Monday, November 8, 2010

Rocks and Roses: Medha Prabhakar’s Wall at Sandarbh

(Medha Prabhakar at work)

Walls and flowers attract Medha Prabhakar. In the beginning it was flowers, history of flower markets. Then she realized while working in a public project in Bangalore that the flower markets have a history of colonial divide. The flower farmers and workers were demarcated from the mainstream society through the creation of ‘walls’ that divide their locality from the main one. Medha saw this in Goa too.

(The Wall)

While in Luhari Village, as a participant of Sandarbh Nature Art Workshop, Medha has not expected to see something similar to her former experiences of walls. While walking around she comes to see a stone wall running through the forest land. Enquiries reveal that this wall was made by the Portuguese who once occupied this land. Maratha kings supported Portuguese to establish their colony in Silvaasa. They wanted the South Gujarat chieftains to be away from this land. The walls were made to demarcate the Portuguese land and in the process the villages also got pushed to the fringes.

(Medha decorates the walls with flowers)

To commemorate the lives of the poor souls who are pushed around always by the colonizing powers, Medha decides to adore this wall with flowers. She finds that some yellow flowers are used by the locals for decorating their hairs, idols and homes. She collects those flowers and with the help of the friends in the camp decorates the wall in all its length.

(Pari Baishya performing on the wall)

This act of decoration is supremely temporary. A wind can blow it away, sun can dry it up, rain can wash it out and the cattle can eat it away. Before things like that happen, Pari Baishya, a young volunteer artist comes forward to do a performance on this decorated wall. She decks herself as a ‘pari’ (a forest angel) with the borrowed clothes from a girl in the neighborhood and she walks along the wall, singing songs and acting out spontaneously. For Medha, the wall decoration and the act of Pari together emphasize a tribute to the times that had divided people and land through the making of walls.

(One final look)

Medha moves on to a field near by. The harvest season is just over. The fields are empty with the half dried stubs of paddy sticking out of it like the rough hairs on a man’s face. She sees some villagers stacking the hay for further use as a cattle fodder and manure. These hay stacks give an identity to the agrarian villages. Medha attempts to make one for her but with a different purpose.

(Medha making a phallic hay stack)

She goes around the village. People are reluctant. Medha pleads with them and some relents. She gets enough hay to build her stack. She wants it to be a phallic structure, showing the might of the earth. And she wants to see it as a condom also. Hence she gets some hay weaved like a ball and she fits it on the top of the stack. She puts a pot too up there.

 (Getting some help)

Hay stack with no ‘life’ purpose is not a stack worth respecting: that is the attitude of the villagers. They have seen Medha making it and they know for sure that she is not going to use it. So they wait for their chance. When Medha comes back on the next day to refurbish her phallic stack, she finds several things missing from it. The woven hay and the pot are missing.

(Villagers come forward to help the artist)

Medha brings it again and fits them to the stack. Documents it. And takes a last look at it. Yes, next day the whole stack is gone. People do not want ‘art’ which do not excite them. They want their stuff back. When they are not allowed to touch anything, they pilfer it. That is history.

(Stands alone)

While I appreciate the Wall work of Medha, I don’t quite understand why she calls this hay stack work, phallic. The critical association of phallic as the symbol of aggression and imbalanced power distribution does not quite work well in a village situation like this where people still struggle to make their ends meet. And the phallus of the encroachers? How can one associate that with a hay stack; it should be rock/steel strong.

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