•  

    SANDEEP BHANDARI: an Interview

    Bionote:

    Sundeep Bhandari is the Founder Trustee for Craft and Community Development Foundation and Gondwana Art Project. He has been a veteran of the oil and gas industry in India. He was responsible for establishing the projects for Cairn Energy in India which led to the discovery and development of significant projects contributing to over 25% of India’s domestic oil production. Sundeep advised many international companies for oil and gas projects in India and overseas, and severed as Board member of public listed companies.

    He established the Craft and Community Development Foundation (CCDF) to support artists in the traditional arts and crafts sector. CCDF worked on several short-term projects, including puppetry education in schools, mentoring and development programs for Chikankari artists, ,installation of solar lights in tribal villages, documentation of languishing crafts in Rajasthan, and promotion of  art by tribal communities.

    The Gondwana Art Project was established in 2019 to work with tribal artists from central India. The Project supported the livelihood of tribal artists during the entire covid shut down periods. The project designers worked with the artists mentoring them on new design concepts and colour palette, enabling them to create artworks for the global audience keeping the authenticity of their artform intact. The Project currently supports the livelihood of 35 artists from tribal communities practicing artforms like – Gond, Bhil, Warli, Sohrai, Kohbar, Paitkar, Baiga, Kurumbha, Mithla, Pattachitra.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Interviewed by Sarah Rahaman Shaikh

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

     

    1. TMYS: Given your vast experience in curating, presenting and exhibiting The Gondwana Art Project, it would be wonderful if we may begin with you recollecting some of your personal experiences of working with Tribal artists. Please share some memories that may have touched your heart.

    SB:

    I have been amazed with the skills of the tribal artists who have no formal training in art. They have learnt their art from their families over a number of generations. The artists are naive, live in remote places, yet their art is so fine and precise. They are storytellers, as their art relates to customs, culture, folklore, flora and fauna, and the jungles.

     

    2. TMYS: Talking about memories, the Tribal communities have the tradition of oral literature that travelled from one generation to the other. Historically, how do you review their reflection in art, which were perhaps the only legitimate ‘script’?

    SB:

    The tribal communities used their art to decorate the walls of their homes. Since art often tells a story, it is a great tradition that has provided the next generations to gain glimpses of their culture and folklore. In many of their homes you will come across paintings themed on festivals like Pola – the cattle Fest or the folklore on the Flying Elephant, or the story of the local alcohol – Mahua.

     

    3. TMYS: According to you, how is the evolution of tribal art taking shape in mainstream society? Are the tribal artists getting the proper appreciation and attention for their contributions?

    SB:

    For years tribal art has been relegated to the Melas and Bazaars, and treated differently, with an artificial boundary in the art world between the modern/contemporary and tribal/folk. The Gondwana Art Project is focussed on mentoring these tribal artists to develop their art in a modern and contemporary style, keeping intact the authenticity of their art forms. Today Tribal artworks from the project are seen as contemporary and are well appreciated by art enthusiasts.

    In recent times there has also been a lot of focus and attention at the highest levels of the Government on tribal art.


    ***

    Amazon India link for TMYS Review June 2024 is here.

    (Available worldwide via Amazon)

    ***

    4. TMYS: Please share few examples of Indigenous artworks that have presented a cultural-historic narrative, endeavouring to change or present a new perspective among the mainstream audience?

    SB:

    Some of the cultural subjects that have historic narratives, were taken up by the artists to be developed in contemporary styles. The outcome was stunning and many of the artworks are in collections of important art collectors and museums. Some of the examples are:

    Pola – The Gond Cattle festival where the cattle are decked up with ornaments, clothes etc. by the community, and a competition is held. Artist Jyoti Uikey has done a wonderful modern artwork depicting a decked-up cattle in a modern/contemporary style.

    Tantric Vidya – Many tribal Communities believe in Tantric Vidya, which is traditionally learned through oral traditions while observing the full moon at night. It is believed that goddesses disguise themselves as wild animals to deter anyone attempting to learn this Vidya. If the person gets frightened , he/she fails to grasp  the vidya. Artist Santoshi Shyam has developed a modern artwork inspired by Tantric Vidya.

