A recounting of artistic process as social intervention by collective member Shamala Nandesha.
In April, 2015, an art intervention project about weaving that landed myself and Lalitha Shankar in Charaka, a women’s multipurpose industrial co-operative society situated at Bhimanakone Village on the Western Ghats of Southern India. I am glad that could visit such shrine like space as part of our ongoing pilgrimage in search of a weaving community to collaborate with as port of our Social Weavers project. Charaka is a contemporary weaving society that is supporting the long-standing art and traditions of handloom weavers in a unique way created by Mr. Prasana – we could not miss such a pilgrimage!
Several years ago as a young artist, I worked for three years with Samudaya Theatre Company in Bangalore (brain child of Mr. Prassana). This work and training in theater impressed a deep, multisensory perception on my practice and performance based art has been a strong element on my visual art practice since then.
Just to experience the space of Charaka itself is like meditation, one has to feel, and after surveying this place of Charaka that is exactly what happened to us – we felt the place deeply. We were so touched by the spirit of the women folks working there in full swing. And their smiling faces and curiosity to share their pride in doing the work as worship as we meet them and observed their process was inspiring. In Charka, Mr. Prassana has helped to nurture a moral responsibility and excitement towards the craft of handloom weaving using natural processes.
The women weavers of Charaka showed simplicity, happiness and pride in their work, something we all strive for. I was inspired to do some thing with that spirit. Create some kind of artistic action that could share the work and the lives of these women.
Then the events of Badanwalu came up – new information about the once active Khadi Center there had now have come to halt. Some artists were asked to create artworks as a way to support the protest of the shut down of handloom weaving centers there, and so a group of artists created interventions to support the movement to reinstate the handloom societies in Badanwalu. I felt it was perfect opportunity to design an artistic intervention as a kind of pilgrimage in the near by village of Devanur. I had contacted if Mr. Prassana – the head of the Charaka weavers, to ask if the weavers would share their stories on small postcards and send them to me in the mail. I wanted to know how working in Charka changed them their lives. As a city person, I use to love and receive small messages on postcards – I would collect them. In our contemporary times – we communication through the internet – email and Facebook, etc., and those small personal postcard messages you could hold in your hand or hang on your refrigerator have started to get lost as a form of personal writing. Now we no longer wait for postman to arrive at our doorstep to carrying personal messages from other places – I miss that now. Through this project – to my surprise, I received 105 cards from Charaka weavers. Some had few short poetic lines too and other wrote longer descriptions of about their lives. It returned me to that time of waiting for the postman to deliver messages from other people and places. When my package of postcards from the Charaka weavers arrived in the mail – it made the whole process feel more human and purposeful.
While the Bandanwalu pilgrimage was taking place, I went to Devanur with the postcards from the Charaka weavers to share the people of the village. I felt I needed to deliver these messages to connect with Bandanwalu with Charaka – I wished if Charaka could happen also in this place as well. So I walked from door to door in the village handing out these personal stories on postcards as a way to help create a some new possibility and dialogue about what could happen there.
As I started with the walk delivering the post card door to door, I was surprise to see peoples reactions – they were wondering whose letter it is why they were delivered to them……so I had to speak about Badanvalu event and they hoped if the center opened – lot of people of this village worked at the Khadi Center in Badanvalu and they all expressed that it would be of great help to them, and their livelihoods to have the center reopened so they could work again. And the senior people I met there shared their stories of meeting Gandhi ‘s during a visit, they were kids at the time. So the memories were strong and they were sharing with their grandchildren around. The postcards started to open up stories of the people I talked with in Den….and new stories along with hopes for the future of handloom economies in their area started to surface through our conversations.
The village of Devanur is named for Devanur Mahadeva (a teacher and writer) – a very famous contemporary writer from Kanada. And to my surprise – I delivered one of the postcards to his house as well – and met with his mother and brother. It stirred my memory too, as I was excited to watch his play Kusumabale during my collage days. All my memories and the connections felt like they were converging in this moment.
I had lunch in a Matha – a holy place in the village, were every day people from any were can have lunch at free (proper term Anna Dhana). Food is for any one and every one. How beautiful that the local farmer happened to feed us with their crops (Let us delete all commercial aspects here). And same when we visited Charaka, our morning and after noon food was served to us as a gift from the local land – food bring us together, memories, sharing, and communication nurtured us. We all felt an interconnection through this – with self and body.
Now I heard that Bandanwal Khadi Centre is getting nurtured. I am proud I was part of this process and that my wish for the health and growth of this in these communities is coming true. One make made a difference in this place, by creating Charaka, and every person and artist who participated in these actions who where there made a difference too.
So in the end, my friend Lalitha Shanker took a long experience (Pada Vatra) of 105 kilometer by foot in Bandawalu, and me with 105 post card Yatra (journey) from Charaka to Devanur, and the actions at Badanvalu…celestial happening have brought us all together.