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Labour of love :
“Work done for the sake of one’s own enjoyment or of benefit to others rather than for material rewards”
Imagine walking through a village on a hill in Himachal Pradesh where the many works of art are vying for your attention as soon as you walk into the village. Imagine finding yourself in a village where the local village folks are jamming with western musicians (Jajj, Yayy!) with their humble flutes; the dolled up local women of all ages sashaying on the ramp in all their sartorial glory (their traditional dress) and jewelleries; the local village kids busy in making their own short movies, the works. Come May-June and the little known sleepy village of Gunehr will turn into an unprecedented art festival which the villagers lovingly call ‘mela’.
But it was not always so hunky dory with the villagers. What Frank has done for the village (and the adversities he faced) somehow reminds me of the Hindi movie ‘Swades’. Frank convinced the shop owners to allow him to use their empty shops so that the artists can use the space to come up with original works of conceptual arts in their month long paid residency. Most of the shops in the village remain empty throughout the year and bite dust. There is no real economy in the village but the locals build these in the hope of a more vibrant economy in the future. After all, the obscure Gunehr sits next to the popular Mc Leodganj and Bir Billing! (Thankfully it is still free from all the touristy traps.)
Over the time, the reluctant villagers warmed up to the idea, allowed the use of their shops and even enthusiastically participated in the arts festival. Initially they were skeptical and curious about the many artists inundating their village with arts. Gradually, the ice broke and now they even assist the artists in their creative process. The festival could have alienated the villagers or made them feel like an outsider in their own land. Worse still, it could have turned the village into a tourist circus. The triumph of the project is that none of this happened and hopefully will not.
As the second edition of Shop Art, SA/AS 2 (SA/AS 1 happened in 2013), is just round the corner, the villagers are excited for it. Shop Art/ Art Shop (SA/AS) was born out of sheer love for the arts, the village and its people. It’s commendable how Shop Art / Art Shop is helping the artists and the local economy in a sustainable and responsible manner. The extra ordinary story of how a person can change the perception of the locals single handedly, treat them as equals and involves them in art without spoiling their culture and heritage is inspiring.
SA/AS aims for the below mentioned agendas:
- To bridge the divide between urban/rural/global and traditional/contemporary.
- It also hopes to revive the almost forgotten indigenous arts of the region. No wonder, the art works which will be on display will reflect local elements and influence.
- The non profit month long event aims at promoting arts, artists and provide a livelihood to the locals sustainably.
- In India, art is a perceived as a prerogative of elite and intellectuals. SA/AS breaks the conventions, makes art (and artists) accessible and inclusive.
- The festival keeps the whole process of art making transparent and engaging. The villagers see the artists working diligently on their art and even participating willingly.
- To develop the village through contemporary arts and vice the versa! Win-win!
- To revive the economy of the once prosperous Gunehr (It was an important hub buzzing with economic activities in ancient days) in a sustainable and responsible manner.
- Fusion of local cuisine with contemporary elements.
SA/AS is the labour of love of Frank Schlichtmann. Half German, half Indian (Bengali), his purpose to host SA/AS is to turn it into a permanent arts event for Indian artists, presenting their works to the world. Frank, who moved to Gunehr from Germany 8 years ago, does not want it to become a tourist circus (rightly so) but encourages discerning travelers. Who would have thought his migration would result in a unique concept of contemporary art fair in a remote village. Guess, he thought, the blessed valley, which is already bestowed with ‘divine’ art in all directions (Mountains, flowers, birds, rivers, stream, the works!) could do with some more art.
I have been to many places in past 5 years, but I am emotionally attached to Gunehr in a way like I have never been before. Maybe because it was the first time I have delved so deeply in local people’s lives. Maybe because I am inspired by all the good work being done by Frank and his team in this little hamlet no one really knows about. Maybe because, Gunehr looks like a place I would like to retire to, one day!
