Panchgani, the beautiful little hill station on the Southern ranges of Maharashtra, is home to a world of art rejuvenation, creation, and preservation, and a haven for Adivasi artisans and craftsmen, otherwise known as the Devrai Art Project. Founded in 2008 by Mandakini Mathur, 57, the platform came into being when Suresh Pungati, a highly respected Adivasi artist from the Madia tribe reached out to Mathur. He is known for his unparalleled enthusiasm for uplifting other adivasi artists by providing them with gainful employment. His work has earned him ‘The Adivasi Sevak Puruskar’ by the state government. He approached Mathur with 5 Adivasi artists in tow and set the foundation for what would soon grow to be a highly successful collaboration.
The Devrai Art Project (DAV) works on multiple verticals simultaneously, and it’s exactly this quality that sets them apart from other similar spaces. Their belief in carving out opportunities to facilitate the livelihoods of the community as opposed to simply doing charity work has enabled scores of young men and women to build a life of their own outside of the deadly clutches of their hometowns that, more often than not, are areas with a strong Naxalite presence. If not for the DAV, most of these young men would have been inevitably pulled into the crossfire between the state and the militants. Pungati himself hails from the Naxalite affected region of Gadchiroli in northern Maharashtra. Making an honest effort to relieve the Adivasis of violence, poverty, and blatant prejudice, the DAV seeks out resources that help them forge links and connections with the outside art world and eventually enable them to sustain a living. They’re put in contact with design schools that further propagate their work and help them secure business opportunities and lucrative collaboration with like minded artists throughout the country. The skilled Adivasi artisans are also encouraged to directly interact with customers, which helps them get a better understanding of exactly where their products end up, and in the process gain valuable insight in the marketing and logistics side of the work they do.
The Project has a thriving training centre where they take young men and women under their wing as apprentices and interns. This is partly to make sure the heritage of their indigenous art stays alive through the younger generation, and partly because these very young people are often the target of insurgent groups that recruit them into their ranks, and routinely risk their lives in the line of fire.
The Devrai Art Project places strong emphasis on nature and its various influences on art and the products they create. They strive to explore the relationship of indigenous art with nature, where nature isn’t just a backdrop to their work but a tangible element that is also a source of inspiration. Even the materials majorly used in their products are earthy and easily available like wood, brass, stone, bamboo, and fabric. However, they aim to create art that has a modern, universal appeal while still being rooted in culture and tradition. They hope to revive lost ancient art and crafts techniques and then use them to create a finished product that could easily find a place in contemporary Indian home decor.
Finding inspiration in an old tree of Ficus Glomerata (Umbar), the Devrai Art Project strives to embody its nature in a way that encompasses all their different goals to give a clearer insight into the world of these skilled Adivasi artists. In their own words, “In the true spirit of a ‘Devrai’ or a sacred grove we are trying to nurture a variety of plants , shrubs and creepers so that it offers a glimpse into a way of being where the man nature connect is not severed under the onslaught of modernism.”
If you want to visit the village or contribute to the project, visit their website.
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