Aravani Project to UR/Unreserved: Five Indian art collectives that made 2017 a better year

This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series

As a year, 2017 was defined by many things: Trump vs CNN, One Love Manchester, Ivanka Trump's India visit, unicorn frappuccinos (give no importance to the order) to name a few. For India, it was also about a wave of participatory art which swept across the nation, uniting people and empowering communities in the process.

While the Left, Right and the Confused engaged in noisy (and often meaningless) political debates, there were artists and organisations who dedicated themselves making a positive impact. Their principles reflected in the stories they told, the art they created and the lives they changed. 

So here they are — the art collectives that were the change-makers of 2017, whose work you might have missed amid the cacophony.

Aravani Art Project

 Aravani Project to UR/Unreserved: Five Indian art collectives that made 2017 a better year

Reclaiming the streets of Pune. Image from Facebook/Aravani Art Project

In India, there are 4.88 lakh transgenders according to the 2011 census. Still treated as third-class citizens, transgenders are wronged by society; every single day is an exercise in surviving. The Aravani Art Collective aims to reclaim the streets of India and make them safer for the transgender community — one mural at a time. The group, along with its transgender friends, painted the walls of Pune in an attempt to sensitise people towards identity rights. The result: a brighter Pune, a freer community and more open minds.

Objective 2018: "This year we want to get bigger — and smaller!," says Viktor Baskin of the Aravani Art Project. "2018 will see us grow as an art collective by visiting more big cities, small towns and rural villages. We want to have big conversations in public spaces but also very quiet conversations in closed spaces. We have an international collaboration on our horizon to explore our unique transgender community with artists from other cultures and contexts. The label of an artist can be transformative; it allows us to look at what people create and to understand one another beyond the labels we've given to our bodies and gender identities."

Project FUEL

Saur Photo Booth — "an attempt to explore the innocence, quirks, simplicity of the vibrant villagers outside of their immediate setting." Images from Facebook/ ProjectFUEL

Saur Photo Booth — "an attempt to explore the innocence, quirks, simplicity of the vibrant villagers outside of their immediate setting". Images from Farhan Hussain and Vibhor Yadav

The year 2017 marked a tireless journey through the mountains for Project Fuel, founded by Deepak Ramola. The team, which comprises painters, writers and photographers, took off to Saur, a ‘ghost village’ situated in Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand. Saur faces an alarming migration crises with just 12 families still residing here from the original 300. Ramola was able to successfully conduct the 'Wise Wall Project' which was followed by the 'Ghost Village Festival'. While the former involved painting life lessons of the locals on the walls of the village to reclaim it, the latter was an attempt to enable the residents of Saur to engage with outsiders and also generate funds and small-scale employment. 

Objective 2018: "In the coming year, we are planning to extend the Wise Wall Project to other villages in India. It's an effort to both document rural wisdom and improve the social health of the community through art," says Deepak Ramola, founder Project FUEL.

Also read — Ghost Village Festival: A timely reminder of Uttarakhand's alarming migration crisis

The Pind Collective

(L-R) An artwork inspired by Fiaz Ahmed Faiz’s nazm ‘Bol’ by Khwaab Tanha Collective; Ayesha Sohail's "The Journey from Resistance to Rebellion"

(L-R) Artwork inspired by Fiaz Ahmed Faiz’s nazm ‘Bol’ by Khwaab Tanha Collective; Ayesha Sohail's 'The Journey from Resistance to Rebellion'. Images from Facebook/ThePindCollective

Although Partition came into effect 70 years ago, the division of British India inflicted wounds that both countries will never really fully recover from. While the two countries now struggle to find common ground amid cross-border tensions, The Pind Collective bridges the gap and celebrates differences by bringing together artists from either side of the border. The collective was able to reach out to 70,000 people with their first online edition and held their first exhibition in Delhi.

Art without borders: The Pind Collective brings together Indian, Pakistani artists for an exchange of ideas, culture

Objective 2018: "The idea is to continue bringing artists from India and Pakistan into the fold, refine our digital platform and at the same time, organise offline exhibitions. Our current edition is significant for us because in the current political climate, it expresses many of our hopes for both nations — the possibility of free artistic dissent, the importance of re-imagining diplomacy, and the chance to have our generation leading the charge. We want to continue giving artists a platform, while also allowing them to experiment and collaborate in ways that they might not have been able to otherwise," say Avani Tandon Vieira and Ansh Ranvir Vohra, founders of The Pind Collective.

St+art India

Untitled design (6)

One of 2017's most popular art movements, St+art India can be credited for transforming Mumbai's Sassoon Docks, among other localities. Despite being one of the oldest ports of Mumbai, it wasn't easy to embrace Sassoon Dock with all its plastic and overpowering stench of fish. However, as part of the Sassoon Dock Art Project, its walls were painted anew by artists — global and Indian — in every colour possible, celebrating the way of life of the Kohli community (the city's original inhabitants).

Objective 2018: "We're going to begin the new year with two cities, unique for their culture and history: Kolkata and Chandigarh. Furthermore, St+art will keep exploring collaborations and spaces in different cities, trying to open new ways for public art to progressively become a key tool for the growth of society. Projects such as the art districts, experiential exhibitions, typo sculptures and art inventions on public transportation will be taken further, along with focusing on the communities which inhabit these areas," says Giulia Ambrogi, the festival curator.

View the gallery: Mumbai's 142-year-old Sassoon Docks gets a street art makeover courtesy St+Art India

UR Unreserved

A Maraa initiative, UR Unreserved was a 30-day performative journey undertaken by a group of diverse artists, in an attempt to arrive at multiple, heterogeneous notions of identity. Because the Indian Railways is credited for building not just the country’s identity, but also its people, the aim of the project was to create a different metaphor for trains — one different from what's been in the news lately. 

Objective 2018: "We have gathered a whole lot of material from UR/Unreserved — including performances, writing, sketches, audio and video. We hope to raise funds to organise public exhibitions across India. Along with this, we will also strengthen our arts and media work with students — on sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. In 2018, we will directly address and engage with the worsening political situation in India," states Ram Bhat, co-founder Maraa.

While all these art collectives have their distinct creative identities/expressions, the core belief that unites them is the transformative power of art. Here's hoping for more from them in 2018!

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Updated Date: Dec 31, 2017 12:10:34 IST