It seems unreal – the wall mural has been a fantastic milestone in my art journey of more than 10 years; learning, teaching, and experimenting with Warli as a traditional as well as a contemporary art style. Going from paper to canvas to wood to a wall of this scale seems like a dream! A wonderful, exhilarating experience with my partner-in-crime, Ramya. This mural depicting the history of Durham, using a tribal art style from India has been a true community-driven activity. The support and encouragement by all – family, friends, well-wishers and passers-by – made us feel greatly appreciated. The 10 days just flew by!!

Pic courtesy – Anisha Kumawat, The Picture Lady

My previous three-part blog post talks about the 10 days at the wall –

Once we finished the mural, the amount of historical and contemporary details that we were able to include in the mural, sparked in us a need to document the entire process. Additional interactive activities like a scavenger hunt could also be played by children. So, Downtown Durham Inc (DDI), the non-profit that awarded us the grant to paint the mural, agreed to host a website to house all this information.

That site is – https://downtowndurham.com/warli/! Please do read up about the process of going from the historical pictures to the actual wall renderings plus a fun scavenger hunt!

We were so excited when DDI also proposed to put up a wall plaque with a QR code pointing to this URL, to help vistors of the mural to read up on the background and information onsite!

The plaque with the QR code – pack a picnic basket and play the scavenger hunt with friends and family today!!

Keeping the pandemic rules in mind, there also was a great virtual opening of the wall mural on Wednesday, October 28th at 5:30 pm! Along with our family and Connor Nielsen from DDI, we were so excited to see all the employees of Lexitas attend it. They truly felt like family too. We were super thrilled to have Nicole J. Thompson, President/CEO of DDI check out our wall that evening too!

Nicole, and Connor (from DDI)!

We greatly appreciate the initiative of Anisha Kumawat, a local photographer who runs a photo business The Picture Lady, offer to take pictures of us and the wall on the day of the opening – https://thepicturelady19.pixieset.com/durhamwarlimuralwallinauguration/

We surely appreciate the support of Shilpa Govind, a local entrepreneur-turned-friend, who runs a platform called Localista that promotes local businesses, highlight our mural painting effort just when we were starting our endeavor. Here is that FB interview – https://www.facebook.com/719028738/videos/10158312837158739/

We were doubly fortunate to have her come to the mural wall and interview us on the opening day as well. Here is that interview – https://www.facebook.com/719028738/videos/10158876377738739/

With all the support of so many people, starting from DDI, our spouses, family, friends and well-wishers, we hope this Durham wall mural continues to provide joy to all those who view it. It surely did provide us a lot of joy and happiness.

Our families

Yours truly,

Sampada Kodagali Agarwal and Ramya S. Kapadia.

Day 7: Friday, September 25th

And that’s when our luck with the weather ran out. Heavy, plus intermittent rains pretty much washed out our working day for Friday, September 25th. After 4 days of non-stop work (around 8-10 hours per day), maybe we were meant to take a break. Regardless, each of us had other commitments to work on. So we stopped fretting about the rain and took the day off from the mural.

When we came back on Saturday, September 26th, to a rain-soaked wall, we were happy to see the paint intact; though a bit worried about the lost day and the deadline for the return of the boom lift that was looming large. So the weekend was the only time left for us to pull a Hail Mary!

Day 8: Saturday, September 26th:

This was our day of superlatives – our longest day at the wall, the most uneven terrain that we drove the lift onto, the highest that we had to lift ourselves off the ground, the farthest out that we had to swing and the steadiest we had to be to counteract the cantilever effect while making the multitude of straight lines that made up Urban Durham! All of my pre-planning and chalking came in really handy, for we were able to work nonstop for several hours at a stretch. Since it was the weekend, we also had the most number of visitors and passerby.

The rains from the previous day had made the stretch of grass even more squishy and uneven. The ABL had to be constantly maneuvered to get on stable ground – without which it wouldn’t even operate!

After the Duke Chapel, the birds in progress!

Next, we tackled the sun -that took us to the highest part of the wall!

The view from the top was absolutely amazing! We could even see the top of the roof of the building we were painting!

