shadow

Gomira Dance Mask

Tulip Sinha

 Founder, FolkUs Design Interventions, Bangalore


The craft of Gomira dance masks is practiced in a specific area in North Dinajpur district of West Bengal, in and around the village of Mahisbathan (Khunia Danga) located approximately 50km south-east of Raiganj, the district headquarter. North Dinajpur district lies in the Gangetic plain.

Origin and Tradition

The word Gomira is a colloquial form of the root word Gram-Chandi, a female deity. The Gomira masks are inexorably linked to the Gomira mask dance prevalent in this area. The exact origins of this craft and the dance are not exactly traceable and lie somewhere in the hoary past. One of the craftsmen claims it is at least as old as the beginning of Kaliyug, which does seem unlikely.

Gomira Dance

The Gomira dances are organized to propitiate the deity to usher in the ‘good forces’ and drive out the ‘evil forces’. It is usually organized within the months of Baisakh-Jyestha-Asarh, corresponding to mid-April to mid-July. There are no fixed dates for organizing these dances, but each village organizes at least one Gomira dance during this period according to their convenience, at a central location.

Another occasion for arranging Gomira dance is during the puja of Amat Kali, which coincides with the harvesting of mangoes, usually in the month of Jyestha. Such dances are also organized during puja of Smasan Kali, which does not have a fixed time.

Amat Kali and Smasan Kali are local deities, closely related to and derived from the Goddess Kali, basically a form of Shakti. The traditions are an amalgam of animist traditions, which have been absorbed in the Shakti cult, with its predominant female deity. The Shakti cult is deeply entrenched and every village has its own small temple devoted to Shakti, in her many forms, as the guardian deity of that village.

Every village of reasonable size, say a thousand inhabitants, has its own Gomira dance troupe. The dancers usually perform dances during the ‘season’, to supplement their income, but have other vocations relating to agriculture and business or crafts such as smithy, carpentry. The dancers are all male, without exception, and portray one or may characters, male, female or animal.

The Gomira dances have two distinct forms. One is the Gomira format, which has characters with strong links to the animist tradition. The characters are Buro-Buri (Old man-Old woman), Smasan Kali, Masan Kali, Dakini Bishwal, Signi Bishwal, Bagh (Tiger), Nar-Rakhas and Narsingha Avatar. The other format is the Ram-Vanwas, which derives its characters from Ramayana, with special reference to the Van-Kand. The characters are Ram, Sita, Lakshman, King Dasarath, Kaushalya, Kaikeyi, Sumitra, Angad, Jatayu, Hanuman, Sugriv, Jambavan, Surya-Bhanu (Sun) and Ravana. Some animist characters have also crept in to this format – Yamdoot and Kaaldoot! Interestingly, the Ram-Vanwas dance is not linked to any season and is actually organized year-round, but is more popular during October- November, closely matching the times for Durga Puja and Kali Puja.

Traditionally, the Gomira dance starts with the entry of two characters Buro-Buri, who are actually the human forms of Shiva and Parvati.

According to the Gomira tradition, these gods took human shape and descended on earth so that they may bless the humans and help them to fight the forces of evil and establish a righteous way of life. They appear in the dreams of people and remind them to worship Gomira and lead a righteous life. In the dance proper, they dance to the accompaniment of Dhak (percussion drum ethnic to rural Bengal) and Kansar (bell-metal disk used as cymbal). After the initial round of dancing, characters are called on to the arena or stage. The last and perhaps the most powerful character is Narsingha-Avatar, symbolically showing the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

The interesting aspect is that the total absence of any vocal or oral part in the dance. There are no songs or chants. The dancers choose their own movements, which include gyrations and hops. An interesting feature of these dance performances are the trances, probably due to autosuggestion. Some particular members of the troupe are entrusted with the job of restraining the member in the frenzy and breaking the trance by sprinkling water consecrated with tulsi leaves and white togore flowers.

Gomira Masks

Villagers pledge a certain type and number of masks to their favoured deity when they put forward a wish to be fulfilled. Thus the craft of Gomira mask-making, in its pristine form, catered to the needs of the dancers and any villager wishing to give a mask as an offering to the village deity. A villager makes a ‘promise’- called ‘manat’, to offer a mask to a deity if his or her wish is fulfilled.

The wood crafted Gomira masks represent the characters of the two distinct forms of dance – the Gomira and the Ram-Vanwas. Most Gomira face masks have subsidiary characters crafted along the periphery of the main character. So, the mask is a composite of a principal character, surrounded by the subsidiary characters, both of which always have a mythical link between them. For example, the character of Dasarath always accompanies the mask of Jatayu. This can be seen in the fourth photograph; on the left Jatayu carries a middle-aged Dasrath on his head while on the right a young Dasarath. The friendship of Jatayu with King Dasarath is well documented in Ramayana.