     

    5. TMYS: What challenges have you faced in fostering the ethnic works of tribal artists and dismantling the stereotypes hovering around them?

    SB:

    The key challenge has been the perception of people, expecting tribal art to be relegated to melas and bazaars, or the expectation that a tribal art would be all similar and therefore cheap. Tribal artists were seen as craftsmen, who would do multiple copies of the same artwork. I have observed a fatigue factor amongst the audience and for me this was the biggest challenge, as I am working towards bringing about a change in the way people perceive tribal art.

     

    6. TMYS: How does Craft & Community Development Foundation (CCDF) help the Gond, Bhil, and Warli artists to upskill themselves without affecting the ingenuity of authentic tribal art amidst the growing trend of cultural globalisation?

    SB:

    The focus of the project is to use the tribal art forms and their styles to create modern and more stylised artworks. The story lines remain intact, the authenticity of the artform remains intact. All we are doing is mentoring the artists on new design concepts and colour palette. Everyone has to evolve and similarly tribal artists need to keep evolving with times so that the horizon for their art expands to a global level.

    Through the years tribal art has evolved from paintings on walls to the use of canvases and paper, when great modernist Swaminathan encouraged and mentored tribal artists at Bharat Bhavan, to the use of acrylic colours in place of traditional natural colours. The evolution process will continue and will keep the artforms alive and thriving.

    ***

    Amazon India link for TMYS Review June 2024 is here.

    (Available worldwide via Amazon)

    ***

    7. TMYS: In your opinion, what unique elements do tribal artists bring to the broader artistic landscape that influences the urban and HNI (High-Net Individual) lifestyles of India?

    SB:

    Tribal artists bring to life old folklores, traditional beliefs, celebration of festivals, storytelling on the animal kingdom, etc. The modern Indian who has lived an urban life away from these traditions are inquisitive and interested to learn more. The parents today want their children to connect with nature and animals.

    Also, people want the walls of their homes or offices to have art that they can connect with, that has some cultural elements yet are modern and contemporary in terms of colours and composition.

     

    8. TMYS: What is your advice for the upcoming foundations and curators who want to focus on the works of unrecognized tribal artists, so they can effectively maximize the attention, popularity and respect?

    SB:

    It is very important to support the tribal artists without dislodging them from their natural environments, allowing them to work from their usual workspaces. Foundations and Curators should discourage tribal artists to copy anyone’s art and not even copy their own art. Every artwork should be unique, which will start driving the value of the art as well as the artist. Every artist needs to find their own language in their art, which would eventually get them recognition. All tribal artists should be signing their artworks with a date.

     

    9. TMYS: According to you, how has the use of technology in the digital age enhanced or altered the traditional roots of ethnic tribal and folk art in the face of the contemporary art scene?

    SB:

    There is no doubt that the digital age is influencing the tribal artists and it is reflecting in their works. However, this is a part of the evolution process and the new generation of tribal artists working with the Gondwana Art Project have been mentored to use the smart phone to communicate with CCDF designers on new design concepts and use of colour. Tribal artists will gain a space in the contemporary art world, using their traditional roots and their ethnicity and developing their art in a modern/contemporary style with new design concepts and colour palette.

     

    10. TMYS: During the Covid-19 pandemic, how did the Craft & Community Development Foundation (CCDF) provide a safe space for the marginalised tribal artists to continue their artwork, gain financial support and expand their artistry?

    SB:

    During Covid a lot of the tribal and folk artists suffered as their traditional markets were shut down, so were the galleries from urban cities who were consigning their art.

    The Gondwana Art Project decided to support the livelihood of a number of tribal artists based in remote areas of central India, by teaching them to communicate on smart phones with CCDF designers and providing them work on a continuous basis. The artists worked from their own spaces at their homes and continued to receive financial support for the work they were doing. This method of working enabled the artists to experiment without the fear of losing revenue; fostering dedication and attention to detail. The artists enjoyed working for the Gondwana Art Project as it offered them continual opportunities to do something new all the time, think out of the box and create art that was very modern/contemporary, using the techniques and skills of their traditional art forms.

Comments

  • (no comments)

Post Comments

Cart