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Rooted in Tradition

The Gram Art Project brings together art and agriculture to discuss farmers’ woes and the challenges of rural life

Written by Vandana Kalra |
August 13, 2016 12:00:44 am
modi 759 The Modi portrait in Paradsinga

The farmers of Paradsinga village near Nagpur have found a unique way to present their woes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Emphasising on the need for pursuing and promoting traditional farming methods, they harvested a portrait of the PM, spread over 8,000 square feet land. The shading was done with coloured leafy vegetables. No genetically modified crops were used and the accompanying slogan “Dear Prime Minister Please Grow in India”, echoed the “Make in India” slogan.

“We wanted the policymakers to take note of our plea and understand the woes of the farmers,” says artist-activist Shweta Bhattad. Designed by her, the Modi portrait was the centrepiece of the Beej festival that took place in June in Paradsinga. “The aim was to bring together farmers in the neighbourhood, and encourage the use of
organic and native seeds. Also, during our interactions, we realised that special economic zones (SEZs) have reduced the number of farmers in the region,” says Bhattad. Under the umbrella of the Gram Art Project (GAP), initiated in 2013, the post graduate in art from MS University, Baroda, has successfully brought together art and agriculture to discuss the concerns of the farmers.

If the recent festival in Paradsinga was aimed at rediscovering traditional methods of farming and irrigation through land art installations, the group has also addressed issues related with open defecation and eco-sanitation. “We want to address and improve rural livelihood,” says Bhattad.

The 30-year-old has spent the last few weeks working with Nutan Dwivedi, a second year BSc student in Paradsinga, to guide 50 women from nearby villages of Khairi, Satnoor and Kelwad on how to design rakhis. “The idea is to establish a connection with the farmers through the sacred thread. For the central motif, we have used seeds and lentils,” says Bhattad.

modi A performance from the ‘Faith’ series

It is perhaps her familiarity with the surroundings that has enabled Bhattad to build a strong bond with the farmers. Based in Nagpur since her childhood days, the artist has been visiting her grandfather, an Ayurveda specialist in Paradsinga. “I saw the bio-diversity of the village get killed because the farmers were encouraged to grow only Bt cotton. This led to a fall in the water table and frustration among the youth. The industries being set up in the SEZs have basic infrastructure, including water, at a time when the farmers are suffering,” says Bhattad.

While she has been working with the farmers for almost five years now, her own art practice has centred around the challenges of rural life. In 2012, with her performance titled Three Course Meal and a Dessert of Vomit in Nagpur, she highlighted the ironic coexistence of starvation and extravagant wastage of food in India. Titled “Faith”, in a series of performances in Nagpur, Pune, and Paris, she buried herself two feet underground in a wooden coffin fitted with an exhaust fan, continuously scribbling vishwas (faith) to highlight the dire situation of the farmers. “The problems faced by farmers are the same world over,” says Bhattad. At the Vancouver Biennale 2014-2016, she initiated the project “I Have a Dream”, under which artists and farmers across the globe, including Italy, Japan, Mexico and Pakistan, are sowing messages for their respective decision-making powers. The farming project will culminate with a collaborative video at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, in the village, the movement is inspiring its residents in myriad ways. Bhattad notes that several farmers are moving to native seeds. To ensure that the village is not cut off from neighbouring farms during monsoons, Ganesh Dhoke, a 21-year-old farmer, has constructed a 500-metre road. “He approached every avenue possible — from rural administration to the village panchayat — but they kept shirking away responsibility. The road would be waterlogged with knee-deep water and it was impossible to even walk there,” says Bhattad, who helped Dhoke garner funds for the project.

Encouraged by the response, the GAP team plans to organise a bigger edition of the land art festival in October. The proposal includes exhibitions, workshops and seminars. A wax museum, which will comprise over 300 sculptures of traditional crops and dishes based on local recipes, is also in the making. “The idea is to bring together people working in fragments, the farmers and the customers,” says Bhattad.

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