Baroda, Gujarat- The Chakali Project

The Gujarati word for sparrow is chakali. This is a linoleum block print of a chakali:
I made 100 of these prints while I was an Artist-in-Residence at Chhaap Foundation for Printmaking Trust.
I dyed them in turmeric,
then had them stuffed and sewn up.vrijeshchakali
Meanwhile, through an introduction by the organization Koshish Milap, I was conducting art workshops at a nearby school.collageclass
This extraordinary little one-room school was also a clinic in the evening.
The mission of Koshish Milap, headed by Drs. Kishor and Varsha Mistry, is to educate and provide healthcare to the ‘slum’ community of Muj Mahuda.
There are over 750 families in Muj Mahuda that use these medical and educational services.
The children loved making collages.
The word spread about their talent and enthusiasm, and the Times of India wrote an article about their good work!
I thought we could collaborate on the subject of chakalis…
They made some excellent collage birds,
I mean, really excellent…
and loaned them to me for an exhibit at Chhaap.
In exchange, all 50 students received one Chakali.
You can have one, too!

photo credits: Shannon Holman


Scrap Potential- Scavenging in India

scrap potential
Many folks ask where I find my materials to make collages.
Here are some scraps, sources and experiences from my last trip to India.
While an Artist-In-residence at Chhaap Foundation for Printmaking Trust in Baroda, Gujarat, I used a batter of coffee grounds and tea leaves, bindi powder, turmeric, and Celluclay (a dried paper pulp) to experiment with paper sculpture. The texture was made with a fork.

turmeric paper
Some of this paper I’ve paired with old portraits:


agni sati
These were found at the exquisite ‘Friday Market’ on the outskirts of Baroda.
friday market
This is a sprawling maze of live goats, tin charms, chai carts, torn saris, wooden game pieces, broken toys and, most lovely for me, old photographs.
friday market photos

tea cartfearfully
bombay red
love marriage
Scavenging for mid-century photographic ephemera outside of The States is quite challenging, our Kodachrome generation being unparalleled, so this particular market was really a gem. (On a side note however, it seems India’s snapshot culture of today is certainly catching up).

The upcycling at Friday Market also deserves some attention. Here are some wonderful hand-stitched oil-can cozies:
oil cans
I experimented with using some of the found objects as stamps, such as these keys:
Moving South, in Fort Cochi, Kerala, I picked out some paper goods at Junk Junction (Kumbarramukku, if memory serves).. Looking through newspapers, game cards, old books and ledgers, this passerby wanted to document a dusty picture of a famous 70’s movie star:
junk junction
The language there, Malayalam, has a beautiful alphabet, and I was quite inspired by it.
Malayalam ana
I was in India for a number of teaching projects, as well as dumpster diving, and the scraps came in handy for those, too. In this bookmaking workshop at Chhaap, students rummaged through a rag bag donated by a local fashion designer, Rupali. They used the pieces to customize their book covers.

It was an honor to have Jyoti Bhatt, one of India’s most renowned artists and photographer of Indian ephemeral art, among my students.
book making
In a nearby school run by the organization Koshish Milap, I brought in scraps of handmade paper and fabric in all colors and shapes. It was a great ice-breaker for them to teach me the colors in Gujarati (new to me), and having a full-spectrum palette easily accessible helped them to jump right in and start collaging (new to them).
The kids were overjoyed and seemingly not intimidated at the process of building their own beautiful compositions out of scraps.
collage birds

Thanks again, India, for all the inspiration and generosity. See you next time.

Activities at Buddha’s Smile School

In January of 2012 I was welcomed to Buddha’s Smile School, in Sarnath, India, to host some art workshops with the kids. Here’s some of the fantastic results and a glimpse into daily life at the school…
The kids used handmade paper, fabric scraps, glue, and scissors to cut out letter forms and piece together images in our collage workshops.


We cut out and decorated letters for a photo project to thank the donors of last year’s fundraiser. For all the donors names, please see The Thank You Project.


In the watercolor workshop, they learned about primary and secondary colors, how to mix colors, and how different ratios of water and pigment have different effects.colormixing2_colormixing_

A drawing collaboration in an accordian book between myself and a talented young lady, Jahida…book_jaida

In the courtyard, we shared paints and pencils working on the Thank You Project (you can see their lovely new generator in the background).drawingclass_
Everyday, after morning classes, lunch is made in their kitchen and served to the 221 students at their desks.meals1_lunch1_lunch3_
After lunch, there is a supervised time for the younger grades to learn how to wash their hands and brush their teeth.handwashing

An orderly line-up for time at the sink…
Toothbrushes are marked with every child’s name and distributed.toothbrushingtoothbrushing4toothbrushing1toothbrushing3

I was extremely impressed with how hard-working the teachers and staff were to create this structured time for the health and dignity of the children. For many of the students, it is the only time of the day dedicated to a nutritious meal and personal hygiene.
It made me so happy to see the leaders of the school taking a little time out for fun and creativity.

photo credit: Shannon Holman

Thank You from Buddha’s Smile School 2012

The students, teachers and founders of Buddha’s Smile School send their love and gratitude to those who participated in last year’s spectacular fundraiser…
…for helping to create the first Brooklyn Commune Community Scholarship for a Buddha’s Smile School Student. They were very excited to know our community took an interest in their well being!
To see more art projects and activities at the school, look HERE.

Exhibit opening in Brooklyn, Friday, September 7th

b. conte at 167 North 9th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, will be hosting my next exhibit: Notions, Sewn Collages from India, Stuffed Toys and Other Crafts.

Opening Reception: Friday, September 7th, 6-9pm. The show runs through October 25th

This is a benefit exhibition supporting my upcoming arts exchange project and teaching residency with La Isla Foundation in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua this November.


La Isla Foundation is dedicated to fighting Chronic Kidney Disease, or CKD, among agricultural workers throughout Nicaragua, primarily in the sugarcane industry. They provide vital assistance to these communities, in which more than 70% of men and 30% of women have died from CKD.




They work with health officials and researchers to provide better medical treatment for the sick, study the causes of the epidemic, and support impacted families. By providing direct aid, the tools for self-empowerment, and legal recourse when warranted, La Isla is instrumental in improving working conditions and protecting human rights.






La Isla supports and organizes workers and their families through education programs, health initiatives, and economic development projects. Recent projects include the renovation of an elementary school, the re-opening of a formerly abandoned local health clinic, and the development of a sustainable agriculture program in community gardens.











Through the Marmalade Project, La Isla trains local women to produce and market marmalade made from abundant, locally grown fruits. All participants in the program are widows who have lost their husbands to chronic renal insufficiency and are struggling to provide for their families.


2012 Drawings & Prints