Art for change : Folk art forms

 Art for change 

 Folk art forms have been with the rural communities for centuries but now the artists have been encouraged to develop them into new forms to ensure commercial success  and empowerment, finds Baishali Mukherjee
Residing in a far away village in Nadia of West Bengal, nobody knew Golam Fakir as an artist six years ago. Belonging to a marginalised community and without formal education, Golam used to carry dead bodies from the police station to the morgue. His is a fascinating story of transformation- from a nonentity despised by many in the neighbourhood, to a celebrity singer Baul geet, a form of Bengal’s folk song,  in a span of six years.
He has performed all over India and has travelled to UK, Switzerland, France, Tunisia, Scotland and China. His income has gone up from around Rs 200 a month to Rs 30,000 now. Golam narrates his experience through this journey in his own fashion, “I never thought of anything beyond my two meals few years back, and now I’ve the opportunity to travel across the globe and perform on stage with great musicians and performers, and represent my country in front of the global audience. It fills my heart when people appreciate and applaud Baul music,” he says.
Moyna Chitrakar is a patua (from patachitra) artist who specializes in scroll painting of Bengal. Her story too reflects how women have been empowered through exposition of their art. Moyna and her husband Malekh used to earn about one thousand a month six years ago. Today her family earns many times over. She has travelled with her paintings and other diversified products to different parts of India attending fairs and festivals. She even went to China to attend an industrial fair in  Shenzhen. With her money she has also constructed a two storey house in her village where tourists can stay. Moyna is a confident woman today and says, “We can concentrate on our work now as we don’t need to worry about our next meal anymore.”
Crafting this change since 2004 is banglanatak dot com, a social development organization in Kolkata. Elucidating the process of change, Amitabha Bhattacharya, director, says, “Culture is a great enabler. It fosters social inclusion. Oral and performing art traditions are an asset for developing rural enterprise.”  New markets are created and new brands can be developed to promote traditional performing and visual arts and crafts, he points out. “Heritage becomes a means of livelihood and empowerment. The motto is ‘To preserve art, let the artists survive’,” he adds.
The ministry of culture, West Bengal, supported the initiative between 2005 and 2009. In December, 2009, the European Union provided support to the project named Ethno Magic Going Global (EGG) to take ethno art to the global arena.  The project has created a tremendous impact leading to socio economic development of the beneficiaries and their communities. With identity being changed from ‘daily unskilled labour’ to ‘artist’, they are now coming forward to participate even in the development process.
Revitalizing and reviving these heritage skills as means of livelihood necessitates mobilizing changes in mindset and attitudes as the folk artists become ‘cultural service providers’. A comprehensive training and capacity building programmes was undertaken after the formation of a Self Help Group to help innovate new ways of rendering the traditional art forms. The aim was to establish a guru- shishya  parampara-  where skilled craftsmen pass on their knowledge to the practicing artists.
Winds of change have now started blowing elsewhere too. Recently, LNG Petronet, one of the fastest growing companies in the Indian energy sector, has come up with the documentation of Swang- a popular form of folk theatre in rural Haryana and Punjab and an integral part of their rich cultural heritage. It aims at introducing the form among the connoisseurs to facilitate its preservation and promotion.
However, awareness about this form of performing art is low among the urban youth or even among the modern theatre groups. According to Kishan Kumar, a theatre activist of Rohtak, Haryana, the government organizes Swang to raise money from the public for repair or construction of schools or roads. Its popularity may be gauged by the fact that around rupees two to three lakh was raised from a single performance of Swang in Haryana. “If made into compact and short productions, Swang can prove to be a popular entertainment form,” feels Kamal Tewari, chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi in Chandigarh.
Taking the cultural revival a step further, banglanatak dot com has also taken the initiative to incubate and enliven the age old art forms of Bihar from becoming moribund. Apart from the Madhubani painting no other folk form of Bihar is well-known today.
Efforts are on to rejuvenate the feisty cultural inventory of Bihar that includes folk songs like Sohar, Nirgun, Kajri, and Byaas, dance like Jhijia,  dramas like Ramleela, Nautanki etc, tribal dance like Santhali dance and crafts like sujni (embroidered quilts) and sikki (grass weaving). More than a thousand  individuals with knowledge about these art forms have been identified under a project.
Apart from art forms, the scope for developing ethno-cultural tourism offering authentic experience of indigenous life is also being explored. From places like Gorbhanga, a village located in Nadia district that houses a band of Baul artists, Pingla, home to around 300 patuas in West Midnapore district and Jangal Mahal in Bengal,  to Tinsukia in Assam and also Goa, are being developed as community led ethno-tourism destinations by exploring the traditional artistic skills of local population as primary resources.
The important impact of developing tourism in these places will be restoration of peace in the disturbed areas of Bengal and Assam through inclusive growth of the aboriginal people of those areas.
In today’s world of intolerance and unrest culture can prove to be a potential tool for establishing universal peace and brotherhood. For as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  once said “Hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.”

Trans World Features (TWF)

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