The sun, once done, somehow seemed to energize us even more – it brought both halves of the mural together, shining down on Durham over the years, decades and centuries! A true witness to the evolution and growth of this city, from a rural community to a bustling, all-inclusive, urban community!

End of day, Saturday, September 25th – view from the parking deck

At the end of a long and fruitful day, we all ready for another long day at the wall on Sunday.

Day 9: Sunday, September 27th

Sunday started with a bit of a story – to our dismay, our ABL was sprayed with the contents of the fire retardant that was hooked onto the platform. Someone thought up this harmless, yet senseless activity. We called the police just to report this act – after all, we were responsible for this big piece of machinery.

After that little bit of needless excitement and detour from our planning for the day, we were back on the platform raised up against the wall, ready to tackle the rest of the motifs and finish the mural! There were a number of gaps that needed to be filled – for which we needed a lot of imagination!

This was really one of our most imaginative days – the people and the activities were the heart of the mural. Just drawing buildings and landmarks was not enough. Including the every-day activities of the Durham resident was one of the key elements of the mural.

When working on the hospital, we included a medical helicopter, a person in a wheelchair, EMS personnel, even a police car! It was a nod from us to all those frontline workers who help make the community so safe and robust.

Duke Hospital scene – all kinds of details captured!

This vignette has the Duke Chapel – a historic landmark of Durham- that plays host to new graduates, newly married couples, over-stressed students studying with a laptop on the steps of the chapel, etc! Higher education including research found a place on the wall as well!

The Coronavirus vaccine research also made its place on the wall! And, rightfully so!

Under the hospital, we also included the Durham Public Library, a beautiful open planned, modern building with stacks and shelves full of books, that welcomes all seekers of knowledge – young and old! Under the library is a square Warli motif that is typically rendered to highlight their god. In keeping with Durham’s endeavors towards quest for knowledge, we used an open book bursting with ideas as the central icon in the square motif – thus, highlighting Durham as the cradle for education and curiosity. There is also a pregnant mother working on her computer from home, while her girl child is taking online classes on her laptop – a current situation that we are all in, owing to the pandemic.

We were on a roll – so many ideas captured in this one fragment of the mural!

As the day drew to a close, the waters of Lake Jordan beckoned! We willed to finish that task before we left for the day – even with all the time pressures, we thoroughly enjoyed the process of coming up with ideas and rendering them on the spot!

The endless strokes needed for the waters of Lake Jordan took us to a late night wrap!
End of day work from Sunday, September 27th

Day 10: Monday, September 28th

The final day dawned bright and clear! A perfect day for us to finish off the mural as well as spray varnish over it. The boom lift was supposed to be picked up by noon that day, but thankfully, United Rentals could pick it up only the next morning. We heaved a sigh of big relief – it meant we had a whole day to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and finally finish it off with a spray varnish.

Covering the entire wall with varnish without the ABL would have been an impossible task!

A final goodbye to our wonderful helper, the 4-WD 45-ft ABL!

And here is the final rendering!! So happy to see it all come together – we really have a number of people to thank for helping us make our vision a reality.

All done! Day 10, Monday, September 28th

A final picture – we both look tired, but exhilarated by our 10-day long effort!

Girl power!! Only possible because of the full and unconditional support of our spouses!!

Done and dusted!

Panoramic picture of the full wall!

More in the next, final blog.

Yours truly,

Sampada Kodagali Agarwal and Ramya S. Kapadia.

Now that we had the ABL, a wonderful piece of machinery that would help us reach every part of the wall, we were all excited and pumped up! Also, it was rented for a week, so the clock was already ticking!

Day 4: Tuesday, September 22nd

Tuesday dawned clear and sunny – the target was for us to continue and complete the ‘Tree of Life’ by lunchtime – which we did!

Tree of Life

Now that we had tackled the tree, we decided to complete the leftmost corner of the wall, which depicts the story of the indigenous people and their related activities of the 1700s.

The 1700s and related activities of the indigenous people

We were quite pleased with the flora and fauna that we added. Plus the huts, pine trees (again, a motif that is not part of the traditional Warli imagery, since there are no pine trees in the western part of India), canoe-making and a hunter added to the story of these early dwellers.

