What comes to your mind when you think of an Art Exhibition? A gallery walk in a metropolitan city? An event hosted by a famous artist? A festivals in a well-known exhibition centre like NSIC or Kaala Ghoda? Some of you may even recall visits to museums that display art and hold regular events to showcase indigenous and foreign work.
Whenever I think about art and leisure, the imagination takes me to urban spaces; to diverse modern centres, often with limited or even restricted access. It might have a section to display rural art forms, maybe even artists from the hinterlands presenting their talent but the space remains essentially urban, or even urban elite.
In complete contrast to this, I got a chance to attend one of the best art exhibitions I have ever been to, in a village in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. In my last blog, I had written about how leisure and entertainment here means activities like long walks, chatting, soaking in nature, cooking, and dancing in a slow and relaxed manner. Amidst this, an art exhibition may sound like a misfit but it was one if the most wholesome experiences, not just for me but also for everyone around here, including the locals.
The exhibition was showcased at a local art gallery called Baadii, that means home. Anirudh Choudhry aka Lallan, the founder of Baadii Art Gallery is an artist whose medium of expression flows freely between painting, cinema, archives, photography and now curation. He has been working with art in rural places for quite some time now. He calls them places of high synergy and harmony as compared to the hostile environment of cities with constant struggle.
Lallan came to Kandbari, a village in Kangra, to live in peace and explore his art. What was shown to him as a potential home, soon became an Exhibition Center, hence came the name Baadii. It started with a small showcase of a friend’s work which received much love and appreciation from the people around. Next, came work of a naturalist where they combined his passion with an installation and conveyed the message of nature conservation.
Eitthu the title of the exhibition means ‘here’ or ‘यहाँ’ in Pahadi. This collection of work here depicted Kangra culture, through the material sourced locally. It was so beautifully contextualised that the residents who saw the artwork really saw themselves or a version of them and how they have changed – this was also the theme of this exhibition.
The idea was to make art accessible to all, while at the same time, contextualising and presenting the original artwork by dedicated artists in the nearby villages.
People make art somewhere and present it all over the world except the place where it actually took shape, which is disappointing. Eitthu depicts life in Kangra here itself!Lallan
He believes that when a person with skills comes to the place with high action, both the person and place get benefitted. The artists from Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai – Roshan Anvekar, Rohan Anvekar, Pratik Raut and Kumar Misal, did just that. They worked on exploration and research for two months followed by a month of residency during which they created their masterpieces. The criteria for selection was that the work should establish a solid meaning with geography and demography of Kangra.
Roshan’s work showcased application merged with material such as charcoal, slate, bamboo, mud, straw and more. He tried to show the anthropological side of culture that is fading away such as clothing – motifs and garments, the way people look, how they talk, their lives and aspects that distinguished them as people of Kangra. His work acted like a mirror or rather, a time machine to locals who saw themselves back in time.
Pratik has keen interest in migration and livelihoods. He uses goat and sheep to depict change. In his work here, he has used Kangra Miniature Art, an art form famous among the elite but local people know less about it. He has combined it with his own unique style to depict the lifestyle of people, especially Gaddi tribe that has been a part of Kangra for long. He showed the shift from their earlier nomadic ways of life to more settled, modern and materialistic living. That combined with the changing landscape of the place tells a story of transition in a nuanced way.
Rohan is a landscape artist. His work focused on the architecture of Kangra and its transformation over the years. He presented a story of those colourful yet lonely mud stone and wooden houses in the higher reaches that have been abandoned by the owners to move downwards into modern brick and cement structures. His exquisite installation depicts destruction and change.
Kumar is a print maker. He creates his own surface to work on. Here, he collected local material to make his art. Everything was sourced from waste and other raw material from the fields. He processed them to make fibre and then paper. He has used the surfaces to depict his observations about Kangra and its appearances. Kumar’s process of creating art became the art itself.
The exhibition had a tremendous response from the audience. Everyone from youngsters to men, women, older people and kids came to visit it and could connect with it at many different levels. They were thrilled to see their lives, surroundings and culture being shown with local material. It became personal for them. Many were heard saying “Arey, ye to hum hi hain!” (“Oh, this is us!”). What made it even more beautiful was that they could interact with the artists themselves and hear from them about what they did, how and why.
This exhibition gave people a chance to have conversations that are otherwise missing. It wasn’t just a way of leisure and entertainment but much more. Such public spaces must be everywhere. They can become a way to address local issues locally.
Anything that initiates a dialogue can become a catalyst in something extremely important and often difficult to begin with. People start talking about matters which generally don’t get talked about. It might not result in action immediately but at least it starts the journey towards it.
How this space has opened up a new platform for conversations and meaningful dialogue truly gives a chance to Baadii. In a world where people in villages are cutoff from mainstream arts, Baadii has opened up new avenues.