Although traditional art and craft forms in India haven’t lost their charm, their demand has been certainly witnessing a gradual decline in the past decades as modern art and culture have taken over the traditional forms. Unfortunately, these traditional art forms have failed to incorporate newer and innovative designs over time to suit the changing tastes.
The story is no different in Odisha, considered the land of dexterous artists and craftsmen. Raghurajpur, also known as the ‘Heritage Village’ of Odisha and famous for its Pattachitra and other handmade crafts, stands testimony to this trend.
In a bid to revive and add a spark of modernity to these traditional art forms, artist Puneet Kaushik came up with a unique initiative, an investigative art residency, ‘Excavating Odisha’ that helped the rural artisans of the state create mesmerising masterpieces with support from urban artists.
Sharing the idea behind it, Puneet tells MCL, “I have been working and interacting with craftsmen and artisans of different villagers across the country for over two decades. All of my paintings and instillations include at least one kind of traditional or tribal technique of art and craft. I had known many modern artists who were searching for such kind of opportunity and thus I made a plan to make such a programme and called for their support. They had the same sensibilities and understanding, so we thought of making a group and collaborated with the artisans of Raghurajpur.”
The residency involved 14 artists from across India and abroad including Puneet Kaushik as curator, Ketna Patel and Rema Kumar as co-curators and other participants like Gopa Trivedi, Sheetal Gattani, Gyelek Bhutia, Preetha Kannan, Vaishali Chakkravarty, Sashwat Srivastava, Minal Damani, Jonathan Reading and some more.
Held from 14 to 28 February 2017, the residency was hosted in the campus of MATI (Management of Art Treasures of India) Trust and Raghurajpur in Puri.
For two weeks, the heritage village turned into a cultural hub buzzing with innovation, exploration and collaboration. The artists and artisans worked collaboratively on severals art forms like pattachitra, palm leaf painting, pipli craft, ikat weaving, coir work, wood carving, cow dung toys, papier-mâché mask, wood carving, terracotta, stone sculpture, ganjapa cards, theatre and gotipua.
Talking about her experiences, Gopa Trivedi, a contemporary artist from Delhi, explains, “I have been working for all these days with Banamaliji. My entire collection is based on the traditional card game ‘Ganjapa’. But I have tried to display the different sections and frames of the old houses of the villages through my works, thus giving it a modern makeover.”
Having seen many artisans lose faith in their ancestral art and relocate to cities in search of work and many urban contemporary artists lose touch with their roots, Puneet intends to bridge this gap through his initiative. His aim is to infuse this abundant heritage of folk art with the contemporary modern art of India. To provide a platform for interchange and interface between ‘city’ artists and ‘village’ artists, thus providing them a rare opportunity to learn from each other is what Puneet intends to do.
“Art is a way of living, and it only comes alive when our lives are reflected in it. Now our daily lives have changed, the motifs around us are entirely different. That change needs to reflect in the art. That is why I thought of bringing the urban artists and rural artisans together to create a space where each gains something,” adds Puneet.
“The folk and traditional art forms are in danger of either being replaced by industrialisation or becoming fossilised. The idea is to bring contemporary, folk, and tribal art together, to make it more usable in today’s context. The folk artist needs to redefine, revive his art and the contemporary urban artist needs to look into his own tradition for inspiration. This is needed to sustain folk art in India,” he further adds.
Jayant Kumar Behera, a local artist of Raghurajpur, shares, “I am giving my level best and working day and night to complete my painting. Since last five days, I have been working till 3 am and again getting up at 6 am to resume work. My partner is a foreigner, but his language isn’t a matter of concern. I am able to communicate with him through his gestures. He and I share a common understanding and so there is absolutely no problem.”
The residency culminated in a grand finale, ‘Manthan’, which was held on the 25th and 26th February at Crafts Centre in Raghurajpur and Hotel Crown in Bhubaneswar respectively. Manthan, an interactive show of urban and folk art included display of the collaborated works by all the participating artists and artisans.
A fashion show of the works of Rema Kumar was also part of the programme and included stole and saree collections that were based on pipli applique work, pattachitra and ikat weaving. However, the highlight of the event was a theatre performance by Vaishali Chakravarty and other local Gotipua dancers (children) along with music by Sashwat Srivastava. A short film on the residency which was filmed by Gyelek Bhutia and Jyothi was also screened on the occasion.