Next, we decided to add details about the cotton plantations – an industry that was prevalent in the area in the early 1800s. Again, I had to reimagine the cotton plant, a cotton field and cotton picking – Warli tribes cultivate rice and so they depict paddy fields in their artwork, and not cotton.

Cotton fields on the left of the tree

All this work brought us to the end of the day. Our mural looked so good to us in the waning sunlight!

End of day, Tuesday, September 22nd

Day 5: Wednesday, September 23rd

The weather continued to support us on Wednesday, as well! We were quite energized and had a plan for the day – today was the day when we were going to paint the spiral dance motif – the Tarpa dance – a quintessential motif that everyone identifies with Warli! Easier said than done, though! The spiral figure motif is notoriously difficult to draw even on paper; painting it on a wall was a whole different story! The entire morning was spent in making the sketch of the spiral look even. The boom lift was constantly moved back and forth, up and down – Ramya had that part under control. I was in charge of making the preliminary sketch.

Contemplating on the size/shape/location of the spiral

Finally, the painting of the Tarpa spiral began!

Finally, we begin painting the spiral of people holding hands and dancing!
Making good progress!
Almost done…

We had to wear a harness all day long – a requirement when one is off the ground in the boom lift – quite a heavy contraption that took some getting used to. We used to be glad to take it off by the end of the day.

All done with the spiral, a symbol of community support!

When we had time or paint left to spare, we would paint this line of stones at the bottom of the mural – it helped anchor the mural as well as help us fill the wall. As mentioned earlier, the boom lift was rented just for a week, so each moment of each day was filled with some task to finish.

Ended Day 5 painting on terra firma!

Day 6: Thursday, September 24th

Now that we had the two main motifs, the Tree of Life and the Tarpa Dance Spiral, completed, we were fairly comfortable maneuvering the boom lift and figured out its capabilities. So on Thursday, September 24th, we decided to work on the rightmost corner of the wall – this part was the farthest from the ground, since the terrain dipped quite a bit towards the sidewalk/road. The plan for that area of the wall was to depict the current day Durham, a dynamic, urban metro. So we got ready to paint just that!

Work done until lunch time!

Except, the day was overcast and it started drizzling a little later in the day. Keeping our time constraints in mind, we continued regardless. We were able to add a number of motifs from the Durham area – the Central Market, people practicing yoga under the shelter, the baseball field, the bridge over highway 147 and of course, the Durham skyline! We tried to cover as much of what the current urban, full of vitality downtown area of Durham.

By the end of the day, we had completed a sizeable section of today’s Durham.

End of day, Thursday, September 24th

More in the next blog.

Yours truly,

Sampada Kodagali Agarwal and Ramya S. Kapadia.

2020 has definitely been a year to remember – for more reasons than one! When we got the go-ahead back in March to paint the wall mural in Durham, little did we know that it would get delayed so much. Nor did we know that we would engage with the community via social media – by offering free online basic workshops in the Warli style of art, an indigenous tribal art from the state of Maharashtra in India.

When we resumed our discussions on painting the mural in August, a change of wall location happened. The new wall was beautiful and had a great location, except – it was big and high! Ladders were tried – to no avail. The ground was not level. Scaffolding was explored – it was a bit restrictive. So, finally, we turned to using a boom lift. Keeping the terrain in mind, an articulated, 4WD MEWP (Mobile Elevated Working Platform) was recommended! Except, there was a hitch – you can’t just rent one out. An operator of this rig needs to be licensed. And justifiably so.

An aerial articulated boom lift

Yes, this piece of heavy equipment requires a formal certification – so that is precisely what we embarked on. The ‘Aerial Boom Lift 3B Operator Certification’ to be precise! After poring over 10 long chapters (well, it was online, so a proverbial poring :)) followed by a theory exam, that we both passed, we headed out for the hands-on training on Friday, September 18th 2020.

Training with Mike from United Rentals in Durham

That was the first time we realized what we had gotten ourselves into! In a good way! We were hoping to get the boom lift rented out the same day, but of course, it was not possible at such short notice. So the ABL was scheduled for delivery on Monday, September 21st.

