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India Foundation for the Arts
Newsletter Edition 29
July - September 2014
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Greetings!

India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) entered its 20th year of grant making in September 2014. With this, we kick off a two-year celebration of the arts with events, presentations, festivals and much more. At IFA, it has been both, a period of looking back at the exciting journey and an occasion to dream of a re-energised exploration.

On the occasion, Arundhati Ghosh, Executive Director, said, "It has been an unforgettable journey for IFA that continues, with shared experiences and passionate quests, creating the space, setting the mood and supporting the cruise and the treks of so many artists and scholars. We have facilitated over 370 projects across research, practice and education since 1995 with a commitment of over 19 crores to the field, to ensure that the arts in all their diversity are nurtured and valued. The results of these engagements today are out there as books, films, archival material, performances, exhibitions, courses - touching, influencing and impacting lives every day". To read the full text of her speech, click here.

20 Years of Celebrating the Arts

Besides the milestone making its way into all our work, IFA has some interesting developments to share from the last quarter. Do read on.

Warmly,
The IFA Team


programmes
Arts Research and Documentation (ARD)

In this quarter, after a period of seven years, we reviewed the Arts Research and Documentation programme with four expert panelists Susie Tharu, M D Muthukumaraswamy, Aneesh Pradhan and Rahul Roy. Questions and concerns were raised through the collective experience of the past eight years of grant making under this programme and the changing nature of research in the arts in India. We also invited grantees who raised their concerns in connection with the programme. Tanveer Ajsi, Programme Executive, ARD compiled a Voices from the Field report which was presented to the review panel. The re-articulated programme based on the panelists' recommendation will be announced in the next financial year.

Arts Practice (AP)

We made two grants under this programme this quarter:

The grant to Saji Kadampattil supports the creation of a performance piece based on research into the life of Malayalam poet Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan Nair and into the ritual performance form of Kerala called Padayani. Essentially a musical, the performance will also combine elements of theatre and visual arts in making a multidimensional artistic experience.

The second grant was made to animator Anitha Balachandran to create a series of short animation films based on the life and music of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. The project explores early sound recording technology and the artist's life within that techno-social moment in history. The project will result in animation works and installations that combine archival material with pieces of obsolete technology.

Arts Education (AE)

We announced in the last quarter that IFA won the CBSE bid to conduct a Capacity Building Programme for CBSE affiliated schools. The first workshop on arts education capacity building through sound, movement and visual arts for CBSE teachers will be held on November 11 and 12. Interested teachers can register for the workshop here.

IFA, as part of its Kali-Kalisu initiative, will also be conducting a Master Resource Programme in collaboration with DSCERT and NCERT from November 17 to 22. The first such programme was held between August 18 and 23. These too will keep to the Arts Integrated Learning (A-I-L) mandated by NCERT.

In other news, Art1st Partner A Master, our artist-mentorship programme for school children launched early this year, has seen a successful completion of three of the seven artist engagements this quarter. 25 children including 10 from non-profit schools are participating in this programme. Ravi Kumar Kashi, Surekha and Biju Jose have introduced them to their artistic philosophies and new ways of looking at their city exploring different mediums and artistic languages. Art1st Foundation, Mumbai, the partnering organisation of this initiative, has collaborated with National Films Division Corporation, Bangalore to extensively video document the sessions.

We are trying to raise a sum of Rs 3,50,000 for this programme to enable the 10 children from non-profit schools and underprivileged backgrounds to participate in this initiative. Our campaign is now active on the crowdfunding site Orangestreet.in You can contribute directly towards the entire amount or sponsor one child with a donation of Rs 35,000 only. We urge you to contribute towards the programme and help these children begin a journey in the arts. To donate now, click here.

Project 560 Found Spaces Festival
Glimpses from Partner a Master, an artist-mentorship programme for school students by IFA and Art1st
Fellowships

IFA is collaborating with the National Museum, New Delhi for its Museum & Archival Fellowships initiative. IFA, together with the National Museum will offer two Museum Fellowships, each for a period of 8-10 months. These will support curators, art historians, and visual and performing artists to engage with select collections from two sections of the National Museum - the Painting & the Decorative Arts Departments, respectively. The Painting Department will make available a selection of Pahari Ragamala paintings and the Decorative Arts Departments will open-up their large collection of saris from their textile section for curatorial interventions.

