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Artist strives for arts independence

R Sathyanarayana, Chennai, Sep 6, 2015 0:20 IST

The idea of reviving folk art through Instagram posts gave results

Balaji with some of his artworks
It was very disappointing for SCD Balaji, an artist, visual illustrator and entrepreneur, when his Indian folk art exhibitions in Bengaluru and Hyderabad last year evoked lukewarm response from the public. However, he did not give up his passion. Now, Balaji is a man with a commitment.

He is on a mission to revive and boost folk art forms with a contemporary touch to make them blend with the changing times. After intense deliberation, his first step was to hit the web by creating an online community, Indian Folk Art 365 (https://www.facebook.com/groups/indianfolkart365/)

The job of the community is to breathe life into traditional folk art forms by holding workshops and exhibitions across India. “I was totally upset when my traditional art failed to attract even old generation. The only way to bring the people to the net is to give a twist to a work. That is what I did,” Balaji said.

In addition, vowing to create even better awareness about traditional arts among people, the idea of reviving folk arts through Instagram posts gave results. The community's works are inspired from about 50 Indian folk art forms, including Pattachitra paintings of Odisha, Chitrakathi paintings of Maharashtra, Gond Art of Madhya Pradesh, Bengal Patua of West Bengal, Thangka Paintings—a Himalayan art form—and Madhubani paintings of Bihar. However, the difference is it is now churned out in touch with the changing times--being contemporary.

For example, in a Thangka painting titled “Fearless Butterfly”, Balaji replaced Goddess Saraswati (the goddess of learning) with an empowered Indian woman holding a pen like a trident in one hand and a pink lotus in the other. Another piece “Atithi Devo Bhava”, done in Pattachitra style, depicts a couple in modern attire and holding cell phones and suitcases, standing at the doorway of what resembles a temple.

The entrance is embellished with bells, drapes and peacock motifs and the couple is positioned like deities in a temple.

Through the community, Balaji has been conducting folk art workshops in places such as Coimbatore, Bengaluru and Chennai where age is no bar and people ranging from students to homemakers and even PhD scholars are taking part, he claimed. “Participants in my workshop are range from students to senior citizens. There is no age limit. The only thing is that they need to understand the trend of innovation,” he said.

The artist also teaches students about Indian folk traditions in his art workshops. “I tell students to be different in their approach,” said Balaji, who runs Atma Studios in Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu. “The only challenge I face as a speaker in Indian folk art workshops was making audience understand the differences between Indian folk arts. I generally use various artists’ themed traditional paintings to pinpoint the differences,” he says.

According to him, though India attained Independence more than six decades ago, traditional art never saw independence. “When hundreds of art styles prevail in India we are still influenced by the Western arts. It obviously conveys that independence has not yet reached the art and creative sector,” he regretted.

“At least hereafter, I want to sow the seed of being an Indian in the minds of every artist, illustrator and designer and make freedom grow in contemporary Indian folk art,” he said.

He said: “It was my dream to have single-themed paintings portrayed in different Indian folk arts, which will be easy for them to understand the specialties of each style... so here comes my sadhana of illustrating 'Asato Ma Sadgamaya' in 13 different Indian folk arts, which includes Bengal Patua, Warli, Pattachitra, Phad Art, Kerala Mural, Chitrakathi, Thangka, Kalamkari, Sanjhi, Madhubani, Gond Art, Ganjifa and Kolam.”

Paying tribute to maverick gurus, Balaji talked about his latest story-telling painting on Guru Purnima. “My painting will show the guru opened up or blossomed like a lotus flower, wherein we, as bees, can tend to taste the grace of the guru directly. Thangka painting, otherwise called a meditative offering, is done by the Buddhist monks in monastries to show their beloved gratitude towards Buddha. I’ve thus illustrated this, as a sign of gratitude towards my guru. And so you can also tag your beloved gurus with this Indian folk art and express your gratitude,” he said.

Quoting another example, in his other traditional painting titled “Mata Pita Guru Dev” -- mother, father, teacher and god -- Balaji says when saying dev (god) last, is where the disparity occurs. “How could the almighty go to the fourth position? Here, dev represents self-realisation or being enlightened and knowing the almighty within.This encrypted phrase 'Mata Pita Guru Dev', is thus illustrated,” he added.

For Balaji “Meera Bai” is his favourite character in all the storytelling sessions. “I don’t know anyone apart from Meera, to portray Bhakthi Yoga and unconditional love. She was fearless to express her mad love to lord Krishna. A perfect unconditional and abstract love story,” he says.

Balaji is planning to extend his innovation to Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and other places. Balaji is also expanding his traditional art through www.scdbalaji.com where anyone could get the products such as tea cups, t-shirts and mugs, which are traditionally designed. “If you want to be an artist, don’t ever think of money. If you want to be an entrepreneur don’t ever think of art,” he advises.

“From childhood, I am curious and excited about my dreams. Dreamt about keeping a dream journal in which I can write all my dreams (because I clearly remember my dreams in the morning). Believe me keeping a dream journal will make you a Nostradamus. You can connect the dots and predict your future too. I use DAY ONE app for recording my dreams,” he said.

Balaji is among the growing number of artists not only trying to explore his innovation art but also sharing his innovation through cellphone to build a community or connect to customers.

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