Masks from Ram-Vanwas pantheon are not given to deities as offering.

 

Photograph 1 above depicts Jambuban (L) and Hanuman (R). The vivid colours are due to the use of modern enamel paints.

Photograph 2 has two characters, Hanuman (L), with the subsidiary character, seated his head, which is Adyashakti (Tilottama). The mask on the right is that of Naro-rakhsha with two incarnations of Kali- Smasan Kali and Masan Kali on his earlobes.

Photograph 3 shows three unpainted masks,from the left, Bishal, Hanuman and Signi Bishal. In this mask of Hanuman, the subsidiary character Bhanu can be seen placed on the head of Hanuman.

The interesting point to note is the portrayal of the same mythical character of Hanuman in so many ways with such radically different features.

The Gomira craftsmen do not belong to any particular caste, although they might be followers of either the Vaishnav cult or the Shakti cult. Their tribal or original family surnames have been lost and most of them use Sarkar as their family name. The women folk have never been a part of mask-making, but they do practice natural fibre-weaving on simple home-made looms and these naturally dyed mats, called ‘dhokra’ are sold in the local ‘haats’.

The portrayal of characters through the mask depends upon the craftsman and the tradition he has inherited. The Gomira masks are crafted from wood, but any villager who cannot afford a wooden mask, usually offers a mask made from shola pith, which is a cheaper alternative.

Evolution

The contrast between the traditional style and the current, evolved style is evident in the picture below, one from a Kolkata-based artist and connosiuer and the other a  ‘Modern Mask: Mahishbathan’. Both the masks portray the character Bishal. The finesse of the facial features and the vivid palette, seen in the modern mask is entirely missing in the traditional mask, even though they both portray the same mythical character.

The craft itself is evolving. The exposure to the outside world influences the craftsman and is later reflected in his work. Their visits to trade-fairs and handicraft-fairs bring them in contact with other art forms and artists of other traditions and regions.

 

Materials & Process

Historically the masks were made from ‘pure woods’ such as neem, as per Hindu mythology. Later locally available and cheaper wood such as mango, pakur, kadam, gamhar and teak came to be used. The craftsmen choose the appropriate wood depending upon the ability of the customer to afford them.

The wood is usually purchased from a nearby sawmill or sometimes cut from a tree by the craftsman himself. The village craftsmen are very conscious of the environment and always plant one tree for trees cut down, usually of the same species.

Originally the Gomira masks were painted with natural dyes. Red dye was made from segun, green from seem (a form of bean), violet from jamun, and black from jia tree.

However, these dyes were not permanent and tended to fade with time and were very time consuming. The craftsman had to gather the material, grind it, and mix with water and strain through cloth before use. Slowly the use of chemical dyes and even enamel paints have gained acceptance mainly because of ready availability and permanence, which is not very appealing to traditionalists.

The other important raw material is varnish. Many customers want the pristine shape with only varnish. The performers however use coloured masks. The mask making begins with cutting the log of wood, given the sizes of masks, the initial piece of wood is about 18? to 24? long. This is then immersed in water for seasoning, which renders the wood soft and thus, subsequent cutting and crafting becomes easier. The basic form emerges first with the use of the adze, followed by emphasis on facial features. Once the basic shape has emerged, they use the broad chisel and heaviest hammer to bring out the final shape. As the work progresses, the narrower chisels and lighter hammers are used. Once the front of the mask is complete except for finer finishing, the reverse side of the mask, where the face of the wearer is expected to fit, is scooped out very carefully. The router chisels are used to gouge out cavities such as the opening of the mouth and eyes. If the mask is to be used for the purpose of dancing, only then the eyes, mouth etc are hollowed out.

The final procedure involves fine chiseling of the entire mask. This whole process takes about 4-5 days, or more depending upon the complexity of the mask. Once the mask is complete, then comes finishing; the first step to which is smoothening of the mask, which is done by using sand papers of various grades. Next, the mask gets a coat or two of varnish, which provides smoothness to the mask and ensures durability. Many a times the masks are sold in this condition itself. In case the masks are to be sold to the Gomira dance performers, they need to be hand-painted, in colours particular to the characters to be portrayed. For example, the character of Jambuban is always painted in deep violet.

Current Practice

The craft was studied at the Mahisbathan Gramin Hasta Shilpa Samabay Samiti Limited. This center operates as a cooperative of craftsmen and artisans who live in the nearby villages and are devoted to this craft of Gomira mask making. The center is trying to resurrect this art, which is on the verge of extinction, by giving the craftsmen a place to work, ensuring payments for work done and promoting the sale of masks and other artifacts. The masks are made at the center from wood and material purchased centrally. The center pays the member-artisans based on the quality and quantity of masks produced and mutually decided rates. For most of the artisans, mask making is a supplementary source of income, since they share their time with other vocations such as agriculture, animal husbandry or running of small shops in their villages.

