The morning of 6th January was slightly different. Neighbours poured in much earlier than usual, my phone beeped much more than usual. Blissfully unaware, I was forced to come out of my cocoon and out of sheer compulsion pressed the top button of my phone. There it was, a poster saying ‘Sabarmati Festival welcomes you all’. One group beamed at the prospect of swaying to the tunes of Arijit Singh, Bhoomi Trivedi; while the other beamed at the chance to be exposed to such a large-scale extravaganza of our bread. Yes, our bread, my bread. Being an Interior Design student at CEPT University, such festivals are an opportunity for people like me to make a difference to society and, our own image too.
The festival, held from 6th to 10th January, across multiple venues in Ahmedabad was a celebration of sorts – literature, dance, music, arts, crafts, theatre – everything was celebrated in full glory. Modelled on the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival held annually in Mumbai, the festival indeed delivered, keeping in mind the diversity, scale and calibre. From professional designers to craftsmen to housewives, from design schools to NGOs, many came forward to be a part of this extravagant display.
Seeing the works of my faculties and seniors led me to wishful thinking. Witnessing the beautifully crafted designer pieces from National Institute of Design with the handicrafts on one platform could only make me wonder about the horizon where the two would meet; arts and crafts like kaali mitti pottery (black soil), nail art (an artist from Anand sketches using his nails on paper and then paints it with oil-based powdered wax colours), Kachchi work, crochet, ply-split braiding and designer products were displayed alongside painted bottles (with plants), bookmarks and other artwork by children associated with NGOs.
The nail artist from Anand was of particular interest to me, as he not only gave a live demo but was also ready to help me outsource those ‘special’ colours to channel my artsy pursuits. Such warmth, and there you realise why many of these people shudder at the idea of working with city-based designers.
In its first edition, in my perception, the festival delivered much more than it promised and is associated with these deeply layered aspects:
1. The most immediate effect of such a festival is that it allows anyone to walk in and be a part of art. It breaks down the notion of art being elitist; a layman, irrespective of his social status, gets exposed to art. It promotes inclusivity and might help designers to find a new market. The common man steps out of the confines of his home and is exposed to a much different world.
2. By bringing both, performing and non-performing arts – literature, dance, music, theatre, arts, crafts – in its array, the festival is a celebration of society; it is a celebration of the spirit of Ahmedabad, as it has been rightly marketed. Though targeted towards the mainstream in its first edition, in the future editions it could strive to bring forth the lesser-known art forms and revive them. Bringing such artists forward not only gives them recognition and revives the lost heritage, it also stands the chance to provide them potential sources of livelihood and make a difference to the economy.
3. The most noteworthy of all is the participation of NGOs, housewives and even school going children. The non-designer and non-artisan putting stalls parallel to designers and artisans celebrates the innate designer within all of us; it celebrates that art and design are a part of daily life; they are utilitarian. It shackles the notion of ‘Art is Elitist’. Though nowadays it is believed that only the rich have access to art, the fact that design stems from the common man still remains. One look at the cave paintings or vernacular architecture is enough to prove that.
4. Moreover, it gives a new identity to the Sabarmati river. No doubt, the riverfront helped to revive its importance to a large extent, but such festivals can better it more. Many events of theatre, literature, music were conducted across multiple venues like Bhadra Fort and Sarkhej Roza, which again have a prime historical significance. The river and these monuments are an integral component of Ahmedabad’s history and heritage, and celebrating them evokes past glory. It also gives an impetus to civic bodies to work with designers and upgrade the infrastructure of surrounding areas.
5. The festival housed a number of installations, all of which carried a social message. Though these installations were an ideal back-drop for the selfie-taking people, a few or even many, would have stopped to look at it and understand its intention. A certain interaction begins, between the designer and the common man, and the seed of social change is sown. It celebrates the strong role designers can play in creating social awareness. Since the materials used were mostly scrap, it also begins a dialogue of sustainability.
Sustainability is a pertinent issue in today’s age of global climate crises and is being widely discussed across all forums – be it political, economic or design. Displaying traditional arts and crafts is celebrating the spirit of sustainability- social, cultural, economical and ecological.
6. Though the festival housed a diverse range of products, the main concentration was on the craftsmen and artisans, who came in from as far as Orissa. One such interaction with a craftsman brought to light a sentiment which echoes throughout all craft/art communities – their devotion to tradition and unwillingness to accept any change. Having trained students like me at several design colleges, he was apprehensive about collaborating with designers in fear of losing the traditional value in his products. I felt belittled and weird. But then, it made me question the notion of tradition. The natural flow of anything – be it tradition, people or even a mundane object, is to change and evolve; as they say, change is the only constant. While talking about arts and crafts, the intactness of tradition emerges the strongest. It is not wrong, but one can always discuss the evolving nature of culture and tradition.
I thoroughly enjoyed the festival and look forward to the next edition. Such festivals are a boon to the culturally rich Indian cities, states, and more importantly the people, and should be conducted more often. Not only do they celebrate and revive culture, they give an identity to its followers, practitioners and propagators.
Images posted by Sabarmati Festival on Facebook.