The intention of these fellowships is to give practitioners the opportunity to engage with the collections in innovative and original ways and to re-present this through a new framework. The exhibitions and other possible outcomes (publication/performance) that will evolve from this research at the end of 10 months will be presented at the National Museum, New Delhi in October/November 2015. The Call for Applications for these two fellowships went out in September-October, 2014 and the selected fellows will commence their research in December 2014.

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events

On August 21, IFA organised a grantee presentation with two grantees – Martin John Chalissery and Saji Kadampattil. Martin and his team at Sadhana Centre for Creative Practice, Thrissur were supported by IFA to create a performance based on research into the history and evolution of bus transport in Kerala and the lives of people connected to it. The bus as a travelling stage was used to explore new frameworks for performance and cultivate new audiences. Saji Kadampattil, was supported by IFA to undertake research into the poetry of eminent Malayalam poet, Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan Nair (1935–2008), and the ritual folk performance form, Padayani, towards creating new performance work. The two met at the IFA office during a grantee orientation programme and a new collaboration began to emerge. The result was Odichodichu – Oru Bus Natakam, a performance on the bus and a band, Oorali.

U-ra-mi-li by documentary filmmaker Anushka Meenakshi in collaboration with theatre actor Iswar Srikumar
IFA's grantee presentation with Martin John Chalissery and Saji Kadampattil featuring the bus project; August 21, 2014

The presentation included a screening of the film Carnival on Wheels by Sachindev which captures Saji and Martin's collaboration and performance by the band, Oorali.

We also organised four MaathuKathes at our office in this quarter. We screened Sthaniya Sambaad (Spring in the Colony), a Bengali film directed by Moinak Biswas & Arjun Gourisaria; followed by a presentation on the vocal percussion tradition konakkol by Somashekar Jois, and then a performance by the band Not A Number. The last was a screening of the film My Name is Basheer by filmmaker and IFA grantee Anushka Meenakshi.

IFA hosted Open Houses in Kolkata and in Pune. Programme Executives Shubham Roy Choudhury and Sumana Chandrashekar spoke about IFA's various programmes, interacted with an audience, addressed doubts with regard to the application process, shared IFA films and indulged in conversations on art over a cuppa.

Upcoming Events

The following events are scheduled for the next three months (event dates are subject to change):
bird_bullet BANGALORE  
  Professor A G Rao Fundraiser:
December 11, 2014 | 07:30 PM
Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Malleswaram
An evening of music with contemporary fusion music band Indian Ocean and singer Shubha Mudgal. Watch Indian Ocean, one of the oldest rock bands in the country team up with IFA Trustee Shubha Mudgal, acclaimed singer and Padma Shri recipient.
 
 
bird_bullet SINGAPORE  
  Grantee Showcase:
November 28, 2014 | 07:00 PM
The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore
A performance of Dastangoi by Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain. An ancient art of storytelling dastans are tales of adventure, magic and warfare. The performance will feature Dastan Mehtaab Jaadu Ki, a typical episode from the Tilism-e-Hoshruba chapter of the Dastan-e-Amir Hamza.
 
 
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to receive our updates. For more details, write to joyce@indiaifa.org

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announcements

bird_bullet   The Arts Practice programme invites proposals both from practitioners working within as well as across disciplines throughout the year. For more details on the programme and applications, click here.

bird_bullet   We have temporarily halted the publication of ArtConnect, with our last issue, Volume 7 Number 2. The idea of ArtConnect emerged ten years ago from an impulse to share IFA's work and other related work from the field with a larger audience. As we embark on our 20th year of grant making, the team and IFA's board of trustees have decided to review this medium as a way of sharing our grants with you and decided to explore newer methods of doing so more effectively.


publications
IFA POSTCARDS Set 1 Beyond the Proscenium Embroidering Futures: ArtConnect Issue 7, Volume 2
Introducing our first ever set of IFA POSTCARDS!
Own one today!
Suggested contribution:
Rs 200
For details, write to
contactus@indiaifa.org
Beyond the Proscenium: Reimagining the Space for Performance
Edited by Anmol Vellani
176 pp., Rs 300, US$ 20
Click here to buy online.
Mail: editor@indiaifa.org
Embroidering Futures:
Repurposing the Kantha

Edited by Ritu Sethi
192 pp., Rs 400, US$30
Click here to buy online.
Mail: editor@indiaifa.org
20 years: Limited Edition
Set of 9 ArtConnect back issues

Buy Now at Rs 700 only
Click here to know more.
To buy ArtConnect, write to editor@indiaifa.org
Buy both and get a discount of Rs 100!
Click here to know more.

