Himanshu and I are celebrating a decade plus of our friendship. I first met him when he was based in Delhi and expanding his arts curating work to curating the city and leading the most innovative and joyful walks in the capital. I was thrilled when he made the decision to move to Jaipur in 2017, knowing that he would enrich the pink city enormously. Himanshu and I have a standing date to do one of his conceptual walks every time I am in Jaipur. Together we have explored Krishna’s temples in the city, adventured though the typography of the bazaars, discovered traditional and contemporary artists and searched for Jaipur’s best chai.
Himanshu, also known as ‘Saree man’, (because he is almost always draped in a fabulous saree) is an arts curator and sees his work as being “multi-disciplinary, multi-arts and multifarious”. Under the Red Earth banner, he presents exhibitions, visual arts projects and art festivals and carefully weaves ancient and traditional Indian practices and rituals within a contemporary framework.
Our conversation took place leading up to Diwali, in late October during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
I was thinking about the changes of season with the approach of winter and also about working on my Red Earth Navratra showcase of sarees and design based on the nine colours of the nine-day festival. I feel something has flipped with the festival season starting and I can feel the festive spirit infusing my life. Until now through the pandemic I have been pragmatically wearing boxers and t-shirts at home and Saree man has been in hiding, but now I feel him emerging.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I am working on a new project as part of an art collective and am feeling productive again after a long spell of idleness. The Festive Art Collection comprises archival prints of vintage Gaja-Lakshmi paintings from Jaipur and also Cheriyal Masks from Telangana in South India. Later in the day, I plan to see a few artist friends, here at home, Shilo Shiv Suleman and Philippe Calia, who are part of the Fearless Collective, an inspirational group based in Bangalore, doing a public art project in Jaipur creating a monument to love mural.
How "real" does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
Pretty real and quite unnerving. Yet I don’t believe it is possible to stay locked down forever. We were locked down for four months and I rarely stepped out of my home and was very cautious, but I have realised you can’t live like this. I have some friends who have recovered, but sadly some have also lost loved ones. In Jaipur, very few of my friends have had Covid, however in Delhi many more have but in mild doses and are recovering well. In Jaipur Covid-19 has felt more distant to an extent.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
Work completely slowed down. All of my work; art, design and travel contracted dramatically but I think I have taken it in my stride. The lockdown has also impacted on me emotionally, feeling a little more fragile than usual. I have however, taken the time to focus on research, planning and admin work which normally gets squeezed in the middle of other projects.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
I am looking forward to travel, to escape and unwind and connect with other friends across India. Am looking forward to regaining the energy of friendships. I have spent much of this year on my own or in the company of just a few friends and it will be nice to expand the circle again going forward.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
In ancient India there was a concept of the ‘chaumasa’, a four-month period during the monsoon, when people would not travel and would withdraw inwards to reflect and meditate and there were a range of established practices in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faiths. Many of the practices involved some sort of relinquishing, be that food, or becoming silent. I have undertaken a contemporary version of this confinement during the pandemic lockdown and have done a version of ‘chaumasa’ where I withdrew from the outside world and went inwards. I mediated to have greater control of my mind and also reignited by music practice with singing. I am working on my 15th edition of the Monsoon Festival using the ‘chaumasa’ concept as a framework for presenting the art festival.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with? Have you made any changes or thought of any that you will implement going forward?
I actually feel there has been a lack of innovation particularly in the art space. Many museums and galleries have opened online but most have lacked imagination on how to present the collections in a more engaging way. Most are simply a ton of images and not engaging and have not been curated for an online environment. I hope to be launching a new website with a more engaging online experience by the end of the year presenting new content in a more engaging way.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
I really want to go to Pushkar, I love that place and it’s just a few hours by car from Jaipur. I think it will be great to overcome the reticence to pack a bag and venture forth from home.
What are you finding inspiring now?
Being around the visual arts. Also, the pandemic has meant I could focus on curating art full time, as I was unable to do any curated walks or events. It is like returning to the start of Red Earth way back in 2004 when the prime focus was to curate contemporary visual art and overtime expanded into many other things. I am enjoying working on my new website and looking at collaborations and research and have an idea around visual podcasts that I would like to explore.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
My friends, especially Simran who is super fun to hang out with.
Given we are about to celebrate the festival of lights, what has brought light into your life in the last 12 months?
Going inward has brought me light, especially spending more time Krishna chanting. The chanting is a way to experience cosmic energy. I was drawn to the city of Jaipur, in part, because of the Vastu of the city and when I sit on my rooftop, I can see over to Nahargarh Fort and see the sun temple which along with the overall topography of the city brings me light. At night I sometimes go for a bike ride and take a locked down mental darshan of Govind Dev Ji, the main Krishna temple near the Palace.
Visits to Himanshu’s home studio gallery in Jaipur can be arranged by appointment. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org His curated art collections can be bought within India and internationally and for bespoke projects, catalogues can be requested by mail.