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.