KOCHI: Kerala has always held onto its traditional art and cultural roots with pride. But despite its significance, artisans have always feared their art was being pushed to the fringes and would die out of neglect. Understanding its relevance, theatre artist Sajitha Madathil who has served in various administrative capacities at cultural institutes in New Delhi has launched www.attakkalam.in, an online archive which is a storehouse of information on all traditional art forms in Kerala.
The web space, according to her, was her dream project that she harboured for over three years. “I have been thinking about such an online archive ever since I came and settled down in Kerala. It must have been my experience serving as a documentary officer and working at the archive sections where I realised that the lack of a documented archive was hampering our artists’ growth. If an artist who wishes to go abroad needs to send documented information of his work to the Ministry of Culture elsewhere, they always find themselves in a difficult situation, because not much information on their work is available online. Though cultural institutes like the Kerala Folklore Academy and Lalithakala Akademi have documented their work, it has never been archived in detail,” she said.
About Attakkalam portal
A team of cultural enthusiasts and volunteers are working together tirelessly to collect information of all indigenous performance traditions under one roof. “At the moment, we are forced to search Wikipedia or Google to learn about the art forms. However, there is a huge dearth of information about artisans and their art. For example, if you take the case of the pulikali, there is no official record of the artists who paint the art. However, through Attakkalam, we hope to bring to the forefront those skilful artisans, whether they be costume artists or instrumental players,” said Sajitha.
According to her, the portal is expected to be a storehouse of information for the younger generation. “The older ones know a little more about these indigenous art forms which came into existence as religious customs or entertainment forms that were exclusive to a caste or community. I believe it is our duty to pass this information to our future generations,” she said.
At the moment, the team has spoken to at least 10 artists from across the state. Various interviews of the artists performing ritual art forms like the Kalamezhuthu and Thiri Uzhichilhave have also been set up. “We have titled them as masters. There may be information of these people on the Internet, but that is not enough. We have taken care to ensure there are details about their date of birth, kind of art they do and what inspired them to take it up. There are also audio and video clips. For example, we have described the master of the bamboo music Unnikrishnan P C and the bamboo symphony which is an innovation of the Indian folklore fusion,” said Sajitha. Sajitha says they plan to officially launch the web space once they have interviewed 25 artists. The future plans include creating a mobile app for Attakalam. Entrepreneur Baby Mathew Somatheeram is one of the trustees of the online archive.
Recognition for artists
Pazhani Swami, who is a master of the Irula dance form which is popular among the tribal communities in Attappadi, says such a web portal will allow artists like him to get recognition. “Whenever we perform the Irula dance, there are many who ask us about the dance form. They want to know about its origins and its costumes. Except for word of mouth, we don’t have any other information to show them. This is an acknowledgement of our community,” he said.