Have you traveled to the same place twice? Have you ever gone back looking for familiar faces? Have you ever looked closely at a souvenir or an artifact that you picked up from a far away place? Have you cared to find out where it was made? Who made it? How it was made?
We know so little about what we own. It comes with a price tag and that’s the end of the transaction.
Especially in a country like India – the myriad, meandering, contrasting images can be overwhelming. India is spread across 28 states, but it’s almost like 28 separate countries – different languages, dialects, faiths, festivals, rituals, arts, crafts, traditions and beliefs - a lifetime of experiences. What’s fascinating is people actually get around the country constantly adapting, evolving, diversifying, sharing and protecting.
What a potter can do with his clay, and a dancer can do with space, a painter can do with paint, a musician can do with sound, a storyteller can do with words, a singer can do with voice, a sculptor can do with his hands and a crafts person can do with his mind - a relationship that an artist has with that medium.
By merely acquiring/purchasing a product, you may not take the artist’s relationship with that product back with you. Arts and crafts are not just decoration pieces. They are not manufactured. They are hand made. They always have a story behind them.
Between November and December, for the past seven years, Bangalore has an opportunity to meet the face behind most art forms and crafts in India. Kala Madhyam, a Bangalore based organisation creates a space for artists to inform city bred people about culture, art, craft, the process and purpose for making these crafts.
Madhyam was started in 1983 with the intention of creating public awareness and attitudinal change on issues related to women, children and other marginalized groups.
Kalamadhyam is Madhyam’s initiative to stimulate development from within culture by exploring ways in which Culture can be a means of sustenance, as well as a medium of social empowerment.
This year, TBY closely followed the rhythm, the voice and the feel of the mela – a festival. Nearly 200 folk artists and adivasis from 21 States from distant villages in India were exhibiting their arts and crafts for sale under one umbrella. With celebration as its central theme, Kala Madhyam attempts to create and distribute wealth through art, bridge the gap between rural artists and urban markets and make space for folk culture within cityscapes.
Such forums open the path for cultural tourism and create a forum for direct interaction between potential clients from industry, architect/interior design sector and artisans. According to Munira Sen, managing trustee of Kala Madhyam, states "Everyday 25,000 metres of Chinese silk enters our market at Rs. 9 a metre. The influx of Chinese and Indonesian toys and other items will further marginalise our potters and artisans," she says. Over 63 million artisans in the country depend on the income from the handicrafts sector. Hence the need for creating newer, direct to consumer forums without the interference of middlemen.”
The sounds of a beating drum opened this festival to celebrate the arts when a ‘Dappu’ dance artiste from Telangana in Andhra Pradesh lit the lamp. The crescendo increased as musicians from different states jammed together to create an elaborate fusion. The sound was a rare melody - a combination of different hand made instruments and original compositions. This marked the beginning and end of everyday at the Mela– the drums from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, variations of the flute from Rajasthan, bells, claps, confetti and freewill filled the air.
70 stalls to explore, talk with artists, learn about their art form and purchase for your home. Taking back memories is inevitable - cotton candy, stories, ginger lemonade, performances, colours. It’s a brimful.
Kala Madhyam – the medium being art
“I tried other things but eventually went back to my village and decided to make money with what I was best at – Pat Chitra. I sold my paintings in Kolkata and slowly was ready to be called an artist. I will never give up on my art, it’s the only thing that keeps me rooted. Though I have many places to sell my paintings today I enjoy wandering in my village educating children about communal harmony through my paintings.” Anwar Chitraka is a Pat Chitra artist from Medinapore district in West Bengal. This art form is 150 years old and was used to tell stories from mythology and a record of socio-economic changes in society.
Art and craft are synonymous with the gypsy philosophy -always moving, always evolving and always creating. The Hakki Pikki, traditional bird trappers and Iruligas, snake trackers came together towards building a sustainable livelihood by weaving natural fibre and bamboo. They coexist close to the fringes of Banerghatta National Park, 25 kms from Bangalore.
Durgabhai is one of the few artists who has been instrumental in protecting the Gondi Beeti Chitre, a colourful art form from Madhya Pradesh. It is the art of the adivasis. We created this art form. Children can relate to our art very easily as it is so colourful and expressive. But we never thought there would be a market for what we did. Tara Publications has asked us to do drawings for all their children stories. At least we are part of their childhoods, and not forgotten.” Durgabhai, now represents her community and has learnt the skill to find space for this art in the emerging markets.
It takes something to carry a 50 kg brass idol on the head and dance to the beat of a building crescendo in praise of the gods! The Dollu Kunita troupe are the traditional drum dancers of Karnataka who can set a place ablaze with their rhythm, theatrics, acrobatics and energy. Based out of Mandya, a small district in Karnataka, they travel with this ancient dance form across villages, towns and cities. The Blue Yonder organizes these performances for its guests on request in Karnataka.
“Art has a big role in bringing peace in Manipur. It is a non violent approach to resolving many local, internal and political conflicts. As artists, we believe we can spread the word of peace and influence our communities.” As part of a dance school, these young ambassadors travel across the globe introducing the north eastern culture through song and dance. Their main objective is to preserve the traditional dance forms of Manipur and improvise through practice.
Communication should translate into action; this Mela has shown tangible results and has opened new markets for these artists to reach a level of self sufficiency. An opportunity where the art meets trade, where celebration meets diversity, where dreams meet reality where challenges meet opportunities and where strangers meet friends.
You can be a responsible shopper. Just pay close attention where you buy, from whom you buy and find out how much money goes to the artist. Better still buy as much as you wish directly from the artist. It will make them proud for the work they do – from the process to the product. Travel responsibly, shop responsibly.
People and places are always connected. It really depends on how far you want to chase it. Going a little beyond the price tag, might add some value to the things you own.