Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Ice Breaking Ceremony

24th Sept 2015

As a few months went by, the community children did know me well enough to attend a workshop where they were expected to illustrate a story in their own style. I had planned to document the entire process and as per schedule we finished the documentation for later analysis. However, while the children were waiting for their parents to pick them up, a casual conversation started while I tried doodling something with the leftover colors. They immediately had a dozen questions for me while some got busy suggesting the right colors and the technique, to make the Bhil art. They were more than pleased to have met an aspiring artist in the researcher they had known for months.

That evening suddenly made me one of the community or atleast like them. They soon became sensitive towards my purpose, in more than one ways. I had previously spent hours interviewing them about the technique and the process of their art, to which the answers were mostly one-liners. Now, even though they still did not know how to express in words, they made an effort to teach me and in the process I believe to find answers to the questions I once asked them.

Unfortunately, at this time, I had to get back from the fieldwork, as it was time for the yearly submissions. I spent a lot of time analyzing the documentation of the workshop. In the coming days, I would spend more time on the process, the experimentation and the findings. Even though I long to go back to the fields and renew my training in the art, the above study has to close with a completion before I move any further.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Getting Pally with the Community

23rd Sept 2015

India, quite unlike Bali, is known for curious, friendly (if not over friendly), warm and hospitable people. However, India is also a place of diverse communities, religion, food habits, beliefs and practices that vary with every small tribe. India alone is the adobe of over a hundred indigenous tribes with each of them, having strong community identities. Thus, even though the general inclination of people is quite warm for outsiders, there is a sense of community belonging and acceptance that only develops over a period of time.

In my case, I was interacting with the Bhil tribe of Madhya Pradesh, but essentially working closely with the children of the community, the young artists. With my past experience of working with this terrific, active, curious, innovative age group, I have known that the best way to be accepted in their world, is to think and act like one of them. It stands true for all communities but with children, it is a little more difficult to understand their ever evolving, own set of rules and their secret laws of acceptance.

I was initially introduced to the adult Bhil artists and over a period of 6 months, I kept travelling to the museum, Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangralaya (IGRMS) Bhopal, where these artists were employed as daily laborers. The initial interaction was quite formal in the form of interviews and documentation of their artworks. I was aware that the general idea of the community was that, either I had come to make a documentary on them or I was a keen client to purchase their artworks. It took a few conversations over chai (tea), and my interactions with the museum officials, for them to guess that I was a student of design and anthropology, studying their art.

And over the months, I was always ceremoniously greeted by the paintings of the adults, as the children sat around them. Of course I have no complains regarding that, but it would make me forever guilty to watch their eager eyes noticing every single move I make, the paintings I touch, the glow of my eyes with an expectation that I would purchase a few, so much so that it would make me conscious of my very purpose. Even though as a student, it was difficult to keep their expectations alive I tried to compensate by spending a lot of time complimenting their work, shooting their portfolios and showing their pictures on the laptop. Eventually, I indulged in the paintings on the last day of my travel and made sure I have an art of every artist. Mostly I am a client to the child artists selling their first piece of art and trying to the best of my ability to encourage them to do more of that.

However, I could still feel my presence as an outsider trying hard to be friendly with the community.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight

22nd Sept 2015

One year in the research field and I figured out three keywords important enough to spend my remaining journey, defining, redefining, finding links between and within them. The more time I spent with them, the more it appeared to resemble a living creature evolving in its own complex capacity. These words are child-art, pedagogy and artist community.

Each of these words are mammoths by themselves that also brings in their individual herd of words to follow. My present task is essentially befriending these mammoths, knowing the followers, their strengths, weaknesses and so on. Thus, I start by reading papers, articles, journals that are related to this subject. I plan to take notes of readings and review them in my own capacity.

Today, I started with Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese cockfight, an essay from the book ‘The Interpretation of Cultures’ by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. What initially drove me to read on the topic was to understand the process of interpreting culture and representing it as an outsider, with an intension to study as an anthropologist. In 1950s, Geertz and his wife happened to travel to Bali to study the Balinese culture and there, they encountered the Balinese cockfight, which eventually revealed itself in a sociological context, status discriminations, hierarchical ranks, power play and metaphorical representation of man, himself. But what captivated me to read on was how the act of cockfight was interpreted in these various contexts. What seemed as an entertainment for grown ups, a play or a fight between birds was essentially much more than the ‘thrill of risk, the despair of loss or the pleasure of triumph’. The play eventually revealed the animal savagery, male narcissism, gambling, status rivalry, mass ejaculation of emotion, blood sacrifice all wrapped in a symbolic, metaphorical representation of the cockfight.

An interesting experience from the essay was that how the police attack of the first cockfight held in semi-secrecy, that they were caught in, proved to be a blessing in disguise that according to the author, facilitated ‘sudden and unusually complete acceptance into a society extremely difficult to penetrate’. They had been staying in the particular village for around two weeks then, before the incident, and it had been almost impossible for them to be accepted by the local people, for whom the authors were ‘nonpersons, specters, invisible men’. However, during the police raid, the authors incidentally choose to flee the scene just as the local people did, instead of showing the police the papers of their visitor status. This act of reacting like the localities became the turning point of their relationship with the community. In the words of the author, ‘what we had actually demonstrated was our cowardice, but there is a fellowship in that too’.