Chawal ki Kahani: A workshop with students from two high schools in Kondagaon, Bastar –1997

In 1997, Navjot, Rajkumar, Shantibai and Gessuram were approached by two high school teachers interested in arts to undertake short art projects with the students as the schools had no art activity, despite art being part of the syllabus.

Hence the possibility of working with the young outside school hours at Shilpi Gram every Sunday was considered mutually. Though Rajkumar and Shantibai were a bit reluctant as they had not learnt art in schools, nor had they ever experienced conducting art workshops, but gradually they felt that exploring the ways of sharing what they knew with the young could be an interesting process. For Navjot despite having worked with the young from the beginning of her career as an artist in Bombay, it was to experience working with students from culturally different backgrounds. Students from two high schools were invited to share their perceptions of art and to make suggestions regarding a possible subject, nature and ways of carrying out the project in a workshop space.

The Bastar region and the M.P. State that year were affected by severe drought. Which had its impact on the lives of people and other living beings. Artists and students felt the urgency to understand the reasons leading to such environmental conditions. Their engagement with this question resulted in Chawal Ki Kahani / A story of rice, how to pose questions through art became the central concern compared to art for art sake. The material used for making this art work generated from a discussion around research oriented art making processes, and usages of unconventional materials and how to place art like embroidery, or incorporation of oral epics like the Laxmi Jagar (story of the origin of rice cultivation) etc. in the context of contemporary art.

After four months even though emphasis was on the process, the outcome was a performance by the students at Shilpi Gram, which was viewed by a large number of people, students and teachers from most of the schools in Kondagaon. ‘Chawal Ki Kahani’ stimulated the artists to think of the possibilities of having more of such workshops with students of less privileged schools in that area where art is not considered important enough as a subject and where the teachers rarely explore alternative ways of exposing the young or exploring the culture they come from or different cultures that students / teachers are ignorant about or realize that for such workshop activities conventional art materials, which most students in rural area in any case cannot afford, are not necessarily required.

Chawal ki Kahani led to couple of other projects, one with the students of ‘Planting Trees’ around three schools in Kondagaon with the help of the forest department and the second with the primary school in Sarve village in Maharashtra. The mutual desire to continue experimenting with the young in a way pushed their idea to a site oriented works Pilla Gudis (temples for children) in Bastar villages. The concept emerged with the realization that the children there had no space of their own where they could go to play or engage themselves in art activities outside school hours. Discussions amongst 4 artists also revolved around the questions of how the shift from movable to non-movable art would further lead to possibilities for change and in what sense were they imagining a break away from the situation they were working in at that time.