A notable exception is the master craftsman, Mr. Shankar Sarkar who has devoted his life to the craft of making Gomira masks and this is the only source of income for him. Individual craftsmen are able to produce about 6 to 7 masks per month and are paid according to the size, complexity and time taken. On an average, the Samiti is able to deliver 90 to 100 masks per month, where the selling price varies from Rs. 700/- all the way upto Rs. 3000/-, depending on the complexity.

In recent times however, to augment their product range, newer products have been adopted from the adivasi culture, which include the bas relief decorative panels or chodol and the ektaras. Chodols are fabricated palanquins, an art which strangely, the adivasis have themselves forgotten and buy them from the Samiti or such craftsmen instead, for their marriages and ceremonies. With the increasing efforts from some artists and connoiseurs, this craft has found meaning with some discerning buyers. Hope these endeavours pave a judicious way forward for this rich performing art !!

 

[Documented in the year 2004 with the support of Mahisbathan Gramin Hasta Shilpa Samabay Samiti Limited and Mr. Abhijit Gupta.]

 

Tulip Sinha, Founder, FolkUs Design Interventions, Bangalore.  Email:  tulip.del@gmail.com

Brihadeeswara Temple: “Dakshina Meru”

Sudha Jagannath

Brihannayika Culture Resource, New Delhi


The Brihadeesvara Temple stands as a supreme example of Chola architecture. Built on a scale appropriate enough to house the presiding deity, Sri Brihadeesvara, or the Lord of the Universe, the temple continues to excite wonder at its many unique architectural features and living presence as a centre of Saiva devotion. During the period when Chola power was in the ascendant, (around 850-1350 AD) architecture in the Tamil country went through dramatic changes. Indeed before the time of the most famous Chola king, Rajaraja I, gopurams in temple complexes were not built on a very grand scale. During the reign of Rajaraja I, the temple at Tanjore was built not only as a monument to the sway of Chola power over many southern lands but as a living sign of Saiva concepts and beliefs. It was called ‘Dakdhina Meru’ as a complement to the ‘Uttara Meru’ or the sacred mount of Kailasa, thought of as the spine of the universe. The Dakshina Meru was thought to be a centre of divine power analogous to the northern centre of Sri Kailas. Many inscriptions of Rajaraja I (A D 985-1012) reveal him to be a great warrior and an ardent devotee of Shiva. It is this spirit of ardent devotion that visualizes the entire temple complex itself as a visible symbol of the divine presence. Over the centuries the successive powers of the Nayakas and the Marathas added smaller shrines and other embellishments to the temple complex in a manner that is a tribute to the original founder as well as the spirit of Saivism.

The Mystery of Indian Floor Paintings

Swarup Dutta

Dean Academics, Indian Institute of Crafts and Design


 As a child one of my fondest memories is of Lakshmi Puja. The whole household seemed transformed. There was activity all around the household. I could sense a joyous mood in everyone. But the most remarkable reminder of this day to me was alpona – the beautiful floor decorations which my mother and sisters made on the threshold of our household, on the doorsteps leading to the prayer alter…”, remembers Narayan Sinha, a renowned sculptor, who has spent his childhood in rural Bengal.

Vertical Garden: Living Walls, Living Green

Sourish Bhattacharya, Freelance Writer


Vertical garden has gathered around itself a number of significant dimensions in the wake of the environmental crisis and growing awareness for sustainable development. Human beings have been witnessing wonderful vegetative spectacle of the greeneries on hillside, the vertical rocks and the mossy cliffs, but the vertical garden as a designing practice has come into being with the exclusive initiatives of Patrick Blanc with his spectacular design projects like first green wall made at Museum of Science and Industry in Paris, Garden festival of Chaumont-sur-Loire, Green wall at the aquarium in Genoa, Italy and many more.

In the hectic schedule of urban life and the dearth of open space leave a little scope for the people to grow a garden at home. In this situation living walls are the best option for creating a splash of nature inside a home which needs only a vertical wall for plant cultivation and minimum maintenance. Living wall not only provides a chance to create garden, but also reduces the heat of the building and purifies the grey water (slightly polluted water) by absorbing the dissolved nutrients in it.

Vertical gardens are generally grown on three types of medium. The first one is on the loose soil kept in a bag and installed into a wall structure.

The second one is a mat-like medium where the plant is cultivated in a mat like structure of coir or felt mat. This process is useful for seismic areas.

The third kind is of an architectural structure which survives for a long time.

The vertical gardening in architectural medium can be carried out in three ways. One is trellising, the second one is tumbling and the last one is terracing.

In trellising an architectural frame is required as an aid to the creepers so that the plants can climb up with the help of the structure. Ivy, Pea bean, Snow peas, Pole beans are apt examples of this kind of plants.