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slant/stance
Ruchika Negi

Anand Tharaney is a researcher and filmmaker based in Mumbai. Tharaney comes from a background of research and production, including international documentaries. He worked as a researcher for Ashim Ahluwalia's film Miss Lovely (2013) and was the Executive Producer for the award-winning documentary John and Jane (2005) by the same director.

He received a grant from IFA for research into the popular subculture of automatons displayed during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai. His research will lead to the production of a film exploring the mythologies around these religious displays. The film will highlight the working of the low-tech automaton industry, while allowing for a creative and fictitious depiction of the research material in the form of a film. The collected material will also result in an installation piece.

IFA: You've chosen to research and document the popular subculture of automatons displayed during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Maharashtra. Why?

Anand Tharaney: It started as a research exercise for me when I was hired by Emmanuel Grimaud, an anthropologist from France, to assist him in his research for a book on the same subject. It was fascinating to know that such a grand subculture existed that employed public installations and yet it went largely unnoticed. The book dealing with the experimentation of various automaton designers was as thorough as it gets but it was an academic exercise. Also it was done in French. Revisiting it from a film's perspective helped me engage more with the subject and allowed me to experience it 'live'. Hence, it is a very personal take. If the Mandal displays are democratising Gods by enlarging their interaction with the public, the film does more; it liberates the idea to the next level.

IFA: You said in an interview with The Indian Express that you are "particularly interested in the 'plots by the makers'"; could you please elaborate on this?

Anand Tharaney: Plots are three minute episodes culled out from mythologies by the automaton designer or a social proposal that a Mandal feels needed to be addressed, both need to attract and retain public attention. After all the money that drives these automata is directly or indirectly sourced by community donation that drives the festival. I like the ingenuity with which these ideas are implemented. First is to find an episode that provides an instance of a trick or even just an action, a 'budge' that spells a miracle, similar to what Méliès was doing in his early silent films. So you would have Sai Baba lighting lamps out of nothing, demon gods erupting out of the pillars, Tukaram going up to heaven etc. And the means were not an issue; puppetry, electricals, gear systems and hydraulics are all employed to move things. I've seen hidden people curling up behind statues and moving it just so a semblance of a miracle is achieved. The plot drives the automata. In my film narrative, if a plot goes wrong, it results in my star automata not finding a display. Imagine an automaton passionately fashioned after a Fish God suddenly becomes redundant. I ask people what is wrong with it, some say it's the likeness, others blame it on movement; but I know what it is. The plot lacks a trick and so it fails.

Atangla shawl, Nagaland
Glimpses from Anand Tharaney's research into automatons used widely during Ganesh Puja in Maharashtra

IFA: These automatons are seen during the Ganesh puja organised by various communities or Mandals. What is the nature of complexities in the interactions between the automaton industry and their patrons?

Anand Tharaney: I would like to divide the automaton industry with the Mandal politics at this juncture, though there was a time when the Mandals were employing the automatons freely to say things that they felt like saying, ones that had political and religious subtext. It still has. But, an automaton designer perceives his creations with much more creativity and it does much more than the intended message. There is an extra hypnotic effect in the movement of the machine and it is not the religion calling, it's the display art. The rise and popularity of pure devotional plots and trick displays in smaller towns and a sharp decline in Mumbai city's social plots that romanticise the social commentary is the order of the day. Slowly and steadily as Mumbai Mandals narrow on expensive set decoration borrowed from the Bombay Film Industry to populate their displays, the small towns are able to afford automatons, and they want them big, and miraculous at that, just like they perceive their Gods. The automaton industry has moved to the periphery, not because there are no patrons in the city, but because it's an easy access to the world outside.

IFA: In today's world with flourishing high tech industry the automatons seem like an old retrofitting technology. Why are these automatons still used? Is it profitable for the industry to carry on or is it a dying culture now? Please share findings from your research.

