Silk River - A living bridge between two countries

Published: 22 December 2017

Silk River has been in the making for over two years, involving 20 communities along the banks of the rivers Thames and the Hooghly, engaging thousands of participants and teams of artists in both the UK and India. On Saturday 16 December 2017 the ‘Journey of Surprises’ ended with a spectacular finale at Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, India.

Representatives from the 10 river Thames communities that took part joined members from the 10 river Hooghly communities to parade the large hand-painted silk flags to the Victoria Memorial for a closing ceremony to mark this incredible collaboration through the Silk River programme of cultural exchange. They were accompanied by a multitude of different dancers and musicians, even some bagpipes!

From Thurrock, Margaret Hall and Lesley Robinson represented the communities of Purfleet, Tilbury and East Tilbury which were partnered with communities from Jorasanko, Kidderpore and Batanagar. In Kidderpore, Lesley had the task of explaining the design of the Tilbury flag to local school children, and a number of colourful story-scrolls were presented to them made by Tilbury schools. In Batanagar the connections with East Tilbury were explored with a visit to the Bata India shoe factory and in Jorosanko the group visited artists’ studios.

The Kinetika team from the UK was led by artistic director Ali Pretty who travelled with Jo Beal and Jane Ford who have co-ordinated the project in the UK, along with Mike Johnston senior lecturer in Creative Media at Bath Spa University, who documented the entire project through photographs and interviews with key participants.

In Ali Pretty’s speech at the closing ceremony she said “Jorasanko and Purfleet are shining examples of how artists can unleash the imagination of local communities to be at the centre of their own renaissance. Kidderpore and Tilbury are long-time gateways to a wider world opening up possibilities, broadening our perspective; and Batanagar and East Tilbury are home to shoemakers enabling us to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes, bringing us empathy.”

In attendance at the closing ceremony was British High Commissioner to India Sir Dominic Asquith, who said:

“It’s been inspiring what we’ve been seeing, not just the colours but the enthusiasm, the amount of determination and commitment over the years to make this a reality…It’s what I call the living bridge – it is bringing communities together in the UK and in India in a way that is really relevant to the communities that they exist in.”

British Council India Director Alan Gemmell OBE was specially in Kolkata for the Closing Ceremony and thanked everyone involved:

“I’m at the final event for one of the most important projects that we’ve had in the Year of Culture. Silk River has connected 20 communities in Kolkata and London and been at the heart of our mission to use the Year of Culture to celebrate the modern day relationship between our two countries, to connect with people and to inspire them to build a relationship for the next 70 years. It’s been a wonderful event, it’s been an incredible project and we’re so, so grateful to everyone involved. Thank you very much.”

Silk River in India has been brought together by Kinetika, UK and partners in India – ThinkArts, Murshidabad Heritage Development Society, Rural Crafts Hubs of West Bengal, Crafts Council of India West Bengal, Jungle Crows, West Bengal Tourism, Future Hope. It is supported by Arts Council England and British Council.

There will be an exhibition of the 20 scrolls at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, from 19-31 December 2017 after which they will return to the UK.