In process of tumbling hanging planters are used to cultivate the plants so that the leaves of the plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberry, thyme etc. can sprawl towards the ground and create vertical vegetation process.

In terracing the plants are stacked in a stair step like sequence in containers. Hydroponic system, though a kind of somewhat terracing process, has some different aspects of itself. Instead of stacked planters a PVC pipe is permanently mounted on the wall and the plants grow up outside the pipe horizontally through the holes instead of growing vertically upward.

Hydroponic system is a much adored process among the gardeners for its numerous advantages:

a) No soil is required here for plantation and the roots float directly on the water and suck the dissolved nutrients from it. There are no such arduous jobs like tilling, digging and other soil maintenance process.

b) The soil of a large piece of land contributes nutrients, minerals, clay contents in different proportions to the plants in different areas. But in Hydroponics the nutrients are easily distributed to every plant uniformly and quickly. In watery medium it is easier to add lost nutrients in it, where as in soil it is a tough task of crop rotation for making the soil regenerative or to wait till the land naturally gets back its fertility.

c) The weeds those grow up in this system are easy to remove as a whole as the roots are suspended only in the water and not entangled firmly with anything, anywhere.

d) In hydroponic system the application of animal and human waste can cause no harm to the plant leaves. But in the soil the applications of fertilizers and animal or human waste may affect the low lying plants like lettuce or strawberry which can cause dysentery unless it is properly sterilized. But in Hydroponic system fertilizer is used in a particular location that does not come into contact with the fruiting body or leaves of the plant and also can diffuse easily through the entire system.

These are all advantages of the hydroponic system which are affecting the contemporary horticulturists to opt for more and more of this process.

Sunlight is an essential part of vertical gardening. The plants generally need a 6-8 hours of sun exposure. Different plants require different shades of sun light. Tomatoes and cucumbers need a full sun exposure where as the bean and peas can do with a full to partial sunlight. Root vegetables like radishes and potatoes can do with a lighter sun beam. Leafy greens like spinach and chard can deal with very little sun. Mature bulbs of onions are fond of full light where as scallions or baby onions can grow in less sun lights.

The home gardeners, specially the beginners should choose a variety of succulents or cactus in a spot of high sun exposure. In shaded areas they should opt for a variety of fern from a wide range of collection. They should go for varieties of grasses, flowers, herbs and vegetables in partly shaded areas. In interior they should opt for tropical plants that like to thrive in low light and warm atmosphere.

Apart from choosing the right plants the selection of planters are too essential today. Many beautiful planters are also available in the market in different materials like wood, metal, terracotta and many more. For mat base the flora frames or flora cells are good options for creating vertical gardens in seismic or other areas.

Thus with a good drainage system, a proper light and shade management, a stylish  medium of planters or a hydroponic system have encouraged a lot of people to experiment with awesome vertical gardens.

 

 

Acknowledgements:

  1. 1.    We are grateful to Fytogreen, Australia’s leading provider of roof gardens, vertical gardens and green facades, for giving us permission to use the images liberally.
  1. We are also grateful to the designer of the planter (www.twentyonestudio.com) for giving us permission to use the image.

 


 

Sourish Bhattacharya is a freelance writer.

Baluchari Sarees of Bishnupur

Gautam Patel

Working in Gujarat in social development


 

Baluchari sarees are hand-woven in richly dyed silk, depicting stories from ancient India, including from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.  The famous characters of Ram, Sita, Krishna and Gopis are displayed exuberantly along the borders, and whole scenes are presented on the large pallus.  Some designs include kings, noblemen and graceful dancing girls with celebratory scenes and ceremonies.

The tradition of Baluchari Sarees originates from a village called Baluchar in Murshidabad District in West Bengal.  Over two hundred years ago Murshidkuli Khan, the Nawab of Bengal patronized this weaving tradition and the Baluchari art flourished.  Over the years there was decline in Baluchar and many weavers gave up the profession.  In the twentieth century, Subho Tagore, a famous artist, made efforts to revitalise the rich tradition of Baluchari weaving. He showed Akshay Kumar Das, a weaver of Bishnupur, the technique of jacquard machine weaving.  Akshay Kumar Das then began using the Baluchari designs to weave sarees in Bishnupur with jacquard looms.

Baluchari styles are now part of the weaving tradition of the town Bishnupur.  Bishnupur was the capital of the Malla dynasty and different kinds of crafts flourished under the patronage of the Kings.  Bishnupur is also famous for the terracotta temples of the Malla Kings.  The temples are covered in detailed scenes that are a major influence for the designs and motifs of Baluchari sarees.

 

The Baluchari saree designs are first sketched and then copied on to punching cards which are used in the jacquard loom to weave the pattern.  The cards have punched holes which correspond to the design. Thousands of punched cards are required for one saree design. Where there is a hole punched this raises a hook carrying the warp thread to be woven with the weft thread.  These hooks can be connected to more than one thread, allowing multiple weaving of a repeat of a pattern.

