Grant Period: over four months
Principal Practitioner: Anish Victor
Maraa is a media and arts collective based in Bangalore and Delhi. Founded as a charitable public trust in 2008, Maraa’s work is centred on political and creative practices across three domains - strengthening people-centric media platforms, democratising usage of urban public spaces and deepening rights based campaigns. Its work cuts across labour, gender and sexuality, caste and class. Through its work, the collective has engaged with various creative practices in public spaces, building on artists networks within the country and increasing its reach and accessibility to diverse publics.
This grant supports Maraa’s preparatory work that will launch a larger project titled ‘UR/Unreserved’. Unreserved is an 18-month long theatre-based project that involves two 30-day train journeys – the first being a reconnaissance trip - with at least 12 performance events in four locations across the country. Spread over 10,000 kms, this work will traverse several landscapes – physical, cultural, social and psychological – in an attempt to gather, on a moving train, different perspectives around identity.
The idea for Unreserved began with a personal journey that theatre actor Anish Victor undertook to Assam sometime in 2012. Anish went to Assam a little after the exodus of people from the northeast, from Bangalore. Considering the intense paranoia that surrounded the exodus, Anish was apprehensive about his trip to Assam. However, he soon realised that his fears were unfounded as he was received with great warmth. But with this also came a sense of horror at the way violence gets normalised over time and insensitivities towards each other continue to grow. While this was an important trigger that propelled Anish to explore the idea of identity formation, the quest for one’s own identity has always been part of his existence. For instance, he recalls how as a south Indian growing up in Kanpur, he was always branded a ‘dark-skinned madraasi’. In Maraa, Anish found a fellow traveller, so to speak. Since Maraa’s work over the years also resonates with the kind of enquiries that Anish is attempting to explore, they have both now come together to work on Unreserved.
As Ekta Mittal, one of the co-founders of Maraa writes in the proposal, ‘this journey is both universal in understanding and deeply personal in experience. It will provide a fresh lens to view and talk about identity. When we begin to see our journeys as our identity, we also begin to recognise that it is constantly forming and re-forming through our experience of the world. And with that recognition comes the ability to consider other journeys as identities as well. On train everyone is a traveller and we all have stories of our self’. Through a sharing of these personal stories, the work will locate itself in the understanding of identity as individual journeys, rather than through the usual measures of geography, religion, gender, language or caste. The idea, of course, is not to deny the existence of these, but ‘to shift the discourse gently into a space where the journey of the individual becomes central to the meaning-making of a being, even within grander contexts of community or country. In doing so, the project hopes to dislocate the conversations from the usual clouds of violence and conflict that perpetually loom’, the proposal suggests.
Maraa and Anish imagine Unreserved as a quiet resistance; a gentle defiance of the single story and a refusal of the stereotypes. Since the train had been central to the mass exodus as well as Anish’s own journey, this project too has been conceived around it. Of the two 30-day journeys that make up the larger Unreserved project, this grant only supports the reconnaissance trip. It is expected to allow a sense of the terrains (physical and otherwise) and organise for the later journey. As a preparatory trip, it will give them a sense of the diverse publics inhabiting and flowing through the train, conversations that people have and so on. Both journeys will start and end in Bangalore. The route will be Bangalore - Dhemaji – Srinagar – Perambavoor – Bangalore.
Eight performers – facilitators from the four locations will attend a 10-day intensive training workshop designed and facilitated by Anish and Maraa, before the journey. They will exchange songs, magic tricks, stories, jokes and riddles that subtly provoke discussions on identity. They will also undergo special sessions by external facilitators who will provoke multiple meanings around identity through walks, music, talks and film screenings. After this, the performers will embark on the first train journey in August 2017. At the end points of each direction of the journey, the team will stay for three to four days and meet with local collaborators to understand the people and the place. They will identify public and found spaces where the performances could happen when they return on their second trip.
During the journey, the facilitators will share subtle aspects of their own identity such as the connections between the changing landscapes and their own emotions. They will be able to identify potential challenges and possibilities for their conversations and performances. This trip will also enable the team to consolidate their networks at the four end points.
This preparatory journey will give shape to the main journey sometime in October 2017, which will include a travelling exhibition comprising of a publication, short films, podcasts, sketches, maps and photographs. Maraa has already begun the process of raising funds for this later, larger part of the project.
As part of this project, Maraa will submit process documentation in the form of stills or videos taken during the train journey. These, along with sketches of the journey, will be Maraa’s deliverables to IFA. The budget is commensurate with the proposal. Given that this is a short term grant, it will only have two installments of 90% and 10% respectively.
Given that much of the work in this project will happen in the ‘here and now’ as a response to situations, IFA had to engage with the proposal with greater depth to understand how it would work. Anish and Ekta came to the IFA office and presented a small exercise that gave programme staff an idea of the work process. Additionally, the two external evaluators also supported the project. All this helped us make the decision on the grant. IFA hopes that this project will bring about new and unconventional processes of performance making that will bear an influence in the field.