Banjaras (current Art practice)

retreAs a child growing up in India, it has always been my goal to portray the strength a woman possesses through artistic production. Being brought up in an environment where girls are not typically given a great deal of autonomy in making their own decisions, I would say I was lucky enough to have been born into a family that gave me all the freedom to decide what I want to accomplish in life.

The 2 years of MFA degree taught me a lot and cleared my ideas to what I really wanted to do, started as painter and finished exhibiting tapestries on women empowerment. Moving to London and pursuing my Masters was one of the most important part of my life as here I could give more time to myself and explore my thoughts.

tapestry 2I have always admired women who are self made it doesn’t matter if they are famous or not. have grown up in an only girls school has made inclined me more towards power. The topic of women empowerment fascinates me and inspires my line of artworks.

Taking tapestry as the main stream, gives me more enjoyment and a strong connection to my work. Therefore, my current art practice focuses on woman empowered tribe known as Banjaras.

My recent work focuses on an Indian tribe known as Banjaras.

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Banjaras are Indian tribe and are the preservers of nations culture. Historical evidence provides that they are one of the primitive tribes of the Indian Subcontinent. They have preserved their culture and traditions. Women have always been the head of the family as they are the providers. Mostly the community is uneducated but have a strong memory despite of their illiteracy. They believe they are meant to carry on the tradition passed on to them by their ancestors and don’t want it to die by the passing time. They earn their living by dance, music and handicrafts. With change in time and rapid modernization the community has been shifting their base to urban areas where they live in small “Bastis.” The woman of today’s generation only wears the tribal dress when she needs to perform usually she wears a saree.

Their character inspires me, their culture and traditions fascinates me. They hold the bold personality I was always looking for, therefore, I chose them for my practice.

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My artwork focuses on their Attire, Culture and ART.

I compare my tapestry to a Banjaran and their characteristics are similar. They started their life with a single strand and gradually in this process of handwork and patience the end result was a strong weave or a woman who cannot be torn apart.

How I relate a Banjaran or a Woman and a Tapestry

-Banjaran tribe is one of the oldest roots of the Indian culture; they are known to be the descendants of the Rajputs of Rajasthan. They prefer being simple and try to carry on their tradition without adopting modernism. For example- living standards, homes or be it food.

In the same way weaving is one of the oldest being one of the oldest form of art and I use the oldest process in which everything is done using no modern means, not even a loom.

-Tapestry is handcrafted which can be easily related to a woman. As earlier women were the makers of tapestries and still majority of Tapestry artists are female.

-I feel the strong woman is a tapestry made out of millions of strands and hard work, therefore I prefer making portraits.

-The banjaran is strong and works hard for the living, she also has patience and enjoys her life the way is it. Same like a tapestry, there is a lot of patience required in the process and the maker needs to enjoy the work for the best outcome, which is a strong woven piece.

I was fascinated by the community of Banjaras who had moved to my city. My home town being a tourist place they moved here to earn money by their dance and singing. Their outer as well as the inner life used to fascinate me, it inspired me to go to their native state.

So I prepared a trip to Rajasthan. But things didn’t go as I had expected I went in search of them to a nearby village in Jodhpur but I could not find any trace of them. To my knowledge the tribe had moved to Jaipur city as they were not able to earn enough for their living in the rural area with the passing time everything had become much more expensive than it used to be and their art was no longer one of the entrainment’s in the village because of the modern technologies, television and other gadgets had become a source of entrainment. Hearing all this lowered my excitement made me sad but gave me more motivation to work on them. Then in the city of Jaipur I got to know about the “Basti” (a small settlement) were they were living. I went there and to my astonishment they were living really poor conditions.. They ate in the open area and some of them didn’t even have toilets and used the nearest railways station in the mornings. But one thing, which I noticed was even after so much poverty, they were happy. I could still hear cheerful laughter’s, faces with smiles, children running and playing. The “Basti” didn’t have houses but homes.banjara3

And there, I met a family known as the Gaikwada parivar, they were originally from Neemrana, a place located in the border of Rajasthan but had shifted to Jaipur for work. They were dancers and musicians. I asked for their permission to shoot and photograph them and told them what my project was about. They were more than happy to help me and we made a settlement that they will be paid for their hard work. The family consisted of a mother who was dancer, father a musician, two sons who were musicians as well and two daughter in-laws. I was not able to shoot one of the sons as he was living in the village taking care of their land.

They shared with me how they live and what they do for living. They told me women have always been a important source of income in the family and men have always supported them. They describe the hardships they had faced in the passing years but never did they loose their integrity. They have slept for months on roads, pathways but never begged till they settled in Jaipur, Jaipur being the Pink city and a fascination for tourists. People who visit are very fond of the traditional events, therefore, it becomes easier for them to work and earn, as well their art is appreciated and praised. They told me if they earn more or less they would still continue to live the way they are living, they concluded they earn to just fulfill their basic needs and this helps them manage the hardest situations, and as well they are satisfied in what they have. The women have been earning their living as well as being the homemakers. The women were the leaders of the family and all decisions were taken under them, they were the power and protected it from all the small or big problems.

I chose to click some pictures of the Banjarans. And then converted some of them into Tapestries. Also made a documentary, which focused the Gaikwada, family showing a performance of their traditional dance, how they earn their living, it also consisted of women talking about their lives.

I wanted to focus on the jewelry and clothes in the tapestry because this is one of the most important feature or characteristic which describes them. They wear heavy jewelry made up of silver, coins and shells. And colorful attire with heavy work with vibrant primary colors.

I wanted a straight forward connection of them with the viewers, therefore, wanted to make the portraits of the women I had clicked. I chose vibrant colours to portray them, as for me colours are happiness. After completing the Tapestries I decorated them with jewellery made up of shells, i wanted to keep everything original, therefore, i chose coins which are no more used in India and  were back from the late 80s. The making connected me more to the Banjaras as I was constantly thinking about how they live, the hand work and the contentment.

While all these thoughts were on my mind I though I should try creating something less of cost and environment friendly. After little bit of research I decided to use plastic waste, bottles being the most important. The issue was how to cut them, I had heard about a tool which could be used to convert the plastic bottle into strings, it was same like a cutter. I used it, to make the strings similar to the wool ones and tried to weave with it, earlier I was not sure what the outcome would be but the final tapestry made up of plastic was very close to the one made up of wool. For me it was a great achievement and future would try to experiment more with other waste materials.

My decision to add a documentary was  to make it easier for people to understand what  my work was about. filming and editing the video were both new to my dictionary. I had never done this before but this was the best way I could show people a clearer picture.

For the documentary I chose to shoot a skit played by the family and wanted to keep it more original and simple. In the documentary the women of the family talk about their life, they also show how they earn their living through performance. I was not able to shoot the man who blew fire out of his mouth when they performed, as it was illegal to do it where they lived. it was harmful for the tent like homes they had. But rest everything was shot and edited the way I wanted.

All the experience from making a tapestry to a documentary has given me a wider view to what art is. I have gained a lot of knowledge from this project and would like to take my present practice to the future.

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