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.

‘Samvad 4’ titled ‘Samakaleen’ took place on the 29 and 30 March 2019. Conversation with Mehtaram Kashyap and Budru Ram [farmers and ex Sarpanch] Takraguda, South Bastar, actors Gorishankar and Kanha Bagar, from ‘Mirror Theatre’, Jharsuguda, Odisha, Aditi Singh [actor] Mumbai, Samar Sen Gupta, Tuhin Deb [cultural activists], Aurodeep Deb [Researcher], Khushbu Tandon [Professional social worker] Raipur, Jameel Khan [Beu. Chief] Hari Bhoomi, Kondagaon, Pravin Nadkar [cultural activist and a documentary film maker] Mumbai, Khem [artist and municipality official], Harihar Vaishnav [poet and writer], Tilak Pandey [advocate] Shailesh Shukla [journalist], Desh Bandhu, Kondagaon and the artists, Rajkumar Korram ,Gangadevi, Shanti Nag, Shantibai, Namita Vishwakarma, Shabir Nag, Bastar and Navjot Altaf [Bombay], and Yashwant Kashyap [from GITAGGED, Bastar], focused, concerning how the political resistance put up by the people in the rural adivasi areas as well as in other towns and cities are currently confronting everyday sociopolitical and economic pressures by the dominant capitalist forces at various levels; but also what happens when nothing happens for long periods, and what happens in terms of individual consciousness and collective actions when people want to speak of their struggle. It explored how, in specific situations and contexts, artists from different disciplines have been responding and engaging with the political resistance against “oppressive forms of totalitarianism”. It invited a reflection on the ways in which they are employing art in order to defend freedom of expression and encourage dialogue between people from diverse socio, political, economic and cultural backgrounds, which demands a critical thinking and a process of both learning and unlearning through practice… to be able to create and secure a cultural space like Dialogue.

As part of the two-days discussion, we also had the following artistic performances:

Koyla: a play by Mirror Theatre, 2018, written and directed by Subhash Chandra Pradhan from Belpaher, Jharsuguda, Odisha, [45 Minutes] Hindi and Odia;

Kaidee No. Tera Prasad: a skit, solo performance by Samar Sen Gupta, a theatre artist and cultural activist, from Raipur, [30 Minutes] Hindi;

Ek Gow Bhakat Se Bhent: a story written by Harishankar Parsaee, and read by Aditi Singh, actor and cultural activist from Mumbai, [Navnirman Sanskritik Manch] [30 Minutes] Hindi;

Budru ka Panda: a play written and directed by Santoshi Netam, a 12th std. student from the neighbourhood, [30 minutes] Halbi

Budru ka Panda: a play written and directed by Santoshi Netam, a 12th std. student from the neighbourhood, [30 minutes] Halbi

Rella [Adivasi songs and dance] : performed by women from the Kopaweda neighbourhood including artist Shantibai from DIAA.

‘Hindi Transcription of the Seminar’

‘Samvad 5’ titled ‘Real and Imaginary Tomorrow’ took place on the 22 and 23 April 2023. Concept of Samvad 5 evolved from the interaction between DIAA members during the covid pandemic, when we had to remain indoors, in our homes and almost everything came to a standstill. But what we noticed in our own areas is that non-human habitats began to move freely more than ever before. Pollution levels in the air and water reduced and so did the noise pollution. Scientists found that these “habitats disturbed by the human, began to recover”. It had a positive effect on the wild-life and a sign of hope for us to imagine that if human intrusion in nature is reduced consciously, and there are strategies designed with intentions to create and secure a balance between the natural world and us, can we then preserve the balance which will benefit us and tomorrow’s generations?

At one level large number of people all over the world had to go through personal traumas, shocks and losses, which made us pause and allow ourselves the time to reflect on the root causes of the pandemic which are rooted in our dominant way of life.

But at another level, at those stressful times the nature motivated us to learn from the current reality to consciously participate in creating systems and working towards sustainable future. Even though the term sustainable is being used by everyone but how well do we really understand what the term means, and what is it to be able to live in balance with the natural life support systems on the planet and to enlarge our vision to look at economic development in relation to its impact on the web of life of which all living beings are a part, and the human is just one of countless species, whose survival is mutually entangled. We are all interconnected and interdependent, just as the ‘fundamental relationships of our world are interdependent’.

As DIAA is situated in an Adivasi region in Kondagaon, and we had amongst us participants from the indigenous backgrounds as well, we had a precious opportunity to discuss and learn from the wisdom of existing Adivasi cultures here, and in other parts of the world.

Adivasi systems of knowledge about the natural world are based on different forms of co-existence, systems of relations and reciprocity, as they have been living close to nature for thousands of years, but are also amongst the most vulnerable of all human, inhabitants on this fragile, precious earth. Whereas they are least responsible for the planetary-scale damages caused by the modern way of life.

The discussion at the Dialogue Centre, addressed some of these issues as well as what is continuing to cause the socio-cultural and economic imbalance/inequalities impacting the people in the areas participants in the seminar came from and how important it is to see things in the larger context. Also discussed was the need for the individuals and the collectives to consciously join in thinking and creating systems which could restore and secure a balance between the natural world and us.

Participants:

Dr. Jaimati Kashyap [Phd scholar] Kondagaon, Devendra Kashyap [Actor, writer and computer operator in PWD] Kondagaon, Bhawani Prasad [Engineer and activist] Koraput, Bibek Ranjan [Lawyer and activist] Koraput, Rajesh Tripathi [Activist, Jan Chetna] Raigarh, Khem Vaishnav [Artist] Kondagaon, Pravin Nadkar [Cultural activist and documentary film maker] Mumbai, Khirendra Yadav [Video volunteer in ‘India Unheard’, folk singer and farmer] Kondagaon, Subhash Chandra Pradhan [Director and writer], Gorishankar [Stage actor] and Kanha Bagar [Stage actor] from Mirror Theatre, Jharsuguda, Prashant Mishra [Lawyer], Shalini Sawhney [Director, The Guild], Rajkumar Korram [Artist and farmer], Shantibai [Artist] and Namita Vishwakarma [Student] from Kondagaon, Navjot Altaf [Artist] Mumbai.

Performances:

Rella [Adivasi songs and dance] : performed by the children from Kopaweda neighbourhood.

Vanvasi/Adivasi: a play by Mirror Theatre, 2023, written and directed by Subhash Chandra Pradhan from Belpaher, Jharsuguda, Odisha, [45 Minutes] Hindi and Odia;

Songs on rain composed and sung in Halbi: Khirendra Yadav, video volunteer in ‘India Unheard’, folk singer and farmer

Kokerenge performance: performed by group of adivasi dancers from Khargaon, Patel Para, District Narayanpur

The documentation of the discussion will be added shortly.

‘Hindi Transcription of the Seminar’

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