When I travelled around Rajasthan in 2010 I was in awe of the colours, people, food, jewellery, fashion and the architecture. On my recent return to India I joined 4 fabulous new friends on a 7-day road trip to visit Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur on a research mission in preparation for the Village Experience Project, to include local and global creatives in 2016. The three-week programme will celebrate local culture and art to design and create new work through the collaboration of local and international artists. The project is currently not art form specific but will depend on the individuals who form the final creative team, so film, photography, crafts, theatre, music etc are all possibilities for now.
The five of us attended The Coalition, a 3-day conference in Delhi about the creative industries and enterprise, pumped with ideas and energy to create something of our own (click here for my post on the event). This trip was scheduled to happen right afterwards on 2 March 2015. All of us minus Anshuman met in December 2014 whilst participating in Jagriti Yatra.
Harpreet Kaur – I am a Creative Producer/Arts Manager by profession part of the team responsible for International Art Hubs Parnerships and Outreach, as I have knowledge and contacts of numerous arts projects, festivals and art centres around the world having worked and travelled in more than 30 countries in 6 continents since 2001. Over the next few months as the project takes shape I will be identifying suitable partner organisations and international artists that are suitable for this venture.
Jay Ahya – Jay is the Creative Director/Founder of the Village Experience Project, with a passion for creative collaborations and making things happen. He works as Lead Designer for Let’s Venture, an online platform that allows startups looking to raise seed/angel money to create investment ready profiles online, and connect to accredited Investors. He is also the founder of The Roadtrip Experience, a once a year travel experiment in India that brings together a small select group of dreamers, doers and influencers to go on an adventure trip together allowing collaborations and innovative ideas to surface.
Chandrabhan Bidoli – CB leads on Event Production and Political Support. He is a Rajasthani by birth, from Jaipur with family and connections in both the city and rural areas. Following completion of his MBA, CB soon realized that the corporate 9-5 world was not for him, and has since developed 5 different start-up projects including Vouch4Couch as well as Bidoli India, a Model Village initiative in his family village Bidoli, and now lives and works in Delhi, hosting couch surfers weekly at his home.
Anshuman Arya – Shoeman leads on Content Creation. A born traveller who has been moving and travelling with his family for many years, Shoeman completed a degree in Sound Engineering in Oxford, UK and is currently based in Delhi, and soon moving to Bangalore. He loves all things re sound and video production, and can be found strumming his guitar at any given opportunity, talking spirituality and humanism.
Shalvi Sinha – Shalvi is from Varanasi and completed her studies in Travel Tourism in Europe, and is currently working on a start-up to manufacture and sell hemp clothing in India and abroad. As well as volunteering on many initiatives Shalvi is always ready for an intellectual discussion on anything from politics to public art. A lover of adventures Shalvi joins us for the ride and fun times.
Not joining the trip but also part of the creative team are Siddhesh Chauhan, a fashion designer from London school of Fashion & director at Jade Blue, and Sonica Kapoor, a successful fashion designer & founder of Rasta, who has been working with rural artisans and international brands for more than a decade.
During the week we visited a range of villages and Forts and spoke to local people to find out what is happening creatively in the local area, the possibility of using different spaces for our project, and to establish if our idea is workable and welcomed by Rajasthan, an Indian state that is to some extent saturated by tourism and some arts and music festivals, including the internationally renowned Jaipur Literature Festival.
Village Arts and Crafts
We visit Virendra Kumar Sharma’s Craft Studio, on the outskirts of Palai Village, Jaipur. Virendra has made it his life’s goal to conserve the local arts and crafts by uplifting the artisans and craftsmen who are the true heirs of their dying art by giving them opportunities and exposure for their work, thus supplying them with the means of livelihood to support them and their art forms/ craft forms. Born in 1960 to a traditional family of artists, Virender Sharma had a keen interest in arts and crafts. Learning and researching various techniques in the craft form of paper mache almost completely on his own, in 1986 he started making this craft form a source of livelihood for himself as well as the poor village folk who were taught this art form and made to sustain themselves through it. Today his setup in Palai garners global attention with the crafts and art forms made by him and the local artists being shipped overseas by clients in Japan, America and Europe. During my visit I flick through a book by the Victoria and Albert Museum on arts and crafts that features his work, they too have visited him here in India.
This setup that also serves as his home, art gallery, and storage for his massive collection of hand made crafts and art forms leaves me and my friends spellbound with admiration and appreciation for the creativity that one can see and feel the through different mediums used. Although the art of papier mache is predominantly used, forms of wood carving, metal working, leather works, mehendi, stone carving, tie & dye, block printing, cooking and local dance forms are also encouraged from the rural artists and regular folk alike. Efforts are also made to contact and facilitate opportunities to local craftsmen who live far away and are not able to travel long distances to be able to continue their work in the conditions, environment, ambience and aura of their home where they feel most comfortable. Visiting Virendra’s place is a truly humbling and heart-warming experience, and informs us that there is a rich history of arts and crafts in villages that are being maintained and should be respected and be gently approached with an open mind if we are to work with them. It is important to live side by side such artists and appreciate how the art they make fits around they lives and environment to really make a connection and be able to move forward to design and create something new or similar. We would need to build this into our Village Experience Project.
Sathin Garh Fort
We visited Sathin Garh in near Jodhpur and were treating to a private tour of the beautiful 350 year old Fort by a warm a friendly rani, Kunwarani Singh Sathin. Sathin is one of many villages of the desert that can boast its own fort, and has a special mention in the history of the Bhati clan of Marwar, with a special reference to Jodh Singh Bhati, arguably the most powerful, fearless and ferocious warrior ever. He was one of the strongest pillars of the Bhati Clan. The fort now operates as a homestay offering town and village walks, safaris and live cooking sessions to its visitors, and has large outdoor grounds and open spaces. During our visit we are excited by the ambience and history we feel within the fort walls; we can visualize our project happening here.
The Most Extraordinary Hotel in the World
We are honoured to visit Siddarth Singh Rathore, the owner and co-creator of Mihir Garh, names by Lonely Planet as the world’s most extraordinary hotel in 2014. We sip tea and biscuits on pristine settees decorated with cushions carefully designed and placed. We don’t meet Mr Rathore at the fort, but another hotel he owns that is probably equally perfect and impressive in its layout and décor. Although we already know India is one of the most fascinating and popular countries visited by backpackers and tourist alike, and that Rajasthan is one of the most visited states in India, chatting to Mr Rathore reveals that there is definitely a range of arts activity and quality of local crafts and workmanship happening and made possible. This is the high end of the spectrum, and Rathore and his wife have made it a priority to use local materials and design in Mihir Garh.
We visit some more forts and villages, and stay in a range of accommodation from a funky new hostel in Jaipur to CB’s village home in Bidoli, Jaipur, sipping beer and dining on local lal maas along the way. Our research trip is a success and we conclude that there is definitely opportunity to create an exciting collaborative venture in Rajasthan. The Village Experience project will celebrate the true richness of the local artistry mixed with creative ideas from other cultures, to allow for innovative new designs and experiences to flourish.
We end our trip in Udaipur where we meet some more friends to play holi, the annual festival of colour, celebrated all over India. We laugh, smile, eat, sing, dance and play and I realise that in a week we have bonded travelling together, playing our favourite old and new songs from Bollywood to trip-hop in CB’s Bolero. It’s indeed felt like a little trip of a life time where life long friendships have formed and life just could not be any better during those moments.