Bonding over art

BRILLIANT STROKES Artists at work  

‘Puducherry Blue' saw 30 artists from nine South Asian nations discover commonalities beneath their differences

Art knows no prejudices and no boundaries. What could reflect this more than a camp that brings together artists from many countries, to be inspired by each other and a common theme? After the ‘Jaisalmer Yellow' artists' camp in 2007, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and NGO Seher pulled it off yet again with ‘Puducherry Blue', taking a step beyond political diplomacy, to achieve solidarity through the universal medium of art.

Against the vivid blue backdrop of the sea, in the wooded premises of Dune EcoVillage, over 30 artists from nine South Asian nations spent a week together, interacting to discover commonalities beneath their differences. The camaraderie was evident in the friendly backslapping as they all gathered for tea on a warm evening, and when they visited each other's rooms to look at the artwork the camp had inspired.

The heady concoction of varied backgrounds, experiences, seniority levels (from Prabhakar Kolte to Vanitha Gupta), styles and sensibilities gave them enough to do — interactive sessions and painting filled the days, and evenings brought with them lectures, discussions with other artistes, including Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna, and other events, that provided them snapshots of the Indian cultural experience.

“The blue of the sea and the walls of my room, coupled with the sound of the ocean right near you, is quite novel and inspiring,” says Mehreen Zuberi from Karachi, as she works on a blue canvas. “This camp has created a relaxed atmosphere for artists to meet and exchange experiences.”

The painting of Mehreen's roommate, Mariyam Omar from Maldives, reflects the spirit of the camp — an Indian sub-continent with blurred boundaries.

The others were more personal. Sanjeewa Kumar depicted the elephant, an iconographic image of his country Sri Lanka, with six legs and even wings, absorbing new experiences and acquiring a new identity, while floating in a new space. “These are significant times in my country now, as we struggle to dissolve our differences to remain together,” he explains.

“I have discovered in this camp that even if our styles and interpretations are different, the thinking is the same among people from SAARC nations. We share so much in common. In Puducherry, I met fishermen who even sang Sinhalese songs. And our differences only remind us to find new images to portray and new paintings to paint. We are truly multicultural,” feels Sanjeewa.

It is in reflection of this spirit that Seher has been organising camps such as ‘Puducherry Blue' and ‘Jaisalmer Yellow' and the ‘South Asian Bands' festival. “Art binds people like sports does. Softer diplomacy issues with our neighbouring countries, especially the ones with which relations are strained, are important,” says Sanjeev Bhargav, founder of Seher and curator of the camp, who scoured 2,000 art works to choose the participating artists.

“To provide a free, relaxed experience at a place such as Puducherry for artists from Afghanistan to express themselves is a big deal. The added benefits are that the city will be projected on a global stage,” he elaborates.

The ICCR has taken a lot of effort to promote cultural ties with other countries, says Virendra Gupta, Director-General, ICCR, adding: “Culture is truly the best way for people to bond.”