Art and Art Deco in South Kolkata

A gallery style concept store in South Kolkata homes contemporary art and crafts. Rajesh, founder of Z precinct, took us around his space and then for an architectural walk around the neighbourhood.

“I have travelled with Mala from Gujarat to places in Bhuj to source directly from from artisans who work with Indigo and Kutch embroideries, and got pieces from an iranian lady based in Delhi who makes ottomans coats” shares Rajesh. Walking around the store, I find the Bengali aalna that holds saris and scarves the most fascinating. “ We also work with other asian makers like Kavita singh who based in Singapore and puts things together to make jewellery as well as a Thai artist who works with silver and gold” further adds Rajesh.

The store has a collection of unique products just like in a museum shop and suits tastes of collectors and luxury travellers. Initially friends and family were customers and now through word of mouth, the space has gained more clientele. There is also a contemporary art gallery that holds shows for upcoming artists and secret b&b. Rajesh shares,” We have kept the space like the original house and upcycled bookshelves and furniture and preserved the unique chairs and stools.”.

I see some Origami birds hanging from the last food pop up event they was held at the gallery. The space is special as it brings together people of certain tastes and also an opportunity for more people to collaborate and create an independent culture. The gallery also serves chef made food, while you can sit and admire the art. Rajesh has retained the architectural elements  like old style bengali ventilators so the house can breathe. He calls it a social museum showing me balconies that are covered in glass to admire the postcolonial architecture. He was also excited to share about the assamese sari revival pop up that he would host in a couple of months.

Stepping out of this charming house, we come to a quaint street of post partition of Bengal style (1905) houses.  East bengal was primarily Muslim dominated and West bengal belonged to Hindus, thus when they came together and migration happened, a lot of cultural mixture happened in food, architecture and ways of living. The migrators received a plot of land that was divided and given to individual families who planned nicely ventilated breezy homes in this quiet part of kolkata. You would see a broad road with Art deco colour blocks dating from 1930s on both sides. Some have rounded edges with lines as decorations and have been untouched since. This is a living record of that period. I see grills with intricate patterns indicating that an Indian architect who was influenced by art deco made them as they were not in their purest form. Bengali art deco was different from the parsi art deco one sees in Bombay. Colour combinations were different and most homes had an Aangan/ courtyard opening into doorways, this was called ‘BADI’. People also named their houses. In some, balconies make them stand apart. There was no standardisation and each has it’s own character. One can see marwari influences of central avenue, this making kolkata a culmination of cultures. There are also coloured glass which is very European like in Kochi and Goa.

I noticed the warm colour palette which was a reference from the stories of rabindranath tagore I had seen on TV. Each family has brought a little bit of themselves in their homes even though they were built at the same time, they are all different. Today too, the cultural exchange between the marwaris, south indians, muslim bengalis continues and the city is extending.


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