Redefining Art in Rural India

International Land art Residency at Singur, West Bengal

 

The cucumber fields in the village Komdhara, Singur situated in the district Hoogly, West Bengal are the perfect witness to the International Land art Residency an initiative for public art project carried on by Narrative Movements group led by Bibekanand Santra. The village is the hometown of Bibekanand Santra who has a vision along with Ashraf A. ElHady to introduce contemporary public art practice to natural and rural spaces. The theme of this public art project Light + Mirror + Shadow is proposed by the curator Ashraf A. ElHady, which aims to explore environmental art practices especially land art in the Indian rural landscape.

Komdhara is a small village with a population of 5000 people majority of whom are farmers by occupation. 38 mind-sets (artists) from various cultures (places) in the world including Germany, Albania, Italy, Romania, Hungary, Israel, Egypt, Poland and India participated in this project and initiated a healthy dialogue between the artists and the local people.

Light Of Heart Bridge
The Light of Heart Bridge is a public art project by Egyptian-based artist Ashraf A. ElHady currently residing in Amman, Jordan incorporates the properties of environmental art sculpture and land art which reflects on the concept of sustainability.

ElHady’s project is situated adjacent to the school premises on a small stream of water. To the cross the stream, a bridge made of a tree trunk connected the two sides and children had no choice but to rely on the balancing act. Watching those school children cross the water on the promises of a run-down trunk of bamboo, as well as the women working in the fields, taking off their shoes for a better grip in order to cross the bridge. It was like working in a circus and hence, it was decided that a technical bridge will be built to work along with the demolished bridge. This work reflects the spiritual and how to be a man before to be an artist and also the desire for a sustainable work does not end just days after the project is finished. The work is inspired by the love for humanity and the use of bamboo, ropes, and nails gives it the proper aesthetic appeal needed for a site-specific project.

In the profound words of Jean- Francois Millet “Beauty does not lie in the face. It lies in the harmony between a person and his or her industry. Beauty is expression. When I paint a mother I try to render her beautiful by the mere look she gives her child.”

There Was A River
It is land art project by Indian based artist Bibhu Nath traces the history and geography of the land.

He builds a life-size boat by digging the earth on the course of the river. Upon the first glance, the work leaves the viewer flabbergasted as the boat appears out of nothing and yet appears to be floating. It makes one want to sit down and get a feeling of traveling in space while remaining stationary. The green vegetation growing on the course of the now dried river reminds the spectator of the presence of water in the past. One wonders what the work will look when nature overtake this boat made of mud.

All the artists responded well to the natural rural space and the need of the people. The project is the culmination between the interweaving of culture, dialogue, and friendship. In a first-of-its-kind initiative of taking art to the public, especially rural, where the people responded in a more open manner and accepted the ideas easily compared to the urban spaces.

Contemporary Folk-Tale
A collaboration between Ashraf A. ElHady and Manjot Kaur, the interplay of stories and visual is what defines this work. There is an investigation between environment, symbols, folk tales, ritual and visual. The idea for this came through cooperation and exchange of ideas between the two cultures sharing their love for land art.

 

The elements for the work were originally located at the site which includes a bridge connecting the village, a football field in the semi – dried seasonal river passing under the bridge, a wooden structure perceived as a coffin in the water, and a standalone statue made of mud to celebrate the legendary tale of Lord Kārttikeya originally built by the native people. The conceptual elements in the environment along with the imagination of the artists proposes the integration of the visual elements and together they complement the visual balance with nature without causing any harm to the original matter already present on site.

The symbols and elements of folk tale and myth develop with the indigenous remains from the celebration of harvest festival on the day of the month of Kartik (Nov- Dec) when the harvest is yet to be done, which is centered on worshiping the Lord Kārttikeya. The ritual in itself remains a prayer to ensure a safer and prosperous harvest. Lord Kārttikeya is seen as a symbol of youth, fertility, and beauty. Hence unmarried girls worship him, praying for young, handsome bridegrooms and married women worship him seeking offspring.

It brings four mythical elements that form the base for the work – artists different qualitative effect of large means, the annual festive ritual, the kind where the feelings of women differ from men in the idea and the concept of reproduction.

The choice of red for covering the elements contrasts the visual with the green of nature. The sliced red line is an extension of the intellectual thought and confirms the visual lines that link the elements. Hence, the environment becomes the basis for determining the choice for this land art. The work is a visual view of the relationship between men and women, two cultures coming from different places in the environment and the exchange of ideas and concepts through an intermediary nature of the folk tale on the continuation of coding for this project.


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There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.

John F. Kennedy