“Art for art’s sake” is a slogan we often hear that is raised in defiance of those who think the value of art is to serve for some moral or social purpose. But today, fine art has become such a commercial venture that it is hard to find anyone who uses art for social causes. Art fairs and festivals bring together art connoisseurs and artists and millions worth of artworks are sold both online and in galleries.
In such a situation, I was surprised to find an artist and a voluntary organisation totally dedicated to the cause of art for social activism. However, to what extent can anyone take this “art for social causes” thing? How about getting into a coffin and be buried… That is exactly what a young artist in Pune did!
Shweta Bhattad is a young artist based in Nagpur who graduated from the MS University of Baroda with a masters in sculpture. She participated in a two-week long art exchange program hosted by “Khoj International Art Residency” and “Good Artists of Pune” in Pune. Around 20 Artists from India and abroad, participated in the event, which was all about art exchange and discussions about different art practices. On the ultimate day on 1 March 2015, participating artists displayed their art works in TIFA building.
Over the last three years, Shweta Bhattad has been working with farmers and villagers through a community art project named “Farmers Haat“. This project brings together likeminded people who are concerned about poor Indian farmers and ensure that they have direct interactions with them. These likeminded people are students from medical and engineering colleges, working professionals from NGOs, individuals, and artists who believe in the concept of working with farmers in their own ways.
Farmers Haat proposes to directly connect farmers with consumers to sell their produce. The basic idea was that if concerned people working in fragments can come together on a single platform and initiate “Farmers Haat”, then there can be a sustainable farmers market, where farmers come together interact and connect directly to consumers. Shweta Bhattad brought together likeminded people in such a place where artists can paint-sculpt-perform, musicians play music and people from different fields contribute in their own ways, so that it became a vibrant and sustainable community space.
Under the Farmers Haat banner, Shweta performed this daring act of being buried underground in a coffin in order to highlight the present dire situation faced by Indian farmers. Dressed in pure white saree, she was buried in a wooden coffin 2 feet underground for three hours, where she wrote continuously writing ‘Vishwas’ (faith).
Her act was with the belief that if a few of us are concerned and sensitive about social issues and if “we” come together, discuss, decide and act, then we can change such situations for better. For those who are concerned about Shweta being buried alive, she was continuously under CCTV observation by a doctor, who was helping her with a small air inlet through an oxygen cylinder.
Shweta Bhattad’s daring act has surely brought the issue exploitation of marginal farmers and has awakened us urbanites to realise the food we eat is grown by them under dire conditions. Due to this awareness campaign, there are groups of people in Pune, who wants to take this idea further and initiate weekly “Farmers Haat” to sell organic food.
Shweta is also involved in another art initiative “Gram Art Project”, which invites artists, and working professionals to join in a movement for rural life improvement upliftment of the underprivileged. It is currently working on open defecation & eco sanitation.
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