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Saving Endangered Folk Art

A mission to save the folk art on the verge of extinction.

An IT professional by job, Senthil came to Melbourne in 2005, and it was his Guru Sri Venketesh Raja who prompted him to save the dying art. Learning art from his Guru in 1992, he always wanted to pay the art forward but never knew until COVID hit in 2020.

Artists were struggling very severely, unable to keep up with their professions. The Guru’s son told Senthil they wanted to stop their generation from getting into art. It triggered Senthil that he didn’t want his Shilpguru artists to stop practising art due to poverty or economic factors.

With the sign of no tourists in the regional area of India during COVID, Senthil started buying art from artists, spending his own money, but soon he realised that just buying one art from one artist would not solve the problems of the artists or the art. He soon began reading books and researching and quickly found out that artists worldwide wanted to learn this art from India, and indeed, there is a potential to save this art.

The International Indian Folk Art Gallery (IIFAG) was formed in 2020 with support from friends and volunteers. The organisation aims to shed light on endangered Indian Folk Arts while building a cross-cultural connection with Australian art lovers.

India is a host to over fifty-thousand traditional folk arts, Indigenous and versatile, each style distinct and originating from various states across the country. Some of these beautiful folk arts have been passed on from generation to generation for over three thousand years. However, except for a handful, the rest of them are on the verge of extinction.

The International Indian Folk Art Gallery, Australia, has been working hard to promote and uplift traditional Indigenous artists of India and help revive these beautiful folk arts. At IIFAG, the mission is to propagate the beauty of Indian Folk Art across the globe and continue the tradition of teaching the next generation. So far, they have done this through art classes for children, workshops for adults, art competitions and folk-art events. “We aim to give these arts the necessary platform to flourish,” says Senthil.

As part of their 2022 initiative, hosting their first Australian event in St Kilda in May, they plan to host four similar events across Melbourne throughout the year.

For this event in May, IIFG is collaborating with Space2B in St Kilda, where they will exhibit curated artwork. Space2B is a fantastic enterprise working closely with the City of Port Phillip, focusing on newly arrived migrants, refugees and local, community-based designers who can come together to exchange knowledge, ideas, and skills.

Artists, like Senthil or people in retired life or homemakers, were spending some time doing things incorrectly but he also had people learning from YouTube, which is half true and half not true as it’s also not just the colours, the composition, but also the stories behind it.
So, if one doesn’t know why a particular subject is specific, let’s say, mantras, and so on, they end up with a completely wrong message before cohesively telling the story.

It’s not about something one can put on the wall just for a show. Every painting has a meaning. It also has many moral stories behind such detection is very important as it comes straight from the traditional owners of these art forms.

The artwork is known as the law of resemblance to traditional form, also known as manipulation like paintings. There isn’t a lot of closeness. For example, Madhubani paintings have rock and leaves, similarities to the GOND paintings.

Senthil found that the entire Indian folk-art industry has the same problem starting with artists. Miniature painting art is so beautiful and linked to the culture of India, but unfortunately, people have just abandoned that. A culture that had been going on for thousands of years.

Initially, he started buying a lot of artwork from an artist, but then Senthil realised that it was not sustainable as buying one painting made the artist come back again and persist in purchasing some more.

Soon Senthil found a solution to this and created a platform, easy for the artist to sell. Just like that, it came about setting up state of the art learning management system, where they can create a gurukul, a learning art class like we have in universities and schools.

The knowledge group brings to the class can be transferred anywhere without having a teacher sitting in front of people. An online learning platform launched last year. Today they have more than eight hundred enrolled students from all over the world.

The gallery opened last Saturday, on the 7th of May, and will continue until the end of this month. Senthil plans to have one more exhibition focused mainly on Temple paintings and in more cities in Australia in Sydney and Adelaide. The problem is getting galleries as they have more than two hundred fifty paintings to grow from the current exhibitions with twenty-five paintings.

A good cause will always find its way to eventuate. These paintings have at this event will be displaying around thirty selective and unique artifacts from all over the Indian subcontinent. These include artwork in the styles of Gond, Pichwai, Tal Chitra (palm leaf engraving), Tanjore, Pattachitra, Cheriyal scroll paintings, and more.

With this interview, we, here at G’day India, learned that every painting has a meaning; the way it transforms into an image extends an artist’s impression. There are some auspicious days to do Temple paintings; they are strict in the way they eat and train, so it’s not just the painting you are buying but also the pathos that goes with the artist.

As we conclude our interview with Senthil, we at G’day India and the Indian Weekly wish a roaring success for the exhibition and couldn’t help quoting his words, “You save the art, and you save the artist.”

By Nandita Chakraborty

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