these together is the ancient paradigm of a travelling storyteller who sets forth to comprehend the world and their place in it, and comes back to share what they learnt with the tribe, evolving understandings that foster connection between people.
The Australindopak Archive began in 2012 in Australia when I began the research project Towards a Peripatetic Practice. Over three years, I based myself in culturally and environmentally diverse regions in Australia, India and Pakistan between 2012 to 2014. Carrying my materials and film equipment, I walked, bicycled, and took public transport wherever I travelled to encounter life on the streets. I wandered into the nooks and crannies of cities as diverse as Canberra, Delhi, Kolkata and Lahore, and a number of small villages. What I saw, heard and was told inspired drawings, portraits, street studies, anecdotes and descriptions that I developed in my evenings through the slow and meditative form of miniature. Over time cultural immersion and osmosis influenced my painting, as did the environments in which I worked that left their marks on the scrolls in the form of patinas, stains, and creases.
The archive tells stories that reflect on and bear testimony to a lived experience of journey and a myriad of encounters and experiences across diverse cultures. It is a multimedia work based on over eighty feet of scroll paintings delivered in the miniature tradition. With miniature painting, I sought to transform my ordinary/extraordinary experiences and the stories people shared with me, taking inspiration from illustrated manuscripts such as the Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings) and the Hamzanama (the Adventures of Hamza). Films and sound compositions were created from footage shot as I travelled, and recordings of environmental sound, interviews, conversations, and field journals. They record my interactions with people who inspired paintings and reveal the circumstances in which I met them, and in some cases, the bonds that formed between us. They also document processes of making work in situ thus offering a window into the visceral terrain of peripatetic painting.