The vivid colours, intricate fine silk designs and deep traditions combine to create the elegant beauty of the unique Baluchari Sarees.

 

Note

Photographs by the author.

 


 

Gautam Patel graduated from London School of Economics in Development Management, which included a study of local governance in rural West Bengal. Currently working in Gujarat in social development. Email gaukhnh@gmail.com

Saraswati Puja Decoration

Debasmita Goswami, Freelance Writer


 

Saraswati Puja in Eastern India has a broad impact on young minds. This is not just a ‘Puja’ (worshipping ceremony) to please the Goddess, but is also a scope to relish together the mirth and cheer of early spring. Devi Saraswati is probably worshipped in many countries in Asia but with different acquaintances. In Burma she is Thurathadi, in China she is Biancaitian, in Thailand she is known as Surasawadee and in Japanese as Benzaiten. As the country differs the appearance of the image changes, but the purpose of her worship remains the same, to please the deity of knowledge and wisdom. Again, Devi Saraswati combines in her single embodiment all the qualities of the nine Muses of the Hellenic tradition.

In India Devi Saraswati is depicted as a beautiful woman attired in a pure white saari and seated on a white lotus that symbolizes the absolute truth. There always remains a swan just next to her feet which is considered as a vehicle of the goddess. For this reason she is also named as ‘Hangsha vahini’ or ‘Maral bahana’ (someone who travels by swan). Devi saraswati holds a ‘Veena’ (a musical instrument) in her hands symbolizing her sway over art and technology together. An all over white appearance of the idol including the swan represents the purity of knowledge.

In Eastern India, mainly in state of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal Devi Saraswati is mostly worshipped by the students. They feel much enthusiastic to decorate the arena around the idol where that is placed. They are not artists, nor are they superb craft-persons, but they all enjoy working together in a team to do something precious. Apart from decorations they participate in drawing exhibitions, some other cultural programs, or some sort of charitable works.

Students of schools and colleges get involved in creating numerous decorative items on this occasion. A few years back the decoration used to be only of colourful paper crafts. But now the students are experimenting with newer thoughts within a moderate amount of budget.

In the process of decoration first and foremost comes the item of ‘Rangoli’ or ‘Alpona. The floor decoration in Saraswati Puja festival is almost an inevitable part in India. Working with ‘aabir’ (coloured powder) brings out colourful rangolis, where as paint, brush and chalk paste are used to draw alponas. Swans in Alpona make it more appropriate to put before the idol.

The decoration with pottery is a common practice all over the India. Decoration with earthen bowl, earthen lamp, lamp stand, wooden spoons, stuck on a mat base provides decorative yet cool look. The style and color of the statue complement the whole arrangement.

Sometimes the students try to think something bigger. Students of a college have tried to create a homely atmosphere of a village.  One of the house women is seen lifting up water from a well, one is busy in worshipping on the ‘Tulshi  Mancha’ (basil plant),and  another is busy in singing  who the Devi is herself.

Devi Saraswati in all over ‘Daaker saaj’ (a variety of paper craft) looks much graceful.

People also try their experimentations with the pandals.  Some have tried it only with the news paper rolls which are technically simple, but conceptually awesome.

In another place total structure of the temple is made of cow dung which itself is considered as an auspicious element in India.

The invitation cards of the schools and colleges are also worth mentioning as each one is a specimen of art. If one is from folk culture another is in a form of fine art. No one can be considered inferior to other.

This Puja festival is not only significant for its decorations, but it has some other aspects that give it a different identity.

Often the parents of their little children get a sacramental attempt to begin their studies before the Goddess. The children are taught to write down the initial letters of their alphabet to begin the lessons with her blessings.

As Devi saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge, keeping an ink-pot is a compulsory process in this Puja. Generally an earthen inkpot is kept before the Goddess that is filled with milk instead of ink. A pen or ‘Khager Kalam’ (a reed of a tree) is placed there which is used to write down the ‘pronam mantra’ (worshipping words) with the milk on the leaves of wood apple. This is almost a must-do task for every student to please the Goddess.

In this occasion the girls are often seen in yellow saris, which is a symbolic colour of the mustard flower that blooms in this spring season. It also resembles the marigold that blooms in this time in abundance. With a rejuvenating spring, with an essence of love, with an energy for creativity, with an atmosphere of festivity the Saraswati Puja gets its greatest height to be enjoyed by the charming young boys and girls throughout the day.

 

Note

All the photos (except the first one) by Debasmita Goswami.


 

Debasmita Goswami is a freelance writer. She loves documenting various Indian festivals.