Anand Tharaney: I think Mumbai has outgrown the automaton culture and cannot relate to the slow moving affair. It seems happy with the grandeur that film sets provide, which again is a discarded article from films I suppose, since more and more films transit to actual locations. As I mentioned above, the automatons are suddenly affordable to small towns and villages that have more space and devotion to allow the automaton designer to expand his scope. The only people doing real business are the ones making these gigantic automata. But yes, beyond hydraulics, things look a little bleak. As distances grow smaller, soon the village will outgrow these automata and one would need a different trick to hold people's attention. Would it be robotics then? Emmanuel recently brought one Robot Ganesh to Mumbai this year, a machine that talks to the devotees. He had a good start…

Sama painting, a shawl painting technique, Nagaland
Automaton from a workshop in Ambernath visited by Anand Tharaney as part of his research
on the automaton industry in Maharashtra

IFA: The whole automaton business deals with Hindu Mythologies. Tell us if that is true. How does this mix of technology and religion work in this context?

Anand Tharaney: In the past, the automaton industry catered to social and mythological plots, they were even identified as marmik and dharmik respectively. Marmiks or socials have been part of the Ganapati displays for ages, where people employed plywood cutouts using motorised tracks and light effects to give them drama and movement. Later, when automatons were introduced, the social plots adopted them as they were more concrete and life-like; but it was less feasible for automaton designers, because customised automata based on current events may not be useful the next year whereas a mythological plot would not go out of fashion. It would have a shelf life of at least five years — more profits for the makers and a resale value. Moreover, a Mandal seldom commissions automata and usually, it is the automata designer who introduces new plots up for hire. Since an automata plot must return the maker's investment and prove profitable, the makers are obliged to find a popular story that can be hired year after year by different Mandals.

Technology is just a means to an end. Devotion cannot bring gods to life; machines can, and despite that, religion does not take technology seriously. Motion is not a new concept. Most of the mythological iconography is all about freezing motion in sculpture. What technology does is gives it a 'budge', a mild budge without disturbing the tranquility of the form. Nothing more is allowed.

IFA: You have proposed to do an exhibition with materials that you collect during your research, how do you see it coming together?

Anand Tharaney: Images were my primary mode of research and contain my past excursions at the automaton workshop and the Mandal displays, primarily undertaken to support an English version of the French book that Emmanuel Grimaud authored. The film expresses more than documentation. It plays with fiction and is more urgent. All these elements, that is, the text, images and video along with live physical automatons will allow me to do a dynamic installation that would express the complexities of the automaton industry. Years ago while I was roaming in a far out suburb with Emmanuel, almost calling it a day, we came upon a modest Mandal installation. A giant eye made of plaster of Paris (POP) had a TV screen cut into the cornea. It showed a homemade video starring people from the same Mandal community. It was a social on the ills of watching television. The protagonist child is abstained from watching too much television and made to study, but he falls asleep while studying and enters a nightmare. Imagine all of this is happening inside the 'eye'. The boy sees a mythic monster, symbolising the TV demon, but it is external to the eye, outside its POP edifice, a borrowed fiberglass automaton. The boy is tormented, and is protected by divine intervention, a morality sermon aided by the voice of God and laser lights. It also kills the demon. The lights are on and we get to see the Ganesha in all its glory. Mixed media is the energy that drives these displays and it won't be fun to not borrow the aesthetics.

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Support Us

bird_bullet   India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) in partnership with Mumbai-based Art1st Foundation brings to Bangalore a unique artist-mentorship programme Art1st Partner A Master that enables secondary school students to engage with established artists in their studios. Support IFA in this endeavour by contributing towards this programme. Details.

bird_bullet   Become a Donor Patron: We invite you to donate generously and join IFA's Donor Patron Circles and be a part of the IFA family. By joining IFA's Donor Patron Circles you can choose to contribute directly to our Corpus or support a specific grantee whose work is of interest to you; you can underwrite operational costs or extend your support to any one of our programmes. Donor Patron circles include Platinum, Gold and Silver categories. Patrons receive a mention in our Annual Report, get exclusive access to our IFA events and more. Details.

bird_bullet   Become a Friend of IFA: You can also support us by becoming a Friend of IFA. As a Friend, you will be contributing directly to philanthropy in the arts and increasing the presence of the arts in public life. It starts at just 3,500/- a year and your donation is tax-deductible. You will receive exclusive access to IFA events and our annual reports. Details.

If you would like to become a Donor Patron or FIFA and would like to know more about the IFA, please contact Menaka Rodriguez at menaka@indiaifa.org

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