By Meghana Injeti
Sometimes the simple act of creative individuals coming together for a region, following a common goal can change years of un-favouring systematic routines of that place.
The People Place Project scoured for such collectives and collaborations, with simple small ideas with untamed potential and that’s when we connected with a collective called Gram Art Project.
Gram Art Project is a voluntary group of artists, farmers, makers, enterprisers and from other callings of life living and working in and around a village called Paradsinga in Madhya Pradesh and are genuinely concerned about this village. This collective of creative thinkers and hard workers use their diverse skills and personalities to work as a collective on important matters beneficial to their village.
Their village like any other Indian village is undergoing severe migration as people in search of jobs in the city leave their poverty-ridden agricultural professions. The village is stricken with gender inequality, superstitious traditions, followed by social and environmental exploitation.
“We often see such exploitations happening in front of our eyes and we as a collective choose not to remain silent spectators but to consciously act on these issues”, says the Gram Art Project and it also motivated them to start the collective in the first place.
The work they do mainly revolves around the daily lives of the villagers. “It is a community-led initiative, all our conversations, interactions, discussions, and decision making are done by the collective itself. Thus, all our ideas take shape based on our own collective social, economic and political understanding and experiences”, mentioned the Gram Art Project.
These projects are by the people, of the people and for the people. Gram Art Project mentions that each project undertaken is a collective effort, a conscious journey to help them understand the importance, trivialities and outcomes of their actions.
For them, art and other projects aren’t only a professional practice but a way of expressing themselves, a medium for putting out their experiences of rural living and their ammunition to fulfill their desire for a society free of exploitation. In the words of the collective, “Gram Art Project, is about – A collective space for us to express our concerns as a live part of an average Indian village through the forms which are socially and ecologically non-exploitative”.
Gram Art Project hosts art residencies and other art initiatives, also having organised India’s first land art project and it’s first land art festival called Gram Dhara Chitra Utsav which hosted many collaborators and spectators alike. Their work also spans to organic farming, growing non-GM (Genetically Modified) IPR-free (Intellectual Property Rights) non-hybrid indigenous cotton, producing local yarn handicrafts, varieties of plantable seed papers, organically produced farm edibles, eco-friendly and organic awareness campaigns performances and initiatives.
Speaking about their indigenous cotton, Gram Art Project further expanded that their geographic location is such that all you can see is monocropping (agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land) of Genetically Modified (GM) crop called BT Cotton. This practice is creating large scale seasonal unemployment and is leading to one of the highest rates of farmer suicides in India. Genetically Modified cotton has many ecological impacts as well as it takes away sovereignty from the hands of farmers. They have started growing indigenous cotton in a small part of their farm
from the past 3 years, the seeds of which are sowed by the women of villages around
Paradsinga. Now, this organic indigenous cotton they grow is then converted into
threads by hand spinners of Gram Seva Mandal, Wardha and these threads are then naturally dyed by an artisans group called Wrukshatone and finally handcrafted by around 100 women from 10 different villages in & around Paradsinga into ‘Seed Bands’. How do they benefit from this? They have ecologically grown sustainable cotton for which the cotton grower is paid a pre-decided fair price (irrespective of what the market prices are) and in the process also been able to employ a lot of people and are therefore able to create a positive cycle within this collective.
What are Seed Bands, you might think? They are wearable bands which look very similar to the usual Rakhis but are made out of locally spun and handcrafted cotton yarn. But they aren’t just some usual accessory that people wear, it’s an symbolic initiative towards stepping up and talking about the ecological systems and agrarian issues the villages face. The process of making these bands gives an insight into the materials sourced, undertaken production efforts, social and economic inclusion of women as their primary workforce; these factors are what make a major chunk of what Gram Art Project.
Gram Art Project which is an umbrella project for all their efforts and Beejpatra, their officially registered name for their enterprise wing. It is dedicated towards providing eco-friendly alternatives to people’s lifestyles. The team at Gram Art Project and Beejaptra have about 90% of producing processes, planning, decisions taken by women who live under a highly patriarchal society and also face difficulties every step of their way and yet they push on each day, each week, year after year.
Last year was their Seed Band Project’s fourth year, their themes and designs for the seed bands showcase some important social issues like their insight of what ‘Raksha’ or protection truly means on the event of Raksha Bandhana, highlighting the commitment and independence mentioned in words on their seed bands “कमजोर नहीं मै!” (Kamjor Nahi Mai – “Frail… Not Me”!).
Other themes include dedicating and featuring famous women social movements like Meira Paibis (“women torch-bearers” in the local tongue), social activists like Navleen Kumar, spreading awareness about female foeticide and infanticide, menstrual sanitisation, women’s reproductive health, female empowerment, raising awareness about diseases, educational themes and many other important issues.
Even though the current pandemic has hit their commercial wing, they are still unstoppable work-wise and their projects are still going on but at a different and a safer pace. Currently, this hardworking collective has just finished sowing for the Kharif season, kickstarting their promotion to include diverse organic and healthy food into people’s eating habits. They are also in the midst of launching their annual flagship programme Seed Bands 2020 and are excited for the festival-celebrations of Rakhi and Friendship Day just around the corner.
They will soon be launching new Seed Band designs for the year. “These Seed Bands are priced at Rs.40-50 and shall be out for retail sales by the end of June and for our buyers, this means celebrating relationships while being conscious and responsible consumers”, says Gram Art Project.
The collective impresses upon the fact that everything is a journey, a process. And placemaking for them involves being sustainable, creative, interactive, accessible and inclusive. Not limiting only to cities and elites but also including the creative hardworking villages like theirs and everyone and every place in the spectrum between these two.
“For us”, says Gram Art Project, “a quintessential world is the one where every organism irrespective of their species, religion, gender or any other difference can cohabit together with equal resources without affecting the environmental balance. To some, it might look like a utopian dream but we try to consciously take small steps in this direction”.
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#changemakers in place-making series
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