We are excited to know about the highlights of Kaafila!
Arshiya Mahajan: It is the third edition of this student-led fest, which was held from 15th to 17th October. Based on the theme of “freedom”, the festival aimed to explore the possibilities of collaborative work beyond geographical limitations and present artistic works that have crossed defined boundaries. Padma Shri Gulabo Sapera (legendary Kalbeliya dance artist), celebrated actor Kumud Mishra, and origami artist Ricardo Andrés Hinojosa from Mexico – who creates papercraft based on Islamic architectural patterns – graced the event to interact with and encourage the students to pursue their artistic passions.
Beyond sharing many interesting facts about Kalbeliya, Gulabo ji spoke about her trials as a girl child and later, as a female performer, which led her to build up her own inspiring career. Kumudji talked about the importance of training and honing the craft of acting, and also about some of his escapades as a young boy. Contemporary dancer Bertwin D’Souza led a fantastic dance workshop, while academic Aadya Kaktikar and founder of Global Music Institute Aditya Balani talked about the possibilities of careers in Dance and Music, respectively. The team from Uravu Bamboo Craft Institute in Kerala shared the importance of bamboo from an ecological perspective as well as gave demonstrations of how bamboo is crafted into works of art, while musicians from Meghalaya performed an impressive lecture on Khasi Music and its instruments.
How challenging was launching a seven-day Kaafila bringing together school students and maestros?
Kalyaani Manoj: This was a 3-day festival, from October 15 – 17 though the Collab Lab began on the 9th of October. We had clearly defined teams working on different aspects, which certainly helped. We had some difficulty working on the virtual interface and accessing links but we worked regularly and consistently to ensure that these wrinkles were ironed out. What really helped was having our tasks carved out and having a dedicated team of volunteers handling each area of work. Also, we started ideating and planning for the virtual event in June, which helped us to anticipate many difficulties and handle them without panicking.
How were the competitive events accomplished virtually?
Kalyaani: We invited schools to send in their entries up to 10 days prior to the event and shared their images/videos with our judges, giving them 3-4 days to review and award marks. We also uploaded their works on our websites and invited their peers to vote for their favourite works. Interestingly, there were no differences between the judges’ scores and the final scores, even though up to 30% of the final score came from peer voting.
The online exhibition platform has given chances to many who used to struggle to be part of gallery shows.
Is the virtual footfall of art enthusiasts dwindling or is it expected to increase over the months?
Arshiya: The virtual footfall of art enthusiasts is not dwindling, but it is somewhat erratic and unpredictable. We find that art in the digital space is consumed in different ways. The consumer of art is no longer held captive in time and space, and the tendency seems to be to prefer to return to something time and again rather than consume it in one go. This has been our experience with Kaafila, where we have found that our events have been enjoyed in large numbers and viewership has increased by leaps and bounds over a couple of days. So it is possible to conclude that enthusiasm for art remains constant, but how art is experienced has changed.
How far has the artist community adjusted to the changes in the medium of presenting art during COVID?
Shantav Garg: Experiencing a work of art physically is a great experience, nothing can compare to that. Initially artists were struggling during this difficult times but right now they are looking at the possibilities of this situation. Earlier, an exhibition was possible only through a reputed gallery, but the current situation has opened up new possibilities. There are a lot of online platforms and artists who are very active in conducting shows, talks, etc. Language and distance are no longer barriers. The online exhibition platform has given chances to many who used to struggle to be part of gallery shows. As per our understanding, it has been both positive and negative. Negative for the galleries, in particular, as their business is at risk, however on a positive note artists have finally got an opportunity to showcase their artworks to a bigger audience through social media and dealing with their audiences directly. Many artists are now leading art shows and helping those who hardly get to showcase. And the most interesting of all is that many galleries are now collaborating with the artists where artists are leading the event and, in a way, giving the gallery a platform. It’s a kind of role reversal.
Considering the challenges young artists are facing, how can Indian educational institutions come together to provide resources?
Kalyaani: Young artists will primarily be challenged by the lack of resources and lack of opportunities for performance. Having said that, spaces for performance/sharing have changed in the urban areas, not entirely closed during this year. Artists have changed the way they interact with their viewers/audiences and pushed the boundaries offered by the digital space. In rural spaces, traditional means of earning have shut down this year. Performers of traditional music, dance, storytelling, theatre, puppetry have all found themselves without means of earning. This year, schools should make a strong pitch to reach out to such artists and arrange shows and workshops for their students which feature traditional artists. That would not only ensure that these artists find a way to survive, it would also open up their world to urban students whose horizons are typically very limited.
What is the significance of virtual space in helping the students amidst pandemic and anxiety-inducing virtual classes?
Navya Agarwal: The virtual space in these times has been anxiety-inducing because it is a space where the learning transaction is held. In the case of board classes, or in others, too, during exams, this has been stressful, since the warmth and possibilities of human engagement are missing, and the pressure of delivering results remains. However, the same space can be transformed when viewed through the lens of artists. Art is both personal and can engage a community. So we find a spurt of art and artistic interpretations being shared over Instagram, for instance. Students have been using image and video sharing apps to create and share their works of art. There are a plethora of digital tools, such as Canva or Smule, or the ubiquitous YouTube, which allow them to create and share their art with their peers, As a result, the nature of interactions has changed. Young people on these platforms are cheering each other on, finding and building communities in the virtual space based on their passions.
A young boy from Delhi Public School had gathered a hundred music-loving peers from across NCR schools to put together a musical mashup of ‘I Want it That Way’ and ‘Dancing Queen’, which we featured on our festival website. We sent out invitations to people to contribute to Songs for Freedom in any language of their choice, and received several entries from young people. They also showed interest in creating and sharing visual artwork, and dramatic monologues in non-competitive formats.
Some events for young people coming up are RangaShankara’s online festival, Prithvi Theatre’s festival, ThinkArts Kolkata’s Engage festival – which is also a space for adults who work with children to engage in dialogue and workshops. I hope many young people participate in and enjoy these festivals.
Please pen a message for our readers and school heads encouraging them to turn towards art and cultural activities through the virtual platform.
Shantav: Kaafila was a great experience for us, the team of students working for it, and also for all those who participated in the various events. It was an opportunity for us to collaborate through the Arts, and, most importantly, it was a student-led event. The virtual world paves the way for art to prevail. Online mass sharing platforms allow for voices to reach all around the world. Swaying symphonies, vivid paintings, sensational dramas, the ways to express oneself are endless.
Performers of traditional music, dance, storytelling, theatre, puppetry have all found themselves without means of earning. This year, schools should make a strong pitch to reach out to such artists and arrange shows and workshops for their students which feature traditional artists.
The virtual world connects the whole globe in just a matter of seconds, an intricate tapestry of connections bringing together people around the world. It allows us to meet new people from the other end of the world and gives exposure to new thoughts which allow us to build relationships and make friends. COVID has provided us with an opportunity to connect with the rest of the world through virtual space. What better way to do that than through the Arts? Not only does the virtual world allow us to express ourselves, but it brings along with it countless learning opportunities. It is a great way to help build self-esteem and find self-expression. So please do engage, and encourage others to come out and share their art!
[Inputs by: Arshiya Mahajan, Grade 11, Shiv Nadar School, Noida; Kalyaani Manoj, Grade 11; Navya Agarwal, Grade 11; Shantav Garg, Grade 12]