Artist’s Space: Sarawut Chutiwongpeti

Independent Artist, Thailand

 

About the Artist

Sarawut Chutiwongpeti graduated from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, in 1996. Since then, he has been working as a media artist with Cyber Lab at the Center of Academic Resources, Chulalongkorn University. He works in the area of contemporary art and likes to reveal the unexplored facets of experience. In 1998, he secured funding and travelled as a visiting artist/researcher to several countries such as Canada, the United States of America, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Japan. He contributes to the development of the media arts through his artistic and research practice. He is associated with a number of international organisations and centre and actively participated at the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), ImaginAsia Project,

Smithsonian Institution (The Freer Gallery of Art and The Arthur M.Sackler Gallery, United State of America), ZKM Project, (Institute for Visual Media, Germany), Designskolen; Biennial Theatre Festival -Sight ‘n Vision, Nordic Theatre Union (Denmark), Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; Collaboration Art Network In-Between; Waseda University; Kobe University of Design (Japan),

Central European University (Hungary), International Cultural Centre Jeunesses Musicales Croatia Groznjan (Croatia), The TOU SCENE Contemporary Centre of Art, The Nordland Kunst 0g Filmskole, The Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre, The Kunstakademiet Trondheim (Norway), Luleå Winter Biennial, The Beeoff/Splintermind, The Ricklundgården and The Royal University College of Fine Arts (Sweden), Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, The Pro Artibus Foundation and Art Centre Saksala ArtRadius (Finland), Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea and Drodesera Centrale fies (Italy), MAAPMultimedia Art Asia Pacific, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), Rimbun Dahan and ABN AMRO-Malihom (Malaysia), Designing Your Future, Berlinale Talent Campus 2005, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Germany) and Biennale Bibliotheca Alexandrina 2005, Arts Center, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt), Gyeonggido Museum of Modern Art, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Danwon Arts Museum, Arko Museum, Songsan Art Hall, Alternative Space Loop, Soeul Art Museum, Hankuk Art Museum , Korea International Art Fair (Korea) , ADCNI Biennale 2009 (Reunion, France) and Flaxart Studios (United Kingdom). Sarawut has organised many international solo and group exhibitions of his works. He has won many national and international awards for his original works.

He has directed his energies towards exploring the phenomena of interdisciplinary of art and culture and “searching for answers that can help reverse the subordination and objective materialism, which are prevalent in today’s society. What are the thoughts, doubts, fears, uncertainties, and reflections that we have and experience as we head towards the new material and immaterial territories, which we are to inhabit in the future?”

The Artist’s Statement

     “The project works, selected here, focus on the mechanisms of perception and dreams, the private world of the world of fantasy and unconscious, the conditions underlying the system by which mind and spirit operates. At the same time, the (in)-visibility of the structure creates a confusion on the viewers’ perception of the work and of the space where it is placed, thus provoking and ambiguous relationship between the object, its function and its appearance. Thus a mysterious force field is generated on the border of truth and lie, a force that is able to create unexpected angles of approach which in turn force the viewer to take up a new position in the observation of the surrounding world.”

 

Selected Works by Sarawut Chutiwongpeti

Designer’s Profile: Tulip Sinha

Founder, FolkUs Design Interventions, Bangalore

 

Greetings from FolkUs Design Interventions!

We are a Bangalore based start-up that deals with everything arty and crafty!

Started by me, Tulip, a Product Design graduate from the National Institute of Design, once I realized that nothing excited me more than village-hopping and getting my hands dirty with any possible craft and a day well-spent with the true designers, the karigars.

FolkUs happened by chance; it all started with providing a platform to aid a couple of Patachitra artisans of Midnapore district of West Bengal.

From then on to now, we at FolkUs are committed to Preservation, Intervention & Propagation (PIP) of the wide variety of handicrafts and folk arts that adorn our country, some known, some unknown and a few more that have been long forgotten.

We strive towards skill diversification for dynamic marketability, livelihood generation, craft documentation and retail point-of sale.

Everything—from documenting a lost art, to product development and to strategy-building—that provides a way forward to these assets is the thing that delights us the most.

Clearly, force-feeding these arts/crafts into the contemporary milieu is not the best way of keeping them alive. At the same time, cashing in on the increasing ‘counter-urbanization’ mindset seems like a pool of opportunity that we want to explore.

So far we have been working with providing a contemporary appeal to the Patachitra, Warli and Mithila folk paintings.

Some consultation work in the field of organic (lacware) lathe-turned toy-design, meenakari work, bamboo product development and banana bark-fibre crafts have been our focus at FolkUs for the past couple of months.

Our inaugural exhibition-cum-sale in Bangalore, Oct 2010 was a good testing ground for our range of products. As was evident, art does not sell by itself, not for the non-connoisseur at least! It opened my eyes to the two new kinds of target groups; the uninformed/misinformed on one hand and the inquisitive type on the other hand.