Day 1: Saturday, Sept 19th: Since we had the weekend on hand, and no boom lift, we decided to start our mural from the ground level. Starting from the left most end, which was depicted the Durham of early 1700s, we worked for a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday.

An anthill in progress!

The mandatory selfie at the end of the first day!
End of Saturday, Sept 19th 2020

Day 2: Sunday, September 20th: Once we had a few hours of work put in, we got a bit comfortable over the day with the wall and the paint. The forest and vegetation of the early 1700s started shaping up, with the various trees and animals (deer, in particular).

The forest of the early 1700s

I already had an overall layout of the mural in mind – all events would be depicted chronologically from left to right and so started with the base of the ‘Tree of Life’!

The roots of the ‘Tree of Life’ done

I was especially pleased with the roots and how they (sneakily) spelled out the word ‘Durham’! Little did we know that this idea would really become a rage and a wonderful photo-op spot for visitors!

End of day, Sunday, Sept 20th 2020

Day 3: Monday, September 21st: Monday dawned beautiful and clear! We continued our work on the wall in the morning since the ABL was scheduled for delivery around noon. We were so excited!! Especially since that would allow us access to all parts of the wall!

And there it was!!

It was wonderful seeing the ABL make its way on the 18-wheeler flatbed truck and then find its way down along the wall!

We were all excited about getting onto the platform and eager to start painting the Warli motifs in areas where we couldn’t reach earlier. But first things first – since I anyway had a chalk handy, we had to make the ‘shree’ symbol on our ABL! For auspicious beginnings and trouble free endings!

SHREE – for auspicious beginnings and trouble free endings

The stage was set – our picnic blanket was out and we were ready for lunch (we figured the best way to tackle a big machine for the first time was with a full stomach :)) before starting to use the boom lift.

A picnic lunch before our first use of the ABL

The boom lift was truly an answer to our prayers – Ramya took to the helm and operated it magnificently, while I, chalk in hand, worked on the basic template of the ‘Tree of Life’ – one of the central motifs on the wall. Since the Durham and NC area is known for the oak trees, we decided to use the oak leaf on this main tree. This was unknown territory – oak trees are not part of the Warli vocabulary since there are no oak trees in India, but our combined enthusiasm was infectious! This mural was a wonderful opportunity to depict Durham and its history, so all traditional Warli motifs had to be reimagined.

The ‘Tree of Life’ taking shape!

Our partnership was made in heaven – each of us bringing such joy to the task – time simply flew! And the tree started to take shape. A part of the grist mill got added to the wall, as well!

Work done by end of day, Monday, September 21st

Signing off for now. Hope you join us for the next part.. 🙂

Yours truly,

Sampada Kodagali Agarwal and Ramya S. Kapadia.

My art in Chapel Hill!

I have been really fortunate to have had this opportunity to display my art on the window of a wonderful eating place in Chapel Hill – Que Chula – housed on the popular Franklin Street, thanks to Downtown Windows – an exciting art initiative, by the Community Arts & Culture, a division of the Town of Chapel Hill, whose mission is to inspire creativity and celebrate community for a better Chapel Hill.

Shakti – The Power Within! by Sampada Kodagali Agarwal

I was thrilled when Steve Wright, the Public Art Coordinator, reached out to me back in April to see if I was interested in displaying my art. I was interested, of course – more so, because the reason for this initiative – aimed to revitalize our community with public art that expresses positivity, diversity, inclusivity, and community as Chapel Hill was beginning its recovery from the Coronavirus crisis, resonated with me.

The project got delayed though, since the infection numbers kept rising and more precautions were needed to keep the numbers down. When Steve contacted me again in June, I was more than happy to see the project get traction.

What a joy to see this in person!

The art that I had submitted and got accepted merged the East and the West plus fit in nicely with the need for the design to be bright, uplifting, and positive. The art depicts the Goddess Durga, in bright warm colors of red, orange and yellow. Devi Durga is considered as the feminine epitome of strength. She is considered as a divine potency responsible for keeping this material world in order and decorum.

