‘Samvad 1’ – titled ‘Perception of Collaboration’ focused on the questions of how and why these artists consciously negotiated a strategy to collaborate amongst themselves and with the people from the mohallas / neighborhood in and around Kondagaon which also included the Nagar Palika / Municipality officials. How the process had gradually enabled them to develop and coin a vocabulary to communicate with each other and with people from the neighborhood. How dealing with the tensions amongst themselves, problems they encountered whilst pursuing the work at hand pumps / public sites which are not free of conflict, was part of collaboration or since it was a conscious choice for all, they saw the entire experience as a process. Art critics such as Nancy Adajania, Roshan Shahini, Subulaxmi Shukla from Mumbai and Grant Kester from the University of California - San Diego, U.S.A, Rajshree Biswal a PhD student from JNU Delhi, and local artists Jaidev Baghel, Khem Vaishnav, Sushil and Nagar Palika officials amongst others were part of the discussion.
‘Samvad 2’ titled ‘What is Contemporary in Contemporary Art’ took place on the 30th and the 31st of March 2011. Raj Kumar and Ganga Devi initiated the conversation around “how being contemporary adivasi artists, they view their position in the present contemporary art scene in India and why there is a lack of communication between the practicing artists within their own environment, and those who normally interpret their collaborative work without discussing anything with them”. Navjot’s expanded the argument by pointing out that the site-specific art making process, in which many local participants are involved, the context cannot be ignored, and it is different from the art making which is carried out in an individual studio space and focuses on the complete object.
The critic who does not visit the site of production and looks at the outcome alone cannot simply apply the general models for critical analysis. What is significant is the experience of participants at the site; hence the need to know from the artists and other participants becomes necessary.
Katherine Hacker, an art historian from the British Columbia University in Vancouver Canada, spoke about the state of contemporary aboriginal art from Canada and artist Rebecca Belmore’s work dealing with theft of their land and culture by the colonizers. Jaidev Baghel commented that unless artists internalize the values they talk about; discussions remain at superficial levels. Khem Vaishnav and Ajit Viswakarma argued about artist’s choice or rights to borrow from any culture or style without a position or raising any questions concerning, danger of appropriation, but in response, Abhijeet Tamhane, from Bombay who writes on art for a daily Marathi newspaper raised a question regarding cultural property rights and spoke about the ugly appropriation of Warli art since the 70's.
Rajshree Biswal a PHD student from JNU spoke about community based art practices including Dialogue’s approach to collaborative projects in Bastar. Bhupesh Tiwari spoke on their NGO Saathi’s concerns of sustaining and supporting craft tradition, which is getting badly affected due to various development schemes in the region. Shantibai, Shanti Nag, Anita Baghel, Shakila and Bobby were amongst other participants who participated in discussion.
‘Samvad 3’ - titled ‘Value [of] nature’ on 10th and 11th March 2015 focused and addressed artists’ / creative people’s perceptions, observation, reflections or representational strategies of how nature is being commoditized. The Seminar included 2 plays. Lal Paen / Lal Pani, directed by Subhash Chandra from Belpahar, located at Odisha Chhattisgarh border. Actors are from the adivasi communities dislocated from their land during the ‘Hirakud Dam Project’ way back in the1950’s. More than 200 villages of the Sambalpur district had got submerged in the water. Till date they have received no compensation. Hirakud is the longest major earthen dam with a big reservoir. Water that was meant to be for irrigation is now used for industrial use. Raja Folklava the second play, a satire, written and directed by Rakesh Tiwari from Raipur is based on a folk tale addressing our present socio-political and economic environment. The tale speaks of power and greed.
More than 300 people from the neighboring localities saw the play.
11th March 2015 - Speakers included artists Raj Kumar Korram and Namita Vishwakarma from Kondagaon who presented a joint paper discussing the adivasi ways of observing /sustaining/ conserving nature, the present situation in South Bastar and how it is reflecting in their artistic expressions, Savita Rath an activist from Jan Chetna Raigarh, who has been working with communities resisting/protesting against land acquisition processes and coal mining in the mining areas like Gare in Raigarh spoke about the issues not made visible by the policy makers or the corporate, and she also spoke about Coal Satyagrah which is moving forward. Subhash Chandra a theatre director from Belpahar, who also works with the communities impacted by the Hirakud Dam project in Odisha, shared his and his troupe’s political position as actors / directors and their experience of pursuing theatre despite the limitation of resources. Hemant, a theatre actor from Raipur, Khem Vaishnav, an artist and Nagarpalika employee, Harihar Vaishnav, a writer and Gangadevi, an artist spoke about the need to recognize the problem rather than remaining ignorant.
Peoples’ lack of initiative to unite to resist collectively despite getting impacted by the man-made disasters in most areas was a point made by Harihar without which things do not change.
Navjot emphasized on the issue of anthropogenic environmental changes taking place in Chhattisgarh. She said that “by looking at the drastically transformed landscape in Korba, Raigarh or Bailladella, and the way industrialization is carried out, which in her opinion is causing destruction and slow violence, but is not being viewed as violence at all because the focus is on faster economic growth, in which the intersection of regional and national politics are entangled with imperatives of development and the power of national and global capital, benefitting the very same big companies, business communities and the government officials. Hence such projects are not benefitting the people living there for centuries, or concerned with what they need or think development could be...according to adivasis, “nature cannot prosper, if humans do not co-operate and respect the environment and the relationship with the land which gives life, the way natural resources are being appropriated”, their culture developed over centuries which she says is their ability to think and to plan for future…Cultural dynamics or the poetic dimensions of their existence is in danger and is getting destroyed in the process…
…She also added that from the perspective of art, art formulates questions and collaborations encourage inclusive ways of making art”.
Rajshree Biswal, a PhD student from JNU, who has been regular to all the three seminars, continued with her persisting question concerning possibilities and the problematic of collaboration between adivasi and urban artists who are further collaborating with the community members, and her ongoing question who is benefitting most in the process made Raj Kumar respond to Rajshree, concerning benefits, benefits of different kinds or how each participant may benefit from the process differently - why should a researcher not make efforts to be in direct contact with them and the community members in today’s technologically advanced age? Why should not they be interacting with the community members or the local people in south Bastar, deeply engaged in people’s struggle, with whom we artists have been interacting, to give her an idea of the complexities of the research process of four artists, and who is benefitting and how?
Sophia Powers, a PhD student in Art History at UCLA was more of an observer of DIAA activities as she was on a research visit looking at artists engaged in public art, in India.