Rekindling the magic of Maihar

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE Stage photography of Madina Bhavan by Sandeep Dhopate   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

For the last two years, Maihar, a sleepy little-known town in Madhya Pradesh has come alive with artistic activity. Aficionados of classical music would of course know the place for it’s here that maestro Ustad Allauddin Khan laid the foundation of the famed Maihar Gharana under the royal patronage. Once home for the likes of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Annapurna Devi, it is also the place where the god fearing congregate for the Maa Sharda Shaktipeeth that sits atop the Trikoota hill. Many fear that Maihar and its diverse arts will get reduced to memories. However, since early 2016, a path-breaking collaboration has been taking place between the indigenous communities of Madhya Pradesh and fifteen Indian and international artists – a dialogue with tradition.

The result is on show at the ongoing multi-disciplinary and interactive exhibition-cum-haat “Disappearing Dialogues” (DD). Being held at New Delhi’s Bikaner House, it offers glimpses into varied areas including music, art and architecture. Hosted by Art Ichol, a multi-arts centre located in Ichol, Maihar and curated by Nobina Gupta, a seasoned Kolkata-based artist and art educationist, the show reflects dialogues at many levels and between different sections of society.

Archival print on paper by Nobina Gupta

Archival print on paper by Nobina Gupta   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

According to Nobina, “At one level, we are trying to bridge the urban-rural divide, making city folks aware of traditional practices, heritage, histories, cultures, musical legacies and traditions of places like Maihar, Ichol and those in the periphery like Satna, Rewa, Panna and Janwaar in Madhya Pradesh. We have attempted to inform local people of their culture and heritage, which is slowly being swamped by modernity. This connect is imperative or else age-old traditions will be lost forever. It also signifies a dialogue between collaborators from different disciples, which is gainful for all.”

The abode of Baba Allauddin Khan became a source of inspiration for many artists. “Visual artist Amritah Sen has a created a book art which speaks of Baba’s life and journey along with his disciplines. Hand drawn, it has text and images based on in-depth research. It automatically opens doors for more enquiries,” says Nobina. Likewise, Sandeep Dhopate, a Mumbai-based fine arts photographer has clicked several pictures of Madina Bhavan, Baba’s residence under Darshan series. In vibrant colours, these pictures have contemporary interpretation. “It is stage photography that is a space was made with artificial lights and shot at different times to give an ambience. Related to the ragamala paintings, the colours in them signify interpretation of ragas, essentially showing Madina Bhavan as a mirror to Baba’s spirit and ethos.”

Taking cues from the local stories and folklore, Shatarupa Thakurta Roy, an IIT Kanpur academician has interpreted them in her watercolour paintings on paper. These depict deities, Ramayana scenes and also contemporary elements like a truck and girls in modern attire. “She has made a card game which has mythological text and pictures, playing which unravels stories,” adds Nobina.

Acrylic on paper painting by Shatarupa Thakurta Roy

Acrylic on paper painting by Shatarupa Thakurta Roy   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The collaboration among artists has benefited both the individual and the group as a whole. “Culture being a vast canvas, requires people with different expertise to look into it. The team of 15 were chosen not only for their proficiency but also their ability to exchange views, thoughts and notes for the group to build on. The collaboration is a trans-disciplinary dialogue.For example, observations by Odissi dancer, Shashwati Garai on local music and dance became the starting point for an artist.” Shashwati choreographed dances based on Bagheli songs rendered and composed by Shashi Kumar Pande, a local singer, which were performed by local children. “The video is being shown at the exhibition. This initiative was undertaken to make the kids know how rich their folk music tradition as they tend to sing only Bollywood songs ,” comments Nobina.

Sustainable livelihood

The residency programme at Ichol went beyond capturing the past to create a sustainable environment for the traditional crafts to bloom all over again. Observing local craftsmanship, they conducted workshops for skill development. Trish Bygott and Nathan Crotty, Australian textile designers held an embroidery and crochet session with Ichol women. “The aim was to refine their latent skill and this is evident in the works done by them on cushion covers, ottomans, pendants and wall frames all of which are displayed and for sale. The motifs are local and include birds, flowers and leaf patterns embroidered in bright colours like blue and pink. The interaction between designers and them continues once a week through What’s app,” reveals Nobina.

Nobina Gupta

Nobina Gupta   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Nidhi Khurana, a Delhi-based textile artist, taught women how to use natural resources of the area, flowers and leaves like lantana, dahlia, hibiscus, marigold, palash, etc to make natural dyes for eco-prints, bandhani and shibori. Sustainable and with almost zero investment, this has opened better occupation opportunities for local women.

Product designer, Payal Nath found easily availability of cement bags because of several cement factories located in the area. She taught girls and women to stitch them and make lovely bags and jewellery boxes decorated with simple yet exquisite designs. “Very contemporary, it puts waste to use,” says the curator.

Besides, films and collaborators sharing stories, there are many interactive exhibits as well. Nobina’s Dharohar series has a collection of archival boxes with coins and stamps. “The coins from the Mauryan and Kushan period will make people relate to past and kick in inquisitiveness,” she quips. Likewise stamps have motifs fabricated by her to show decorative aspects of monuments in Maihar, Ichol and its vicinity. Another big draw is a scroll depicting statues and temple figurines of the area. “Complementing this is a bioscope through which one can see a video on monuments, ruins, forts, sculptures and statues. This helps in connecting with the past.”

One spied beautiful calendars and books in one section created by Abhisheka, an ecological artist and educator from Bengaluru. “The calenders and books are very insightful giving details of flora and fauna of the area, including scientific information, habitats and how they live. She has created colouring books for children too for distribution in Maihar to connect children with their ecology,” says Nobina.

Khaprels or tiles used for local houses with lovely designs made by girls are on display giving an insight into their inherent skill. Likewise skateboards which Ulrike Reinhard, a social reformer from Germany got painted by kids in Janwaar and Ichol area too are for sale. “While Janwaar kids painted local elements like Panna forests, tigers birds, Ichol ones, closer to city, depicted modern elements like a school, boundary wall and road,” points out Nobina.

Happy with collaboration and its results, Nobina hopes that their initiative will be carried forward. “Besides connecting with more such communities, we wish something tangible is done for the people of Maihar region.” The group has published a report and made a film which they intend to present to tourism, textiles, handicrafts wings of Government and organisations like INTACH to take the Mahihar story forward.

(On till November 29, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 7:11:48 AM |

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