Vishal Diwaker, 14, is no stranger to the Ramlila ground in Gurgaon’s Kanhai village. Every morning, before he helps his father set up his ironing shop, he goes for a run in the park. On Friday evening, however, Diwaker was at the park for a different reason.
“Gurgaon mein kaafi badlav aaya hai. Pehlay yahan bohot kheti hoti thi. Ab aapko sirf buildings hi dikhengi (There has been a lot of change in Gurgaon. Earlier, there used to be a lot of farming here, now you’ll just see buildings),” said Diwaker, one of the 12 artists participating at the two-day ‘Growing Gurgaon’ Community Art festival. As Diwaker explained his artwork, a crowd tried to make their way into a small hexagonal room made of plywood. Diwaker gently told them with a smile, “There are large mirrors inside. It might break.”
When a visitor asked Diwaker to step inside along with her to explain his idea, the teenager, reluctantly yet smiling, went along. Once inside, he spoke about Gurgaon’s growing urbanisation with conviction: “There are paintings on three alternating walls and mirrors on three others.” Pointing towards the one on his right, he said, “This side shows a farmer with his land. The second painting shows the zamindar taking the money.And this one in front of you, is what Gurgaon will become.”
The painting showed high-rises soaring in the dark and gloomy sky. Two human figures at the bottom-half of the 6ft-long painting seemed to be coughing. “The mirror acts like an instrument in bringing together these three phases of the transition,” he explained, for the umpteenth time that day.
Underprivileged youth from Kanhai village used art as a medium to express their thoughts on the urban realities and the problems in their community. “Through my project, I want to make people more aware of what we are heading towards. I want to ask people to stop razing the agricultural lands for commercial purposes,” said Diwaker.
When asked about his favourite project, Diwaker was quick to point towards a wire-mesh cow structure filled with plastic bags. The artist behind this installation, Kishan Sahu, 18, conceptualised the project when he saw stray cows in his area feeding on plastic bags.
“It shows a huge difference in how these cows are treated in villages and in cities. Eventually, the milk they give will not be very beneficial,” Sahu informed a crowd of over 100 people attending the festival. “To research more on the issue, I decided to follow a distinct-looking cow for a couple of days and see what she feeds on,” Sahu explained to one of the visitors. “You will be surprised to know that the cow takes the same route every day. She recognises the houses that give her roti.”
Curator of the art festival Swati Janu said this is the first time artists from within the community have taken up the mantle to share their message via art. “Pitching their own ideas and working on it made the kids take ownership over the project. They also did their own research and analysis before channelising their ideas,” she said.
Janu and art facilitator Friederike Thonke worked with the kids and their ideas for four months, helping them express their concerns. “We tried critical approach to art which had some social and political message. We had a kid who wanted to do something on security guards in the area. So he accompanied a guard on his duty for a night,” said Thonke.
Gurgaon’s growing unorganised security sector has been an integral part of the lives of the residents. As a part of their project, the artists – Sahil and Sanjeet – constructed a guard room with a clock showing the guard’s activities all through the day. Guests were invited to sit in the guard’s plastic chair, hold the baton and see the world through the small cubicle. “My idea started when I saw a guard who was working honestly but his supervisor was shouting at him. So, I decided to do this project to give respect to the guard,” Sahil said.
The festival was organised by Udaan, an NGO focused on imparting formal art education to underprivileged children. The young artists at the festival have all been associated with the NGO since its inception in 2012. “Art is like a breathing space for children. A medium of expression,” said Shikha Agarwal, Udaan’s founder. “It leaves a lasting impact on the child’s behaviour and that’s why we thought of coming up with this project where the children could express themselves through art,” she explained, adding that the projects have boosted a sense of confidence among the children.
As the sun faded, the children could be seen explaining their projects on stress management, water-supply woes, dried-up lakes, ‘visual pollution’, shrinking playgrounds and the plastic menace. “We can try using cloth-made bags instead of plastic bags since they clog the soil and cause pollution,” said a young Reema, whose project ‘Plastic in our Life’ was made with the help of two other friends. The trio put up an installation of a tree made using plastic bottles. “We need to choose if we need plastic trees or real trees. I request people to stop using plastic,” Sapna said as the community members cheered.
Arti Jaiman, founder of community radio show Gurgaon ki Awaaz, invited these kids on her show to talk about their projects. “It is great that the kids are talking about plastic bottles and lakes. They are making the elders think and talk about it through their projects,” she said at the festival. “Since the Gurgaon municipal elections are just 10 days away, these issues can be a good way for us elect the leader who would care about these parks and lakes.”
As the event came to an end, the children returned home satisfied. “When I went to speak to farmers about their land, I was worried they won’t talk to me. But I learnt during this project that if one asked questions fearlessly and politely, they would always get a response,” a now wisened Diwaker said, before leaving to ensure that the mirrors were safely transported to the next location.