Lost in time

With the hope of bringing back the lost tradtion and culture of Maihar in MP, indigenous communities and artists have come together to work with artisans to find alternative means of livelihood for them.

Maihar in Madhya Pradesh is not your regular tourist destination. The musically inclined would know the place for Baba Allauddin Khan, the classical music maestro who founded the Maihar Gharana, while the religious congregate there for the Maa Sharda Shaktipeeth that sits atop the Trikoota hill. For the last two years, however, this sleepy, little town has been abuzz with frenetic artistic activity and has transformed itself into a unique canvas. Since early 2016, a path-breaking collaboration has been taking place between the indigenous communities of Madhya Pradesh and fourteen Indian and international artists.
The epicentre of all this activity has been at Art Ichol, founded by Kolkata gallerist and art collector Ambica Beri two years ago as an artists' retreat which has now swiftly grown into a multi-disciplinary arts centre comprising an art gallery, artist studios and an open-air sculpture park. This partnership between artists and local communities is now culminating into an experiential, collective and interactive exhibition-cum-haat in New Delhi, curated by Nobina Gupta, under the evocative title of 'Disappearing Dialogues' at Bikaner House, India Gate, New Delhi till November 29. The project has been supported by MP Tourism and Arts Ananda Trust.
Featuring a diverse range of paintings, videos, wood and iron products, textiles and garments to films, book art, photography, furnishings – all created in collaboration with village folk of Ichol in Maihar and its surrounding areas – the event hopes to bring the focus back on the lost traditions and cultural practices of the area.
"My vision for Art Ichol is not merely to provide inspiring and world class-facilities for artists to work in, but also bring art out of the limiting white-cube structure of a gallery space," says Ambica Beri, founder, Art Ichol. " Working with the community, enhancing their skills and being able to support them in finding alternate means of livelihood has always been an important vertical of Art Ichol and through the research-based 'Disappearing Dialogues' project, we have been able to reach out to many collaborators, government, artists, local communities and other important stakeholders," she added.
Nobina Gupta, initiator and curator of Disappearing Dialogues says, "MP is a place of vast enrichment and of abundant resources, of lost histories, cultures, musical legacies and traditions that are hidden deep in the area. The heritage and culture of indigenous communities should be valued and preserved before it disappears. Traditional practices of organic farming, brick making, and forest rejuvenation are excellent examples of alternate techniques for modern man to learn about sustainable living. For this reason, Ambica and I collaborated to invite national and international artists, practicing in different fields to come together for an interdisciplinary research and collaborative residency focusing on environment, culture, heritage and the indigenous community at Art Ichol in Maihar. The artists used their creative and research abilities to study disappearing practices and develop thought-provoking artwork and material in response to their findings."
The participating practitioners are Clare Elizabeth Kennedy (Architect, Australia), Ulrike Reinhard (Community Service and Traveller, Germany & Madhya Pradesh), Sandeep Dhopate (Photographer, Maharashtra), Trish Bygott & Nathan Crotty (Textile Designers, Australia), Lenny Rubenovitch (Wood and Furniture Artist, Canada), Pipson Sebastian Mampilli (Entrepreneur on Sustainable Living, Karnataka), Shilo Engelbrecht (Fashion and Textile Designer, Australia), Nobina Gupta (Visual and Installation artist, West Bengal) and many more.
The project was undertaken at areas of Ichol, Maihar and its periphery, Satna, Rewa, Panna, Madhai, Umaria, Ucchera, Janwaar, Bharhut, Sukhana, Khajuraho and Govindgarh.
Nobina Gupta, also a visual artist, through a series of archival boxes titled Dharohar, locates her work in the vernacular language of Bagheli which is gradually losing its relevance through generations. "It is interesting how from the Bagheli folk songs and poetries emerges an excellent vision of the land, its history, mythology, bio-diversity, dynamics of socio-cultural practices, reflecting a vivid picture that craves for authentic documentation. I also conducted a series of art connect workshops on paper kandas and designs on handmade local khaprels to inspire the children," she said.

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