The former types usually are clueless as to why such a big deal is made about art and term them as useless expenses! The insight here being, that art/craft when made utilitarian has far more takers, irrespective of their knowledge levels and can penetrate a wider audience.

The latter bunch on the other hand, comprise of people who have some exposure to the indigenous flavours, albeit second-hand and if something manages to catch their eye, they would not mind investing as long as they have an impressive story or cause to support their purchase, which duly imparts a sense of pride.

It is these insights that have become a preamble for us to generate newer product ranges that cater to any/all these needs or aspirational purchases, as the case may be.

So, here’s inviting all the crafty minds to come together and make FolkUs a success story!

 

Tulip Sinha is the Founder, FolkUs Design Interventions, Bangalore, India. Tel. 919845.31.9497. Email: tulip.del@gmail.com

Unapologetically Improper and Unkempt: Elvis’s Style of Sex Appeal in 1954 and 1955

Matt Shedd

Rock and roll culture has always carried with it a lifestyle to accompany the music—an attitude and a fashion that changes over the years, depending on the artist and period. Elvis, the figure often cited as the founder of modern rock and roll (not without dispute, however), serves as America’s most pervasive icon from20th century popular culture.

Elvis is no longer a single person, but a multifaceted image reflecting the most highly-prized American ideals, even if they contradict each other: freedom and economic mobility; patriotism and youthful rebellion; Hollywood superstardom and small-town rural America.

Elvis’s great ability was to synthesize—the most significant accomplishment was his success in bringing rural American music and black American music together for a mainstream audience. In Dead Elvis, Greil Marcus notes Elvis’s uncanny ability to hold all of these seemingly contradictory dreams together for so many different audience members. Marcus writes the following of Elvis’s mythic presence:  “I understand Elvis not as a human being…but as a force…the necessity existing in every culture to lead it to produce a perfect, all-inclusive metaphor for itself” (3).

And Elvis, America’s perfect metaphor of itself, continues to live on in various sanitized and family friendly forms, such as the soundtrack of Disney’s children film Lilo and Stitch, the barrage of flash advertisement and Elvis-based attractions that fill the screen when you visit the Official Website of Elvis Presley, and, of course, in the shrine called Graceland—the temple for the various sects of Elvis devotees. Elvis’s image and name are so widespread, that he continues to be a financially profitable brand more than thirty years after his death.

After years of Elvis Presley laying claim to the status of the most pervasive American icon—and all the contradictions that role entails—it’s hard to access just how shocking and really quite downright nasty many people found this upstart young kid jumping around wildly on stage in 1954 and 1955. Across Peter Guralnick’s accomplished biography Last Train to Memphis, many acquaintances recall that Elvis had a dirty neck, generally poor hygiene, but made sure to grease up that famous hair. All these things gave him the appearance of being unkempt and low class, but Rodgers recalls, “I asked him why he used that butch wax, and he said that was so when he performed his hair would fall down a certain way.” Why was this important to Elvis? “He thought that was cool” (qtd in Guralnick172).

This recorded moment is theater mixed with instruction. Elvis, not yet a television star and global icon, performs Coolness for his primarily teenage audience. “Milk Cow Blues had been a hit by Bob Wills with versions performed by others. Elvis and the boys start what became the “Milcow Boogie Blues” as a subdued, half-time version of the song. But Elvis calls it to a halt, and then says, “Now, wait a minute, fellas. That don’t move me. Let’s get real, real gone for a change.” And then the song kicks into its double-timed version of the song with its suggestive lyrics. Post-war American white suburbanite teens with disposable incomes, were looking for somebody to show them how to break away from their stifling values of their parents, and figures like Presley and Brando were the ones offering these options to them.

Elvis helped define cool by embracing what seemed dirty and vulgar, and this authentic and celebratory embrace of typically described low-culture and base impulses produced a spectacle that brought him the nation’s attention. Chick Crumpacker recalls one ’55 performance “frequent belches into the mike, and the clincher came when he took his chewing gum out and tossed it into the audience” (qtd Guralnick in 190). He would even spit on the stage to the thrill of the hormone-flooded onlookers. These instances bring to light some surprisingly crude element to Elvis’s initial art of seduction. Rather than pretending he came from some rich background he knew nothing about, Elvis played up his image of being low-class.

Although Elvis records had been selling phenomenally already in the Southern U.S., something qualitatively different happened at the performances, provoking a response that extended far beyond the music to a cultural style. When audiences (particularly young girls) saw Elvis Presley perform, no number of record sales sold could prepare people for the chaos that Elvis reigned over while touring with the Louisiana Hayride and elsewhere during that time. Female sexuality was given room to be expressed publicly in those concerts, and Elvis knew exactly how to draw it out of teenage girls and the crowd in general in the form of screaming, fainting, and general unruliness.