The words “Still I Rise” seemed apt for this artwork – Maya Angelou’s words still seem so relevant. The fact that she has such close ties to North Carolina was an added connection. “Still I Rise” is primarily about self-respect and confidence. In the poem, Angelou reveals how she will overcome anything through her self-esteem and shows how nothing can get her down. She will rise to any occasion and nothing, not even her skin color, will hold her back.

Working with Erin Jobe, the Special Events Coordinator, was a real pleasure. Once I provided the art scaled to the size of the window of the eating establishment chosen for my artwork, everything – getting the art printed to installing it, was handled seamlessly by Erin. I was pleasantly surprised to see my art on this news coverage on television as well!

Seeing my art in person on that scale and on Franklin Street seemed like a dream come true! I can’t thank Steve and Erin enough for the wonderful opportunity – it was a pleasure working with them. Plus the food and ambiance at the outdoor food area at Que Chula was the cherry on top!

A beautiful summer evening at Que Chula!

Do check out my art as well as some fantastic work done by fellow artists whose work is also on display on the windows of different businesses and visit (safely) the locations around town for yourself!

Home is where the heart is by Gina Franco
IYKYK by Cindy Carver
Slay Today America by Charlie Dupee
Stronger Together by Lauren Pease

When this all started back in March 2020, little did I know that we all will still be dealing with this pandemic in August. Five months of being cooped up at home and there still seems to be no end to this isolated living. Life seems to have suddenly changed. Well, you know what they say about change – that it is the only constant in life.

I had planned to offer a couple of in-person weekend workshops in March at my home studio. Well, needless to say, because of the ongoing health crisis, those plans had to be shelved. Though, I must say, geographical distances seem to be of no relevance anymore. I have surely got ample opportunities to interact, learn and teach people who are far removed from my town, state or even country!

Working from home has become the accepted norm and having kids learn from home (online) has also become a necessity. I have grown up children, but I can’t imagine parents having to work at their day job plus facilitate a school day for younger children attending school from home, both in tandem! It does demand a lot from parents, teachers and the students themselves.

But, I guess, the best way forward is, well, forward! No point in dwelling on the “wish I could’ve”s. Instead, I am using this time to grow and try my hand at new skills. Of course, that is because I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home and have the time, interest and opportunity to learn new skills/explore new ideas. I am sure each has their own way to not just cope, but thrive.

One opportunity I came across was to learn the Warli art style from Shri Anil Wangad, nephew of Shri Jivya Soma Mashe, himself. I enjoyed the nuances of this style that he shared and how limitless this minimalistic art style is!

Panch Sirya Dev – the five-headed god!
A village scene
A Warli tree with stars twinkling in the background

I also got an opportunity to give back – using art as a platform. I taught the art of Warli to a group of fellow art enthusiasts, from India, Singapore, US, UK, and Australia! Money was raised for a nonprofit in India.

Warli bookmarks and class notes

As I end this post, I wish the very best to all, especially in this difficult pandemic time. Hence I decided to incorporate a part of a Sanskrit shloka and its English translation in my Warli artwork, a universally benevolent appeal to all mankind:

लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु | 

“Let the entire world be happy”!

A circle has no beginning and no end, a metaphor for the endless cycles/series of events that unfold on earth, bringing us from cradle to grave, through ups and downs, love and misfortune, and so on. These circles are famously popular in the Warli art world, depicting the “tarpa dance”. I used this symbology to portray philanthropy and togetherness. In one of the circles, people are sharing knowledge (literacy) and food, two key inputs needed for human growth (mental and physical). In the other, they are all joining hands to support each other in adversity and sharing joy in dance!

Let the entire world be happy!

I hope to meet up with you in my next blog!

Since the last two posts, I have been sharing the amazing creations of the IIT-B Culture Club and their related experiences. This is the final and concluding post – sharing works and words from the rest of the group.

Solanki Ghosh, an artist and a dancer, chose to render the world-renowned area of Shantiniketan, an abode of learning unlike any in the world!

It is a neighbourhood, with: • Open air classrooms (in tune with nature) •Open air and community art development practices • Each and every corner has some folk musicians and dancers performing in open natural settings • Has folk arts museum and haats (small open markets) to promote their creation. • Organises a famous holi festival which is attended by thousands and thousands of people around the globe. • Is surrounded by khowai forests which gives the place a break from the outside world. • You can see various sculptures of famous Abanindranath Tagore, Ramkinker Baij all around the neighbourhood.

