The farming canvas
Painters, sculptors and performers join farmers of a Chhindwara village to organize a land art festival
The village of Paradsinga, located in the Chhindwara district on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, is gearing up for a unique festival. For nearly a week starting 25 December, a host of painters, sculptors, social workers, singers, travellers and writers will join hands with farmers of the village to celebrate the country’s first land art festival.
“We wanted to create a festival that goes beyond caste, religion and hierarchies, and one which binds the community. The idea is to celebrate nature, soil, food and our farmers,” says Shweta Bhattad, a contemporary artist who has chosen to base her practice out of Paradsinga. She is the driving force behind the Gram Art Project—a collective of artists and farmers creating collaborative work on issues related to the environment, organic farming, education and related causes pertaining to the welfare of the village.
The festival is the outcome of a residency in November (Bhattad was one of the organizers), when five artists from different states were invited to collaborate with independent social workers, a writer from Pune, a psychologist from the Netherlands, a Nagpur-based choreographer, a singer, and farmers from the village. Together, they conceptualized seven images that best represented contemporary farming issues. Using organic seeds, the participants planted vegetables such as methi, palak and mustard on seven farms to create these images. “Each artwork is spread across 3,000 sq. ft,” says Bhattad.
One of the most striking images has been conceptualized by a 22-year-old farmer, Ganesh Gulabraoji Dhoke, who has been associated with the Gram Art Project for three years. It shows a map of India with a farmer, his bullocks and tools at the heart of it. “What will India be without its farmers? These days, they don’t have any motivation to continue their farming practice. There is no incentive from the government. Fertilizer and seed companies tend to shortchange them,” says Dhoke, who recently did a course in organic farming and has been educating other farmers about its benefits.
Another key image talks about the role of women in farm labour, while a third one showcases the plight of the area’s weavers. “Paradsinga is a major BT cotton growing area. And its neighbouring villages are home to 380 weaver families, with the youngest weaver being 45 years old,” says Bhattad. Sadly, no youngster wants to take up the family profession, for weavers get only Rs5,000 a month for making 11 saris. “In the market, each sari sells for Rs5,000, but that money doesn’t go to the weavers. They have to rely on industrialists and shopkeepers for raw material, which is ironic considering this is a cotton-growing area. There is a link missing,” says Bhattad. Farmers don’t get adequate money for the cotton that makes its way to the factories. “So we have shown a woman making a thread on the charkha, and a factory which is belching cotton instead of smoke,” she says.
Farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region are the theme of a work that uses a weighing scale with a heap of BT cotton on one side and a farmer with a noose around his neck on the other. Another one depicts a farmer driving the economy. So there’s a bullock cart with the rupee symbol on it. But instead of bulls, it is the farmer who is drawing the cart.
The broader context of the festival derives from the fact that it is open to all. The farmers have been equally involved in the process of conceptualization of the artwork and performances, making it a meaningful collective. And it’s a rare opportunity to stay in farmer homes and connect with them.
At Paradsinga, 55km from Nagpur, from 25-31 December. For more details, visit here
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