Closing Speech from Ali Pretty
Closing Speech from Ali Pretty
Ali Pretty delivered the following address at the Silk River Closing Ceremony at Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, on Sat 16th Dec:
“Welcome to Silk River
Thank you all for being here this afternoon to share with us the final moment of what has been a truly inspirational journey of a lifetime.
So how did it all begin?
Right here in India, Calcutta, in 1985.
I was travelling with Elizabeth Lynch, from London and she was directing a production with Habib Tanvir of the Naya Theatre.
“If you want to change the world, Ali,’ Habib told me one evening, “you need to be an artist.”
That’s exactly what I wanted to do.
I was sewing saris together making a silk river for the show that opened the next day.
“If you want to learn about Culture and Politics,” he continued. “Come with me to Calcutta.”
So, I did.
Arriving at Howrah Station, we were confronted by this city, in the midst of Durga puja, a city with an overwhelming imagination, and a people with an immense passion for just about everything.
One of them was Korak Ghosh, a young Bengali film maker with a vision.
This experience inspired me to spend my life working through the arts to engage and empower communities all over the world.
So this year of celebration between the UK and India has given me a unique opportunity to bring together Korak and Elizabeth and teams of artists in both countries to work along the banks of The Thames and The Hooghly for three years to design, make and travel on this journey that we all know now as SILK RIVER.
As we made our way down both rivers we have unfurled our hand-woven hand-painted silk stories to thousands of people along the route.
20 communities have created 10 partnerships each with a gift to offer, each one fit for a goddess.
Murshidabad with families who with their heritage make impossible dreams come true, re-vitalising Azimganj with magical palaces and Jain Temples, and silk weavers weaving the finest of threads,
Gravesend, where the British Sikh Community imagined and built the largest Gudwara in Europe.
Krishnanagar a city of artists, creating wonders from clay and dakersaaj, shiny stuff that arrives by post and Southend that shares the spirit of making and is home to the largest Ganesh Puja in the UK.
In Chandannagar we find a direct connection with Barking and Dagenham were communities of innovative artists bring stories of light out into their streets.
Barrackpore, Serampore, Greenwich and Woolwich bring us ideas of freedom, education giving our turbulent world a Future Hope.
Jorasanko and Purfleet – shining examples of how artists can unleash the imagination of local communities to be at the centre of their own renaissance.
Burrabazar and Tower Hamlets, where textiles and trade mix many cultures to live and work side by side.
Howrah and Dartford, builders of bridges, centres of connectivity and access.
Kidderpore and Tilbury, longtime gateways to a wider world opening up possibilities, broadening our perspective.
Batanagar and East Tilbury, shoemakers enabling us to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes, bringing us empathy.
Botanic Gardens and Kew Gardens, where many and diverse seeds are sewn and each one nurtured with love.
Here we have our shimmering threads, and we have created Silk River.
Now we are the point where the river meets the sea.
I thank you, each and every one, in equal measure for your part in this, and I invite you all individually and collectively to weave these dreams together, to build bridges, to commit and to invest in this shared vision to care for and celebrate our rivers, and I encourage you to continue this cultural exchange between India and the UK, London and Kolkata.
Let’s meet again and again along the banks of our two mighty rivers The Thames and The Hooghly.
Photos from the whole journey can be found here: