Better platform for folk artistes

International folklore festival in Kerala

Better platform  for folk artistes

Kerala Folklore Akademi is following catch-them-young model for nurturing fresh talent

The packaging of performing folk arts pegged to heritage has been an ongoing initiative for successive administrators at Kerala’s Department of Tourism over the past couple of decades. Folklore, folk art, tribal art forms – tourism promotion drives-- have rarely failed to include the many lasting symbols of the land’s immense heritage when laid out for consumption of the international tourist.

The rise in Kerala’s stature as a global tourist destination has also ensured that these folk art performers are in the running for opportunities whenever there’s opening for a token performance, both in state-managed publicity events and in the private hospitality sector.

The cheer, however, continues to be seasonal because the employment opportunities largely depend on tourist footfalls. The Kerala Folklore Akademi (KFA), as part of its initiatives to take folklore art beyond the cursory stage opening acts, is adding a critical edge to the fortunes of folk perfor­mers: exposure. The Akademi is in advanced stages of groundwork for an ambitious international folklore festival, scheduled to be held in February. 

Through the festival, the KFA, an autonomous centre for cultural affairs based in Kannur, proposes a coming together of cultures that helps in enriching knowledge about folk arts across regions apart from equipping the local artist with a confidence to perform on bigger stages and taking forward initiatives of cross-cultural collaborations.

KFA Chairman B Muhammed Ahammed said the festival would address the issue of traditional art forms losing ground in a rising global culture of blurred ethnic identities. “Folklore and folk art from across the country and beyond also offer some fascinating studies into cultures coming into being. In a post-globalisation era defined by market cultures, the interest for such facets of heritage is coming down the world over. It’s being noted that even universities in the West are going slow on studies in this connection,” Ahammed told Deccan Herald.

The organisers see the festival as a start; a prospect to host events that bring together our varied pasts while focusing on how they have shaped our collective present. The Akademi had proposed the festival to the state government last year. The government also sanctioned an initial budget of Rs 15 lakh for the proposed festival. Later, with the Akademi itself deciding to use its internal funds of about Rs 35 lakh sanctioned by the government, the scope of the festival has enhanced. The organisers are in touch with the South Zone Cultural Centre in Thanjavur and the Department of Culture to spread the word and line up artists from across the country. The KFA is looking at the third week of February for a tentative start to the festival. The Akademi is zeroing in on Kochi as a venue. 

Mainstream ritual folklore arts from Kerala including Theyyam, Padayani, Kanyar Kali and Mudiyettu will be showcased at the festival along with diverse folk art forms from other parts of the country. The organisers said Kerala, home to ritual arts that cover themes as diverse as obeisance and fertility, could emerge in all its scintillating hues at the festival. The Akademi is pitching for the presence of folk artistes from Africa, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. 

KFA Secretary M Pradeep Kumar said prominent folk artistes of the Malabar, central Kerala and Trava­ncore regions of the state, along with tribal artists, will find much-needed exposure at the festival. “A generation of these folk artistes has lost out because they didn’t have the acumen to make a living out of their art they had carried over through generations. But now, folk art is becoming trendy; festivals, even the ones organised at family temples, have transformed into grand affairs and there are many oppo­rtunities for these performers. By tagging the festival to the tourist circuits at a later stage, we can ensure a more streamlined approach to providing employment to these artistes,” Kumar said. 

The folk art forms of Kerala, beyond their visual appeal, have also been a tool of political expression and voice against class oppression. 

The Akademi has, since its launch in 1996, been promoting folk art in the state by providing training and financial assistance to budding artists apart from releasing academic surveys on the state of these art forms. The efforts have also helped bringing back young men who had moved away from folk art forms that were a way of life for their forefathers, according to KFA office-bearers.

In September 2012, the Akademi had organised a road trip titled Sambanna Paithrukam, Sauhruda Keralam (rich heritage, friendly Kerala) across the state’s 14 districts, from Thiruvananthapuram to Manjeswaram where economically backward folk artistes were identified and trained in optimising their earning potential. 

Kumar said the Akademi was also following a catch-them-young model when it comes to nurturing fresh talent. Close to 400 economically backward students in the 10-15 years age group are being awarded a monthly stipend of Rs 200 each to pursue their interest in folk art. The KFA has also constituted hundreds of folklore clubs that double as hubs for experts and rookies to collaborate on various art forms. Educational institutions, right from primary schools to professional colleges, and libraries are also part of this network of folklore clubs.

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