Kumartuli Printer, Notes on Labour, Part 1 & Part 2
Soi has been documenting, over the course of the past 5 years, a printer in Kumartuli, the old Northen quarter of the city of Kolkata. The first work that appeared was a slide-show titled Notes on Labor, Kumartuli Printer Part 1. Here “Praneet Soi invites contemplation of the sturdy relationship between manuality and apparatus, craft and context, which characterises the workshops of cities in the Third World. His slide show parses out the gestures of a printer’s hands as he interacts with an ancient pedal operated press in Calcutta. As the operator feeds paper into his anachronistic machine, it spits out grainy, high contrast images of his own hands, immersed in labour. This staged reflection on a productive process emerges amidst other slides that establish the context of manufacturing: cropped shots of tools and cans of ink, samples of receipts and other printed matter, views of the workspace.”
The next work that appeared was Notes on Labor, Kumartuli Printer Part 2. Soi developed a series of prints and graphic compositions that he developed over the course of his long-term engagement with the printer. For the prints they used images from the printer’s collection of blocks and cheap, coloured sheets of paper used to print receipts. These compositions test the limits of the technical possibilities available within this spartan workshop and explore the parameters of visual language both in terms of medium specificity, as well as in the broader context of culture.
Praneet Soi was born in Kolkata in 1971. He left Bengal for the west coast of the country in 1990 where he studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharajah Sayajirao University, Baroda
The liberalized economic policies of the 1990’s had ushered in an era of globalization and upon completing his Bachelor’s and Masters degrees, Soi worked as a visualiser within the advertising industry in New Delhi. In 1999 he left for California where he attended the University of California at San Diego on a scholarship and received his second master’s degree in the visual arts. In 2001 he was selected to the summer residency at Skowhegan, Maine.
Soi moved to the Netherlands in 2002 to attend the Rijksakademie van beeldende Kunsten, a two-year international residency program for artists and since then, he has divided his time between Amsterdam and Kolkata. This oscillatory movement impacts his practice. Soi identifies over time, patterns that emerge from an investigation of his extended social and economic landscape. In California it was the miniaturizing nature of the vast, undulating, suburban vista that caught his eye.
Moving to Amsterdam, media reportage of unrest in the Middle-East, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the events following September 11th led to a series of miniature paintings on terrorism and expanding from there, paintings of the human body. Site-specific wall paintings also emerge from these sources who’s further investigation led Soi to create an archive that traces his relationship with the media.
Since 2008 in Kumartuli, North Kolkata, Soi’s documentation of small-scale factories and one-room workshops has been an ongoing activity. Kumartuli is historically home to a clan of potters that have worked with religious iconography and sculpture-making and has over time given way to micro-workshops and warehouses. Through the inherent politics of labor and economic transition that manifests itself in a series of works titled “Notes on Labor”, Soi delves into a pluralistic representation of this complex, historic and yet relevant site, through a series of slide-shows, miniature paintings and video.
Soi first visited the city of Srinagar in Kashmir in 2010. He documented extensively the historic Sufi shrines in the city (Dastagir Pir has since burnt down and is currently being rebuilt) and met with local craftsmen. He returned to Srinagar in the spring of 2014 and embedded himself within an artisan’s studio, working with traditional patterns and motifs in the making of experimental compositions. Insurgency-scarred and a politically sensitive issue for the rival nations of India and Pakistan and its own ethnically divided population for over 5 decades, Kashmir has faced the brunt of cultural and social deprivation that comes from being one of the most militarised regions in the world.
Soi used the time spent in Kashmir to explore the disappearing traces of Sufi culture and the related migration, over the course of history, of ancient patterns and forms from Iran into the sub-continent. The migratory nature of the works emerging from Kashmir could perhaps be linked to his family’s exile from what became Pakistan when the country was partitioned in 1947. His grandfather moved to Delhi before finally settling in Kolkata in 1950.
Interactive processes are important to Soi. He designed drawing-machines that would allow him to share his work process with an audience. The Astatic Machines”, inspired by Paul Klee´s Pedagogical Sketchbook for students at the Bauhaus, emphasize the importance of drawing in Soi’s practice. The artist, in partnership with the Mondrian Foundation, has recently set up in Kolkata a pilot residency for artists and practitioners. A studio program that privileges a material approach to making art while using the city as a filter for experience.
In 2014 Soi is situated at Stiftung Laurenz Haus in Basel. He has recently been granted a research fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. In 2015 the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai will be holding a solo exhibition of the artist’s works.
Soi´s works reside in important collections in Europe and India. These include the collection of Inge and Cees de Bruin-Heijn and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. In 2014 Soi was commissioned to create a permanent work for the HCL headquarters in Chennai. In 2011 he was one of 4 artists representing India at the Indian Pavilion in Venice where he created a site-specific drawing installation.