Saturday, February 11, 2012

Last Days in India

Art Camp in Mysore and Back to the Village
CAVA Students at Art Camp

Bhagya arranged an Art Camp, an Indian phenomenon in which a number of artists are invited to get together for about a week to make work that will then be exhibited and sold to raise money for a cause. As some previous plans had fallen through, Bhagya decided to invite 12 of her CAVA students to participate for a three-day art camp.

We began by piling into two vehicles and driving to a village about an hour from Mysore, to meet with 4 or 5 Sanghas of women that had gathered to meet with us and share their stories. I was curious to see if my experience would be any different in the company of the students, who were in high spirits and primed for the adventure. This time I was familiar with the ritual prayer/song/lamp lighting ceremony, and the gifts of flowers and fruit from the women, a rose and a lemon for each of us, solemnly offered. Also the way I am placed in a position of authority, seated in a chair while the women are on the floor, in neat rows. And the way I am asked to speak to them, greeting them and authenticating the procedures of gathering together. And finally, the amazing feeling of giving, when I am asked to officially hand over gifts from the NGO to the women, in this instance suitcases with accounting ledgers for the sanghas to keep track of their accounts and cricket bats for the school children.
Sanghas gathered
Students listening to the women
Relating a Sangha Story

Women laugh in response to Nanjappa's speech
suitcase and ledger books
giving the suitcase

the women give gifts of roses and lemons to each of us

We were invited into one woman’s home, painted bright green and the few material possessions neatly stacked or rolled into small spaces. We saw the smokeless stove with its ventilating pipe preventing many cases of illness and the new toilet, one of the first in the village.

Smokeless Stove

Wedding Puja Painting
We passed the school and the children swarmed to greet especially me, the foreigner. They were so excited to have guests, my hand was covered by their small ones, eager to touch and to be seen by me. What’s your name, M’am? Your father’s name? Your mother’s name? It was lovely to be among them and see their small eager upturned faces.

prehistoric carvings scattered about the school yard the upraised hand is a symbol for victory

We stopped for lunch at a nearby prosperous farm, owned by a “multi-purpose worker”, which is what men who help administer to the sanghas in their district are called. The farmer had drilled a well and consequently his 7 acres were green and thriving. I asked about seeds and pesticides, and heard that some seeds are heritage, but more and more are hybrids purchased yearly because the “yield is better.” Also that pesticides are regularly used, except on their personal vegetables. While it was hard to get specific information about it and my concerns about the pesticides and hybrid seeds were brushed off, it was very pleasant to sit in the cool shade of the house and eat lunch together.

International Human Upliftment Development Academy Office

On the way back to Mysore, we stopped to see a 2000 year old temple in the village of one the student’s grandmother lived, Sri Lakshmi Kanta Temple Kalale Nanjanjadu. Although the door was locked, the priest let us in. He took water from a stone well inside the temple—the first traditional well I have seen in use here. We all bent over the rim to see into its black recesses. One student thought he recognized a turtle, but it turned out to be a coconut. The priest gave us puja, a ritual lamp fire blessing of the black stoned deity in the far recesses of the dark temple. I felt the power of its blackness and reticence and the magnetism of the circle of fire as the priest waved his lamp and chanted. He then anointed us, pouring spoonfuls of holy oil and fragrant flower blossoms into our cupped hands.

Deity with puja
Painted deity for festivals
Festival elephant
800 year old temple drum
After the blessing, the students showed me how to scramble up the steep blocks jutting out from an interior wall to walk on the roof of the temple, an utterly thrilling experience for me. They showed me how to throw five stones into a small round stone opening to make a wish.

Bhagya lodged us at the Mysore cancer hospital in cottages for visitors and provided all with ample meals, tea, coffee and all desired supplies. After the inauguration (lamp lighting, sung puja and a ritual signing of a blank canvas), the students lost no time in gathering materials and starting to work. They were hugely productive, finishing four, five and six canvases in two days. Unsettled about what I wanted to do, I settled on gouache portraits.

Nightly Art Camp fire

Feet keeping time to singing

inaugural painting

At night, we gathered around a fire and two of the students sang so beautifully. I only wished I understood Kanada, so I could get the jokes that were clearly flying around.

Singing and Drawing

We were all feeling quite fond of one another by the end of the three days, so the following morning, when Bhagya dropped me off in town for my last walk around before heading back to Bangalore, I was delighted that one of the students, Sunil was able to come with me to the Post Office and help navigate getting postcard stamps which had to be individually hand glued, a sticky, messy process.

Sunil gluing stamps

I said goodbye to the cooks, especially Nagama, who quickly learned to brew my green tea to perfection and always beamed at me whenever I walked into the kitchen to deliver my empty plate after eating one of her excellent meals.


I gave a presentation on my work to a very tiny audience at one, Shanti Rd in Bangalore that evening and met the artist Biju Boze, who was really interested in how I was working with underground currents in earlier projects. He told me about the Indian concept, Vatsu, which I hope to explore further by returning to India and researching a project that will involve sustainable agriculture and the spiritual relationship of architecture to the land.

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