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Culturing Sustainability Cookbook

Culturing Sustainability Cookbook

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Published by Caffyn Jesse

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Published by: Caffyn Jesse on Jul 10, 2010
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09/07/2014

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UK artist Rajni Shah is fascinated with the idea of art as gift. “Recognizing that some of the most beautiful acts are
performed, written or received for and by other people as the gesture of a friend on some level” (Shah, February 2007),
she has explored gift-giving in various public interventions and community projects. She describes her work with sex
workers:

“This year [2008] I’ve started work with a group of female sex workers in London, interpreting gift in the most literal
way, making thank you cards and sending photos to family members. The drop-in centre where I am working is a real
home, and a really creative home, it’s a constant place of refuge that is filled with changing artistic activity and
stimulus. And it’s a real example to me of how creativity is not surplus but lifeblood. It’s not that the women who use
the centre wouldn’t be alive without the artistic content of the workshops, but that they wouldn’t value being alive in
the same way. The opportunity each week to have a voice, to engage, to question and wonder brings out the best
qualities in these women. In some of them, the transformation between the moment when they walk into the group –
bitter, angry, sullen – and when they leave – grateful, laughing and engaged – is hard to believe. And their desire to
continue the chain of gifting, to keep giving to others, is strong” (Shah, 2008).

Rajni Shah, Small Gifts, 2007.
“This was a series of interventions which
took place over the last three days of the
National Review of Live Art, at different
times of day. For the duration of the piece, I
took a vow of silence and tried to keep a
silent mind; I did not make eye contact with
anyone, I did not read anything, write
anything, or engage in any activity other than
meditation. In this photo, I am offering my
clothes and hair to passers-by as gifts in
return for a trace of themselves.”

Image and text from:
http://islandsinstitute.ning.com/photo/photo/s
how?id=1163070%3APhoto%3A15196&con
text=album&albumId=1163070%3AAlbum
%3A15201 Used with permission.

Shaping Spaces of Possibility

Culturing Sustainability● page 128

Rajni Shah, small gifts: colchester (2007)

“During my research into gift and public intervention, I spent three nights in Colchester, basing myself at the Colchester Arts Centre.
The weather was bad and I was working on my own so was unable to do very much with my own body, so I decided to write letters and leave
gifts around the town.This image is of a series of empty gift boxes I left at bus stops, in the movie theatre, in shops and doorways across town.
I included a note in each box inviting the person who found it to use it to send a gift to someone unusual or unexpected. “

Image and text from http://islandsinstitute.ning.com/photo/photo/show?id=1163070%3APhoto%3A15193&context=user. Used with
permission.

Caffyn Kelley

Culturing Sustainability● page 129

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