Jackie Sleper
Published on monday 4 september 2012
Soil - Maati

photography Petra Janssen, Studio Boot

Sushma K. Bahl Indian art historian and curator, and Jackie Sleper.

The fine artist Jackie Sleper, has been working for many years, and with success. In 2007, at the Florence Biennale, she was awarded first prize for her whole oeuvre. At the moment she is working on her next project SOIL ('Earth'), which represents her vision of India.

2009 - 2012

Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck in this life. And I was certainly lucky one day in 2007 during the Florence Biennale. I was working simultaneously on two projects: Dulce y Amargo, an extensive travelling exhibition for Mexico, which would run for one-and-a-half years, and Shadow of Life, my autobiography, which was an expression of who I am and where I'm coming from. I had been thinking about what I wanted to do next when Sushma K. Bahl, a prominent art-critic and curator came up to me. She had heard about Dulce y Amargo and carefully looked at all the objects and paintings, and she asked me if I could represent her country India in the same way as I had represented Mexico. I didn't need much time to think about this proposal – I have always felt strongly attracted to India, so I immediately said 'yes'.

Now I had already learned that if I am to undertake such a project I must be committed to it with my whole soul. I take an enormous breath and dive deep. All my senses are attuned to new sensations. But to read about a complex country like India at home or to research it on the internet is naturally quite different to experience it in reality.

That was more than two years ago and since then I have made a number of trips through India, and only now do I feel as if I have begun to understand something about the country. The first time I travelled through India I experienced culture shock. Our taxi tore through the potholed streets with an enormous mass of honking vehicles right and left of us. And suddenly a white cow stood in the middle of the road quietly contemplating everything around it. I couldn't believe my eyes. I had seen such scenes in photos but it is something else to see it in the flesh. I spent two weeks wandering the streets, exploring the slums, visiting the richer areas, I had coffee with the ambassador, tea with the Ministry of Culture, though nothing with the customs. They wanted to know everything about me: who I was, what I was going to do and how I was going to do it, and why. But well, at that time it wasn't even clear to me. First I had to see the country for myself. At that time I greatly admired Sushma K. Bahl, a great art lover and scholar. On behalf of the government they regularly invite artists from all over the world to visit India, and naturally a pile of paperwork and diplomacy is involved, but she manages to keep calm under all circumstances despite the fact that it things can get extremely hectic. I take my hat off to her because the way in which you are sometimes addressed is not always very pleasant – sometimes it makes you really angry – but she's always polite. I admire that. .

More than once in my hotel in the evening as I contemplated the things which I had seen and done during the day, it would hit me – what a violent society! Enormous poverty beside equally great wealth! The cast system! How will I be able to make that visible?

Soil - Maati 2
Published on Tuesday, 02 October 2012

2009 - 2012

I was never able to completely visualize my Indian impressions and feelings. There was so much to see, sample, feel, smell, hear and experience… all my senses were aroused to the full.

One of the trips that I made in India was to Jaipur. What a city, packed with people, colors, smells as well as macaws or rebel monkeys. They do their name justice; they steal anything they can lay their hands on, pull your hair or hit you. This rebelliousness appeals to me because I am also a little bit rebellious, even if I don't steal or hit people, and I also don't pull people's hair. These monkeys inspired me to make Pithora, a life-size, purple-blue macaw. On its head and back I painted a mask in an ancient Indian batik pattern, and in order to express its divinity I decorated its testicles with fresh-water pearls. It derives its name from the town called Pithoragarh and its beautifully painted houses.

In Jaipur I gave a lecture about my work and the ideas that lie behind it. I was very surprised by the number of people who finally came to hear 'the white person with big spectacles' (from The Whàtlands??). Clearly they were curious about what I had come to do and what I was busy making, and they recognized much in my way of working, what lay beneath the surface and the story behind my work. For example, I had made a series of works about dogs, in the Indian scale of things an 'impure' animal – that, at least, is how it seemed to me.

Something which I found quite shocking was that my work was censured. I had made a small sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi which represented him naked with two great hands as wings in place of arms. I was not allowed to display it because of the nakedness, but at the same time there was someone in the Ministry of Culture who wished to buy it, which can called a bit contradictory.

'It is good to die for religion, but for religious fanaticism one must neither live nor die.' (Mahatma Gandhi) The photos in this blog were made by JanJacob Sleper.

Soil - Maati 3
Published on Tuesday, 10 October 2012

Bob Hiench

In New Delhi I visited Bob Hiensch, the Dutch ambassador to India until August 2013. During a fantastic lunch at his home he told me about the Indian warli-artist Jivya Soma Mashe, who received the Prins Claus Prize for his work in 2009.

On his advice Sushma K. Bahl and I visited Jivya at his home in Dhamangaon in Maharashtra Province, which is quite a long way from New Delhi. 
It was not only a hell of a job to get there but getting back was not without its dangers with a vey tipsy chauffeur who raced through the mountains. And on top of that the engine blew up. But anyway, I survived to tell the story so it all worked out in the end. Clearly we had to make a big effort in order to meet Jivya.

We met Jivya and his wife at their home where we looked at each other's work. Although there were a lot of differences there were also many similarities, as we discovered. His work appealed to me and he praised my imaginative strength, which was naturally nice to hear from the mouth of someone like Jivya. I also have to thank Sushma for the more-or-less simultaneous translation.

Jivya Soma Mashe en Jackie Sleper

    photography Petra Janssen, Studio Boot Jivya Soma Mashe and Jackie Sleper      

At a certain moment I took a deep breath and told him that I would consider it an honor if he would make an exhibition with me and collaborate on a project. He immediately agreed, a wonderful moment for me. I thought that it was extraordinary that someone can so quickly make contact with someone else coming from a totally different culture, and that you can genuinely appreciate each other's work. This doesn't occur every day, without jealousy or other negative vibes. Pure appreciation! This doesn't often happen but our lives naturally depend on it.

Sequence 01    Click on the image to see how we conceive that the dome will look like.

De koepel van mijn object SOIL.
The dome of my object SOIL.

I am extremely delighted about the immense project which we are going to undertake in Delhi. It will involve the creation of an enormous four-meter diameter cupola (I don't know where). We will work on the cupola in situ: Jivya and his family will paint the exterior and I will be responsible for the interior, together with a group of orphans and women. The project was inspired by the earth-brown cupola of my object Soil (that consists of seven domes) which encapsulates my feelings about Jivya's work.

Which brings us up to the present. Sushma, Jivya and his grandson Kishor Mashe are coming to the Netherlands. They will stay with us which will undoubtedly be very pleasant and exciting. We will cook some marvelous meals together and prepare our exhibition. I think that it is great that we will be able to spend a few undisturbed days together before SOIL is opened to the public.

Soil - Maati 4
Published on Tuesday, 14 October 2012

So, another opening! After a long time preparing it and then suddenly it is over – faster than you would think. I look back on it with a great deal of pleasure. Beautiful speeches by Sushma K. Bahl and Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You from the Prins Claus Fonds, very good attendance and enthusiastic reactions. What more do you want?

photography Angeliek de Jonge

photography Angeliek de Jonge

The opening days featured the workshops which Sushma, Jivya, their grandson Kishor Mashe, and I gave for children from different schools, among which the Maupertuus School in Driebergen. I would like to do that more often because it was real fun. We drew with them, spoke with them and above all we laughed a lot. k zou dat wel vaker willen doen, want wat was dat leuk. I painted a few hundred pieces of cloth with brown paint which served as a base for their drawings. The children's reactions were priceless when Jivya explained that if he wanted to make the color brown, then he was obliged to do it with a mixture of clay and cow-dung.

photography Angeliek de Jonge

We received many enthusiastic reactions. One person said: 'Dear Soesma, it was fantastic and really great that we could come to this event. It was difficult but great fun, and the drinks and the coconut cookies were very nice, we were curious about the painting and we found the photographs very beautiful. Also the piece in the Telegraaf was cool. Once again, thank you very much from all the pupils in Evert's group'. And, 'the art was fun and beautiful'. And finally, 'it was great fun and very interesting to see, and it was beautiful. All the best, Hugo'. Now, this is why we get involved in projects like this.

photography Angeliek de Jonge