Gabriola Island sculptor Stephen Cole is in India this month for Gujarat’s Global Art Festival (Photo courtesy Noella Sale)

Gabriola Island artist participating in Global Art Festival in Gujarat, India

Sculptor Stephen Cole is displaying his work internationally for the first time

For decades Stephen Cole has wanted to visit India, and this month the Gabriola Island sculptor’s wish is finally coming true.

The Indian state of Gujarat is holding its second annual Global Art Festival. It’s a month-long event in which 50 visual and performance artists from 18 countries gather to create and display work in an open air art gallery in the region’s salt flats.

Cole said an acquaintance who participated in the inaugural festival suggested him to the organizers and he was surprised when he got the call.

“I was sitting watching TV and I thought, ‘What just happened?’ I wasn’t ready for that at all so I was really shocked,” said Cole, who until now has never shown his work outside of Canada. “And it was funny because … I had just said to my wife, ‘We need to do something to get out of the comfort zone’ and so I got this call and thought, ‘Well, that ought to do it.’”

Cole has been fascinated by India since hearing stories from some “adventuresome” friends who kayaked 1,500 kilometres down the Ganges River about 30 years ago. He said from their accounts “it just seemed like a very magical place.”

“India was always just the only place that before I leave this planet I really want to go there because it’s as close to being in another world as I can get in this one,” he said.

This year’s Global Art Festival started on Dec. 27 and continues until Jan. 27. It runs concurrently with Gujarat’s three-month-long Rann Utsav festival. Cole said last year’s event drew 100,000 tourists.

The visiting artists will get to do some sight-seeing themselves. A Global Art Festival press release notes that they will tour Gujarat and be “immersed” in local culture, an experience meant to inspire the work the artists will then create.

“I’ll just get a feel of how to be in India and then I’ll have a couple of weeks on my own,” Cole said.

He said before leaving he already had a couple of concepts sketched out for his white marble sculptures. With the desert environment in mind he plans to create a piece resembling a splashing water droplet.

Cole said the festival is “largely about bringing people together” and in that spirit he hopes to make casts of people’s hands, with each hand holding a tile to form a sphere to represent “people creating Earth.”

Although he’s participated in Gabriola’s studio tour, Cole said he’s unsure what it will be like building his works before his largest audience yet.

“Typically I like to stay at home and kind of zone out when I’m working, so I don’t know who’s around,” he said. “I really don’t know how to deal with 100,000 visitors while I’m at it.”

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