Innovative projects on India developed by Australian academicians and artists win awards and facilitate skill sharing

India’s treasure chest of arts, culture and heritage has time and again drawn people across the world to explore and highlight it in their own unique ways.

Australia’s Museum Victoria’s PLACE-Hampi project near Hampi — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — in Karnataka is a case in point. Conceived in 2006 in Melbourne, PLACE- Hampi is a new media art installation which takes the viewer to a whole new level of heritage experience, with its dynamic audio-visual experience. It is installed in Kaladham Art and Cultural Precinct in Vijaynagar.

It toured to China, Germany, France and Singapore before finally being installed permanently at Kaladham. The idea behind PLACE-Hampi was conceived and curated by Dr. Sarah Kenderdine. “We were inspired by Hampi for the stunning conjunction of landscape [a granite boulder field], the monumental and intricate architectural features of the Vijayanagar kingdom and, the everyday cultural practices of Karnataka, all three are closely interwoven at Hampi,” said Dr. Kenderdine.

The installation’s journey dates back to 1995, when Jeffery Shaw developed an interactive panorama platform called PLACE. Together, Mr. Shaw and Dr. Kenderdine renovated this platform into three-dimensional viewing for PLACE- Hampi, by consistently working on panoramic photography. They used ambisonic sound capture, which best translates into a 3D architecture for sound, for PLACE-Hampi. “During the fieldwork, the environmental or ambient sound of a particular location is recorded at the same time as the panoramas. This interactive ‘revealing’ of Hampi is very compelling, a journey you could never take at the site itself,” explained Dr. Kenderdine.

The project is the result of 30 years of research on Hampi and Vijaynagar by art historian Gorge Michell and archaeologist John Fritz. The research team, along with photographer John Gosllings, took a total of 15 days with two visits to Hampi, to capture the visuals and essence of the place. “Hampi is not well known around the world; PLACE-Hampi introduces people to this extraordinary site and its history that they would not otherwise come to know,” said Dr. Kenderdine.

If the PLACE-Hampi project deals with the Australians’ interest in Indian art, Snuff Puppet’s engagement with India aimed at theatrical skill sharing and spreading compassion. The Snuff Puppets, Australia’s giant puppet theatre company, was invited to India by thespian Divya Bhatia, who was approached by the Australian High Commission to participate in the Oz fest.

Mr. Bhatia introduced the group to SNEHA, a non-profit body working in the child and maternal issues sector in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum. Together, they conducted a 10-day workshop for young adults of Dharavi; it was called the People’s Puppet Project. The participants went on to perform at various places in Mumbai, including the National Centre for the Performing Arts and at IIT-Bombay’s annual festival, Mood Indigo.

The spokesperson of Snuff Puppets recounted the final performances as “public celebrations of the collaborative work that went into making all the puppets and the act together as a group…there was a lot of hard work, fun, games, play and dancing throughout the entire process; everyone had a chance to do a bit of everything, so there was lots of skill sharing and learning at the heart of the process”.

The Dharavi residents told their stories, helped make the puppets and performed in the shows. Mr. Bhatia plans to take these performances beyond Mumbai with the Dharavi team soon.

Both the projects have been awarded back home at the inaugural Australian Arts in Asia Awards, organised by the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. While Museum Victoria was awarded for innovation and Snuff Puppets was awarded for philanthropy.