Painted Rooftops

Next time you are paragliding in the Bir-Billing region of the Kangra valley in Himachal Pradesh, ask your instructor to gently steer the parachute over Gunehar. Poonam Goel tells you why

From up in the sky, the cluster of painted rooftops nestled in green hills looks like a river of colourful foliage. On the ground, over the past one month, Gunehar, a little village two hours from Dharamshala airport, has transformed into a delightful art gallery, created as a collaborative work of nine artists and the villagers, the latter being both participants and viewers of this unique experiment.

Till about two months ago, a day in Gunehar was just like any other. Women worked round the clock in fields and at home, men ran little shops and tended to cattle, and children attended school in nearby Palampur or Baijnath. In June, however, all that changed. They became participants in ShopArt ArtShop, an art festival that gave them a new role – of becoming equal partners in creating art that does not distinguish between the rural and the urban, and, above all, that which respects local customs and culture.

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Art and Ideas

ShopArt ArtShop is the brainchild of German- Indian art entrepreneur Frank Schlichtmann,who made Gunehar his home eight years ago. He has organised the festival in partnership with London-based Ketna Patel and Delhi-based Puneet Kaushik. While some of these artworks will move into Schlichtmann’s art gallery, just above the 4Tables restaurant that he also runs along with the 4Rooms mud hotel, some will continue to dot the village landscape, at least until the next edition of the festival.

Of Man and Nature

“My work takes into account the topography and structure of the village,” says Kaushik. On one side of the building roof is an installation made of empty liquor bottles. “When I found these bottles, it set me on the concept of ‘desire’. What are the desires these villagers have, how do they express themselves?” On the other side is a spiral-shaped, metal wire work that catches the rays of the sun and the moon both, and lights up like a rose in bloom. On the ground floor is Kaushik’s installation Those Who Live in Glass Houses, made up of recycled yarn that aims to “change the perception of how art should look”.

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Market sense

Delhi-based illustrator Gargi Chandola is passionate about one medium alone – Kangra miniature art. And this fascination has transformed the façade of the village’s market square into a vibrant canvas. “I have worked with artists from the Kangra Miniature School and infused contemporary elements into their style of painting,” says Chandola. “The challenge was to blow up the scale of work and yet retain the intricacy of miniatures. By the time we were finishing, I was inundated with requests from other shop-owners to paint their walls too,” she smiles, knowing that the risk paid off. Indeed, the revamped market square will now be a permanent reminder of how valuable traditional art forms are.

The villagers became a part of ShopArt ArtShop, an art festival, which respects local customs and culture

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Colourful Medley

A minute’s walk from the market square is where Patel, renowned for pop art, created a mélange of digital prints in a “photo booth”. The villagers were asked to write and paint motifs on one wall, which she then juxtaposed with portraits of them she had clicked, to create these prints. These will now be available as limited-edition prints through her studio.

Delhi-based textile designer Rema Kumar’s collaboration with Gaddi women is one that will appeal to even a fashionista. She has created a line of clothing inspired by local designs and loom, primarily Luanchadi, the main costume of the Gaddi tribe. “I have used lighter cloth and more contemporary styling,” says Kumar, confident that the apparel will find buyers at her store in Delhi as well. Villagers are also the protagonists of Goa-based documentary filmmaker Amrit Vatsa’s three-minute films, which can now be seen online on Vatsa’s 3minutestories.com.

Mediating Space

Indore-based ceramic artist Mudita Bhandari places her terracotta installations on a concrete, eight-stepped wall that was built after a flood swept away a number of houses there. Using locally found clay that was “sieved and mixed with alsi (flaxseed plant) husk, moulded and then fired in a hand-made kiln”, Bhandari’s installation integrates local material with modern architectural elements. Helped by village women, Bhandari says the biggest take-away from this experience is “that one does not need complicated or fancy equipment to create art”. That is perhaps the lesson her work, in turn, teaches us – to simplify life and not worry about the result.

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