Last year at an artistic conclave when artist, visual illustrator and entrepreneur SCD Balaji tried giving Indian folk art forms a contemporary twist through his merchandise brand Lat Lakar, he was surprised by the lukewarm response it received.
“It was not because my work was faulty. It was because people had lost interest in folk art. Anything that is Indian meant rustic, cheap and too pretty to be sported. The irony was they were the same people who won’t mind sporting t-shirts with silly graphics of Batman and Superman,” says Balaji.
Once he realised revival won’t be possible without innovations and like-minded people, he created the online community Indian Folk Art 365 (https://www.behance.net/scdbalaji). The community, through workshops and exhibitions, across India aims to revive and promote traditional folk arts forms.
Works of the community are inspired from about 50 Indian folk art forms such as the Pattachitra paintings of Odisha, Chitrakathi paintings of Maharashtra, Gond Art of Madhya Pradesh, Bengal Patua of West Bengal, Thangka Paintings—a Himalayan art form—and Madhubani paintings of Bihar, among others. What makes them unique is their dash of contemporariness.
“When I was researching different folk art forms, I realised tribes practicing them still drew age-old themes of god and goddesses, which are no longer relevant. So, the first step to resurrect their art was to make it topical,” Balaji says.
In a Thangka painting titled ‘Fearless Butterfly’, Balaji replaces Goddess Saraswati with an empowered Indian woman, holding a pen like a trident in one hand and a pink lotus in the other. Another piece ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, done in Pattachitra style, depicts a couple in modern attire and holding cell phones and suitcases, standing at the doorway of what resembles a temple. The entrance is embellished with bells, drapes and peacock motifs and the couple is positioned like deities in a temple. “Here I have tried to equate a house’s entrance to that of a temple and guests with gods to give form to the popular Indian belief of Athithi Devo Bhava,” says Balaji. “In a way it is a blend of a traditional thought and style in a contemporary world,” he adds.
Through the community, Balaji has been conducting folk art workshops in places such as Coimbatore, Chennai and Bengaluru since last September. Sponsored by MYCOPIE Notebooks, a workshop, in its five-hour duration, introduces participants to 12 folk art forms, their history and need for revival. “I have narrowed down on 12, including the Bengal Patua, Thangka paintings and Gond paintings because they need immediate attention. The last hour goes into teaching techniques of drawing the Bengal Patua as it is the priority on my agenda,” he says.
Age is no bar at the workshops with participants ranging from class two students to homemakers and even PhD scholars. “I insist on creative enthusiasts and people who would contribute to the field as well as the forum in the future,” he adds. His next workshop is slated for July 12 in Bengaluru.
The founder of Atma Studios, an advertising agency that uses art as a medium of expression, Balaji is also promoting folk art through Lat Lakar (http://www.latlakar.com/), his Indian Folk Art Merchandise where one could pick an array of products such as T-shirts, mugs and notebooks all painted with quirky folk art motifs.
Balaji plans to extend his workshops to Mumbai and Hyderabad and conduct roadside exhibitions, featuring works of various folk artists. Also on his agenda is drawing 365 Indian Folk Art illustrations on contemporary cultural concepts and initiate other artists, designers and creative enthusiasts to draw the same for the community with the hashtag #indianfolkart365.
“I have drawn 56 so far. Due to work commitments, sometimes it is difficult switching off the businessman and switching on the artist, but I guess, that is why one is called a job and the other your passion,” he says.