But with this rebellious style was his simultaneous innocence and naiveté. “He didn’t drink,” Snow recalls, “he’d carry a cigarette around in his mouth, one of those filter types, never light it because he didn’t smoke, but he’d play with it” (qtd. in Guralnick 172).His style and charisma is so irresistible to many precisely because he straddles these contradictions of unbridled sexuality on the one hand and wide-eyed innocence on the other. What set Elvis apart from the way we traditionally think of rock and roll rebellion was that he always showed respect to adults in public and was pretty shy. He loved singing spirituals, and even maintained his belief that his voice was a gift from God. His gritty image was thoroughly punk in many ways, like Johnny Rotten. His sexuality depended on an earthiness the audience was not receiving from the more pristine acts at the time like Perry Como.

Elvis remains a fashion icon, marketable both economically and good tender in the marketplace of ideas, as I’m using him in this article. But I think if we look closely at the performances that started his career, he embodies an affirmation of life: he was not ashamed of the poverty he came from, he embraced it. He also wasn’t ashamed of his sexuality.  He remained a good ol’ boy with the sly charm, that half-smile that suggested something you know you shouldn’t be doing without admitting it. No matter how shocking his performance, Elvis always remained in the realm of plausible deniability, claiming that the performance was misunderstood, but that half-crooked smile always seemed to suggest that he knew exactly what he was doing. He provided the release of rebellion without the consequences of world where rebellion is a game, and sexuality is fun, and serious things need not be revalued by this type of rebellion. In fact, Elvis’s sexually infused performances of 1954 and 55 serve as a rebellion against seriousness in any form.

 

Acknowledgement

The images here have taken from various sites on “fair use” policy. Here the links to them:

Picture 1: http://blog.mlive.com/entertainment/bay-city/2009/01/medium_elvis-debutmlive.jpg

Picture 2: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_zAoyoHwC5IQ/S-wpq-TnHxI/AAAAAAAAIgo/bPoYOZzeS78/s1600/Elvis+1.jpg

Picture 3: http://songinmyhead.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/elvis.jpg

 

Works Cited

Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co, 1994. Print.

Marcus, Greil. Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession. New York: Doubleday, 1991. Print.

Bottom of Form

Top of FormSpencer, Clark dir. Lilo & Stitch. Burbank, Calif: Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2002.

 

Matt Shedd is Graduate Teaching Fellow at University of Oregon, a featured contributor for No Depression: The Roots Music Authority and freelance writer.

 

Fair-y Tale: Designing with Glass Bangles

Subhasis Maity, freelance writer

India has always celebrated the joy of colours through several festivals by several means. The passion for colour is reflected everywhere in every sphere of life of this tropical country. From a hard-core utility item to a mere trifling thing the presence of colour is worth noticing. The glass bangles, adorable to Indian women are not also an exception to this colour fondness. They have successfully resisted the pressures of time and are thriving in new forms.

Glass bangles in India are much popular accessory among the women folks. Several coloured bangles wearing with a same colour attire is a traditional fashion for many women in India. But this piece of writing is going to be on another creative use of this ornament, which lies far away from its original functionality.

A very big fair, known as Dantan Grameen Mela, is organized at Dantan, a rural area on the border of West Bengal and Orissa. Apart from usual purpose of a fair, this has gathered larger socio-cultural purposes like arranging various cultural programmes of artists from various parts of India, arranging local cultural functions, promoting art and crafts, spearheading awareness camps etc.

The organizers put in a lot of efforts in creating a beautiful fair arena and the entrance gateway to the fair-ground bears a lofty conscious of the people. In January, 2011 they constructed the gateways and the stages with glass bangles as main decorating elements in a remarkable artistic way. The artists and craftsmen, entrusted with it, showed remarkable aesthetic sense and creative skills in decorating the gateways. At first they chose the base colour in pastel orange, a colour which creates a cool appearance and elicits a warm reception. Somewhere they added a trace of pure orange leaving it more vibrant. The vast and architecturally complex canvas encouraged them to play with darker colour glass bangles to decorate the portal.

The glass bangles played the key role in filling the canvas. Various motifs were created with bangles, cut or uncut. They created floral patterns, stylized rectangular designs, flower vase with leafy flowers, ethnic percussionists and many more eye-catching motifs.

Every minute detail of the figurines were taken care of, and it could be noticed in the drapes of the dhoti of the drummer, the curve of his chest, the partings of his turbans and moreover in the finishing perfection of the edges despite the bangle’s curved nature.

In most of the cases the artists chose the tassar fabric as base material to stick the craft on it. It complemented the base colour of the frame and also enhanced the beauty of the craft bringing it into more prominence.

Thus it was an exhibition of patience, a new idea, courage to work with something unusual that left the people gazing on the beautiful designs for about a month.

Facebook Iconfacebook like button