Artist Jeetin Rangher tells Harshini Vakkalanka that an artist should accept his surroundings, absorb as much as he can and then try to deliver

Jeetin Rangher was studying computer science when he decided to become an artist. “I used to sketch a bit. One day I decided to speak to my neighbour — who was studying art — about it. He told me that I could easily be studying art. That’s when I started taking my sketching seriously,”recalls Jeetin, artist and initiator of the Green World Art Festival which took place last year at the Valley School campus.

Jeetin then enrolled for a degree in arts at the Ken School of Art and graduated with a master’s degree in painting from Bangalore University.

“After graduation, I started taking private art classes to support myself, and also did some freelance work.” This mostly included paintings, which were exhibited in the city’s galleries. “A friend told me about Art Karavan. So I sent them my idea and they accepted it.”

Art Karavan is an initiative by Delhi-based artist Inder Salim, by which a group of artists travel across 10 cities in north India to showcase their work. That was where Jeetin was introduced to performance art which now defines much of his work.

His first installation at Santiniketan, based on his idea of “India Shining” was a “Golden Rickshaw” made of gold-painted PVC missiles and plastic guns.

“Gold is considered an auspicious metal in India and it represents richness and domination. The rickshaw is the main mode of transportation in north India. The PVC represents the slow poisoning of our lives by plastic that has intervened so deeply into our lives.”

Jeetin had to leave the installation in Santiniketan due to financial and transportation constraints, so he decided to perform instead. In his first performance in Kolkata’s New Market area, Jeetin painted religious motifs on his body and walked around the market.

“One reason why performance art is important is that it can be used to bring in public intervention, the audience can be invited into your performance. This gives them a chance to understand your work and gives the artists a chance to directly interact with the audience.”

In his first performance, the audience were asked to come and tie a piece of white cloth anywhere on his body. “Since then, I started taking performance art seriously. I began to understand its limitations and advantages. In performance art, mistakes can be included in the performance, unlike in theatre, because there is improvisation,” he explains.

“You cannot and should not plan your work when you interact with the audience. The audience can both enhance and obstruct your work.”

When the Art Karavan reached Srinagar, in Kashmir, Jeetin wanted to do an installation in a Delhi Public School campus. The installation involved creating motifs from the Indian and Pakistani flag in scrap. “That in itself is a big statement. The idea was that students would then dismantle the motifs and recreate something else. But the school authorities didn’t agree. I knew I would have to face such obstacles, so I installed and dismantled the motifs myself by painting Colonial colours of red and blue over them.”

It was there that a Kashmiri friend took him to his village in the Anantnag district. “There was a school in the village that seemed to be in bad shape. And I noticed that such schools, like most schools in the region, did not include art in their curriculum. So I started taking art workshops there.”

Slowly he went on to teach in other schools in Kashmir, dedicating a few months every year to it. “My idea is not to make or create art or artists, but to help people understand art.”

Teaching art in Kashmir posed challenges since figurative art is frowned upon in some cultures. The artist also had to maintain a delicacy while teaching in girls schools.

He started with the basics, which involved scribbling, identifying shapes and observing surroundings to understand colours and designs that appear in everyday life, like the embroidery on their colourful dresses.

“I started by telling the children to look around, by going into the kitchen, for instance, where all the bowls, spoons and plates are arranged. Why is it that they are arranged? I asked them to look at it as an art installation.”

At the end of the workshop, he observed how the children began to come up with beautiful artwork. “The biggest difference I saw was that they would draw hearts and rivers in bright colours unlike the children in the cities who would draw guns, rockets or gadgets. Despite being in such a volatile space, they were untouched.”

Much of Jeetin’s work, draws attention to environmental issues, like his performance around the Dal lake. Through this performance he also sought to draw attention to the use of plastic advertisement sheets on the roofs of the boats instead of the local grass.

“The performance was related to what was happening around me. I think an artist should be sensitive enough to see and accept his surroundings, absorb as much as he can and then try to deliver,” points out Jeetin, who has been leading the Green World Art Festival, that brings together artists and performing artists from around the world since 2010.

“When you intervene in that way you realise that there is more to learn from the community. We in the cities think we are on a higher level. But look at the amount of stress and depression in the metros. As an artist, I hope to be able to bring people closer to nature and let them think about society, how as humans we are responsible for nature, that’s what is important.”