Elephant Walks, 2003

Elephant Walks
Collaborative workshop by Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini Kallat at the
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Liverpool
Exhibition: Gallery 4A Sydney, Australia

Youth Arts Project at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Liverpool, was an extension of the exhibition Indians + Cowboys.
Indians + Cowboys, curated by Ruth Watson and Aaron Seeto questioned accepted ideas of cultural diversity and difference. It was conceived to illustrate the absurdity of simplifying identities into stereotypes by categorizing them on the basis of notions of cultural purity.

The Casula Powerhouse Centre is located in Liverpool, a neighbourhood where people from 150 different ethnic identities reside. For the workshop we had children from places like Iraq, Kurdistan, China, Vietnam, India etc. The potential disconnections that occur between idealized ways of seeing and describing and the ways in which individuals imagine and observe their worlds is what the work engages with.

We started by narrating an ancient Sufi story to the children called the ‘City of Ghor’, which is part of the childhood imagination of Indian children around the world. The story recounts a city of blind people and their encounters with an elephant. Through the process of describing, these blind people illustrate diverging and individual experiences of a single encounter. However since they had felt only a part of the elephant they arrived at an incomplete understanding with opposing conclusions on what the elephant was like. Citing examples from world politics we spoke about how wars are held because of the rigidity with which we hold on to our own perspective and are often unsympathetic towards the perspectives of others. For the workshop we handed out pieces of board in undefined/amoeboid forms to the children and asked them to render their notions of the world. While each one made their interpretation out of their own world view, the narrative of the story was used to direct them to the fact that no single notion of the world is complete and it is necessary to follow various interpretations to understand anything fully. These later came together to form a large elephant, which was made in 5 parts and suspended in such a way that the complete form of the elephant only becomes apparent through all the contributions of the participants and only from certain vantages in the gallery.

By bringing together thoughts of children and placing them in the context of other thoughts by another set of children, the attempt was to try and create new worlds with new interpretations that are infused with a sense of individuality as well as completeness.