Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. ― Mark Twain
This quote really stuck with me probably because, for about a decade, I had worked corporate jobs – confined to my desk, staring into my computer screen, crunching numbers, providing solutions to my clients. Well, of course, one can argue that corporate jobs entail travel and an occasional team outing, but that is not about exploring a place or its culture. Travelling… I mean truly travelling has been fatal to so many notions I once had.
In 2016, I decided to take a sabbatical and travel with my wife (Shilpa). I am a sucker for road trips. Many-a-times a place I visit may disappoint me but the drive rarely ever does. Good and sometimes not-so-good open roads have taken us through some amazing places, unforgettable adventures and dramatic sunsets. It would not be an overstatement to say “Our journey with Urban Folk Project began on the road”.
Before deciding to join me on my travels, Shilpa was living (temporarily) in Pondicherry and worked with Indianostrum Theatre as a manager and actor. She had just finished a production which had a strong folk influence from her native place. When she returned to Bangalore, she wanted to build a unique platform for artists. She started to reach out within her circles to disseminate her idea. This entailed months of discussions, meetings and interviews which kept her rooted in Bangalore (in between our travels). While I was still dabbling with what I was going to do when my sabbatical ended, I decided to accompany her on few occasions.
I am a layman when it comes to the arts. The little exposure that I have, is thanks to my wife. To be honest, I felt like a fish out of water in the first few meetings. However, the more meetings I attended I started to understand her idea better. She was looking to create a platform to support, find funding and manage struggling artists, but every artist had a different requirement. While some meetings were very encouraging, some were not. Several disjointed conversations and attempts to make sense of the resulting information led us to ask: Which artist community needs support?
While answering this question we agreed that the technologically disadvantaged rural artist community would be a good place to start. The travel is what got me interested. We started to map universities and institutions around Karnataka that would assist us in this endeavour. Once we finalized the locations and the duration required to make some progress, it was a go! We set off in our car on the open road seeking artists and their stories.
We completed our first trip in 13 days. The route was Bangalore-Mangalore-Bantwal-Belthangadi-Udupi-Manipal-Mandarti-Shimoga-Haveri-Hubli-Chitradurga-Bangalore (more on this in the future). We returned with a contact list of artists, a bunch of stories and lots of footage of interviews, rituals, performances, songs, etc. but still quite far away from setting up the platform.
After a few weeks, I met Sumitra. Shilpa had already met her a few times and had started the discussion on what she wanted to do. Seeing that they both shared the same vision, they decided to work together. Having been involved from the start and slowly beginning to get a grip on things in this new line of work, I also decided to join them and together we started Urban Folk Project. Sumitra is an art historian, curator and has been involved with the arts for all her working life. She envisioned a plan that would not only help us build this platform but would ensure a lifetime of work travelling to research, archive, document and experiment with folk art
Now, about 18 months after we first started to ideate and conceptualize Urban Folk Project, our vision has become clear. We have a plan, a plan to seek out forgotten and dying folk art forms, document them, create a repository of all the footage for use by the common public and finally to experiment with these forms. We have started with a particular folk form that is a culmination of a few different art forms from the North Karnataka region. We are excited to share our findings.
Stay tuned for stories about our travels, finding artists, work that is underway and feel free to contact us on email@example.com for more information or to support and/or join us in our endeavour!
We are out in a country which has no language, no laws.
What we do is pure invention.
The maps they gave us are out of date by years.
-Adrianne Rich in “Dreams of a common language”
Written by Adithya Kothakota