Cataloguing community art: From Kashmir to Nalanda

Travelling project

A huge canvas is spread out in the open space at the India Habitat Centre, extending an invitation to anyone who would like to unleash their creativity. The 8x25 feet canvas is surrounded by digital prints of painted murals, and framed memoires. This creative corner is the site for Art Walle Log, an exhibition organised as part of Artologue: Art for All, a travelling art project.

Conceptualised by visual artist Meenakshi J and her partner Jey Sushil, the month-long show is divided into three parts.

“The first is ‘Footprints’, digital print of murals we painted with families and communities. Second are ‘Shared Memoirs’, objects from mundane life gifted by our host as their memory. These are transformed into artefacts that narrate their own stories. And, ‘Be an Artist’, which is a large canvas that is open for all to paint. Eventually this will become
an exhibit,” Meenakshi tells Metrolife.

Starting from mural painting in exchange of stay and food, the couple has been travelling across India since 2013. They have painted 40 murals at various locations including a jail and a police station to a school for underprivileged children in a journey spanning across 17 states.

“This exhibition has been planned so that visitors can come and participate in a community painting project. There are no brushes and participants have to paint with their hands - invoking childhood memories...We had a lot of experiences to share and this was the only way to bring our experiences at one place,” she smiles.

Meenkashi shares that during their Artologue travels, they have painted with
orphaned and specially-abled children in Bihar and Jharkhand; with convicted and under-trial prisoners of all age and genders in Dasna District Jail, Ghaziabad; with policewalas and defence personnel in Nalanda and Chandigarh respectively; with Santhal tribal communities from hills and plains in Bihar and Jharkhand and also interacted with
students from public, private and charitable schools across India.

Some of their fondest memories, she says, are from their stint with the tribal communities where they lived their lives, sang their songs, enjoyed their distinctly cooked food, and listened to their legends.

“Other set of memories that changed our world view is with orphaned and specially-abled children and spinal-injury survivors with whom we painted in Delhi. Their dreams, high-spirit, naive-yet determined approach towards life broadened our vista. Our stints in the southern states gave us a close view of their cultural arts and crafts, while in the Kashmir valley we practically lived with the Pashmina shawl embroiders,” she shares.
However, she points out that when they started the project in August 2013, they preferred to paint with friends. Their first trip was to Mumbai and Goa where they stayed with Jey’s friend.

“Even before we undertook the trip, we had started sharing our experiences on our blog. Unknown people started sending us requests to let them join the weekend art sessions and gradually, we started receiving requests to paint people’s houses from across India. We took a long time to prepare ourselves to travel to unfamiliar places and stay with unknown people. Planning and familiarising with the would-be host families is a slow and complicated process,” she says.

She adds that most families are selected depending on their approach and reasons for inviting the couple to their home through telephonic conversation. “In reality we depend on our gut-feeling. But in many cases we reject families due to time constraints,”
she shares.

Also on display is the couple’s 350 CC Royal Enfield Bullet, Hari Bhari, on which they travel for their art journeys. She shares that despite all inhibitions about Indian road travels being unsafe, especially if there is a woman, they never suffered any mishap. “In fact, people across the country have been very warm and helping – including our hosts and others who we met on the roads,” she says.

Sharing her views on the need to bring art outside gallery spaces and promote community participation, Meenakshi says that over the past few years she realised that as an artist she must expose herself to newer things, places and people.

“Exposure to new ideas is a needed for survival and better growth of our imagination. Artists tend to guard their working space and art works in galleries. There is growing alienation between the art-world and common people. But we believed that unless people know the tedious process involved in creating an artwork, they cannot respect the work and the artist. This is the reason we work with people who have no training in art and give them first-hand experience with colours. That’s the reason this traveling art project is called Artologue: Art for All,” she sums up.

The exhibition is on at the Open Space, India Habitat Centre until October 31.

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