I proposed the hashtag #ArtValley for the event. Frank liked the idea and has already started using it on social media. You can follow #ArtValley #ShopArtArtShop #4TablesProject on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more and for updates.
I urge all to book your tickets now and be a part of this magical fair this May and June. The last week, however, is the best time to be here.
After the three week residency, the last week will be buzzing with activities and the village will turn into open air art gallery. Be ready for live music concerts, performances, art installations, live shows, film screenings, podium discussions etc.
Here is a glimpse of what to expect at SA/AS 2:
- The Jazz-Nati MusicShop
- The Gaddi Fashion Shop
- The Miniature Painting-Graffiti Interface
- The “One Rupee Cinema goes to Bollywood” FilmShop
- The Terracotta on the Wall Installation
- The Film-Installation ArtShop
- From the Sky
- The Pahari-Contemporary FoodShop
FUND RAISING : If you are inclined to contribute to this worthy cause you can help raise the funds using the link below. The link is also packed with more information on what SA/AS is all about. You can also forward the link to someone you know who might be interested. SA/AS 1 was sponsored by Frank himself, you can help make the event self sustainable by donating.
In Frank’s words :
“There are great possibilities for corporate sponsoring. The event, though in a village, is not an event with only local appeal.
Firstly, the kind of arts we are presenting itself is contemporary and cosmopolitan and has a global appeal. Associating with SA AS is ‘modern’, ‘innovative’, ‘futuristic’.
Secondly, the event draws in a mixture of local, city and international crowd.
Thirdly, it is ‘live’ on the internet.
And fourthly, it will go on tour of the cities and international venues in 2017. On each and every of these levels, sponsors names will be mentioned. This is a great exposure for sponsors for very little investment! ”
What kind of sponsors?
“Sponsors can be any company that has a ‘matching element’ with us: for example paints, cements etc goes well with the miniature-graffity project. Or how about ‘travel/adventure’ brands: cars, SUVs, motorbikes (the theme is: a bunch of hip artists travel to a little village to work on an innovative project). We can also think of logistics brands: internet and phones, airlines, computers and tablets (theme: without the help of such partners, an innovative event of this magnitude cannot take place in such a remote village).
The potential for sponsors are enormous because there are not many events like these that work on so many different levels and reach such a diverse section of people.”
Yes, it’s always difficult to say goodbyes!
When: 14th May to 14th June, 2016, perfect timing to escape the heat of the plains.
How to reach: Take a train upto Pathankot from Delhi. Reach early morning and book a cab (Rs. 3000 one way, negotiable) to Gunehr or do it in a shoestring budget by taking the Mandi bound bus from Pathankot. Get down at Bir Road.
Money : Get enough cash. ATMs are few and far between.
Where to stay: Frank’s earthy boutique hotel will not be available for booking during the event. One can choose from many homestays in the area. Look up in Google.
Take a virtual tour : Can’t make it in person? Take a virtual tour of the entire process online, Link soon.
Make the most of it:
- When done with the festival, you can also explore the pristine village, valleys, rivers etc. The drive also offers views of the dhauladhaar range, enveloped in snow.(Let me remind you, this is also the backdrop of the event)
- Tibetan refugee colony is 10 minutes ride away. Visit monasteries, walk on the traffic free roads, indulge in great tasting and reasonably priced Tibetan food.
- Of course, paragliding in Bir (We saw hailstorm live)
- A quick trip to Baijnath temple, Mc Leodganj and Palampur can also be clubbed.
- Talk to Frank, he has many interesting stories to tell.
I went along with 4 other travel bloggers, Manjulika, Parnashree and Dipanshu. Click on their names to read their side of the story. It was the first time we travelled together and it turned out to be great fun. I will miss those leisurely walks in the village,mingling with locals, almost missing the train twice, chatting till 3 a.m. in train, sleeping for just an hour and still feeling fresh (The mountain air does it!) the next day.