All these elements have been incorporated in this beautiful Warli drawing by Solanki:

A day in Shantiniketan by Solanki by Ghosh

In Solanki’s words,

Shantiniketan for me is a very near and dear place. It is one of the places where they have literally stopped the clock at 1940s and you can hear Rabindranath’s song and poem all around you. The way they have preserved the baul folk song and santhali traditions is also a great lesson to learn.

Pavan Kalyan has portrayed a fantastic idea through his story – an ode (visual) to women! According to Warli tradition, their gods are portrayed inside a chowk pattern. So on the occasion of Women’s Day, Pavan highlights the importance of women and related mythological stories, by making women a central theme inside the chowk, thus elevating their status. The upper border consists of Hindu goddesses and the lower border depicts scenes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, epic tales from Hindu mythology.

Women’s Day Warli Chowk by Pavan Kalyan

About this summer art project, Pavan says:

Warli-an art form close to reality, public emotions and community efforts. The workshop gave me a sense of happiness and I realised “every person is intelligent and smart, it is just that one needs to find the best suited field for oneself to glitter. I witnessed amazing thought processes and the friendship of a multi-talented woman Ms. Sampada. Finally a word for all warli artists: “who else can be smart other an artist who can bring the emotions on a paper with just some straight lines and circles”.

The next story, rendered by Shweta Vinayak Naik, is that of the process a farmer follows, when cultivating onions in the Rabi season in Nashik, in the state of Maharashtra, India. This is a representation of data collected in the field, and hence only those sheets are prepared for which data was collected. Shweta meticulously drew 10 such images recording each stage of growth of the onion crop! Here are the first two stages of her story:

Start of onion cultivation by Shweta Naik
Preparing the land by Shweta Naik

Shweta’s own words regarding her experience with this project:

I have learnt something that I can never forget. Learnings of the warli art from Sampada ma’am was soo enriching. Without facial expression, how to express one’s feelings through warli is what I will always remember. Ma’am taking classes till midnight so that we could learn something new, is what I am thankful to her for. Her teaching was so simple and enhancing that it made me fall for warli art even more. Learnt many new things from ma’am as well as the other participants. Thank you all and specially Yashika for making this happen.

The next story is about a young boy on a quest for a healing herb for his ailing father, told pictorially by Utkarsh Gupta. His search for the wild medicinal plant in the jungle, showcases his adventurous journey he embarks on, to save his father’s life. Utkarsh drew 24 different slides to narrate the entire story.

Here are two of his wonderful slides:

A village scene by Utkarsh Gupta
Facing a tiger by Utkarsh Gupta

Utkarsh’s experience in his own words:

I originally came to know about this Cultural Summer Project through the post of Cultural@IITB FB page. Among the list of the projects, I found the one on “Storytelling through Warli art” suited me the best.

I have had an interest in art from the early years and wished to explore a folk art form but lacked proper guidance. Through the workshops, I was able to revive my interest and get a headstart in Warli art. My experience with the workshop was great, I learnt a lot through them. Our instructor is a great artist and her artworks are fascinating. It is impressive how she uses her fabulous art on various mediums, and not restricted to just paper. This shows that Warli art is quite diversified even in its application and it brings life to even inanimate objects. 

While working on my project I learned how to frame a story and execute it through drawings. And honestly deciding a plot was the most difficult part for me. I tried to use as many elements taught in the class so that I can revise them along with sketching. Warli is not so simple as it looks but hands-on practice makes it easier. Since my story has 24 frames and some of them comprises of related scenes with a bit of difference and sometimes me drawing the same thing again and again while keeping in mind that they look alike made my job a bit tough but overall I enjoyed making those artworks.

My session with Prof. Mazhar Kamran from IDC, IITB was much knowledgeable and I found his suggestions insightful and will definitely take care of them in the future. I’m thankful to Roots club for organizing such a wonderful event and also Mrs. Sampada ma’am for helping a novice like me to gain the basics of a new art form.

The next rendering, named “Sunset” is by Shabnam, who documented visually the changes that occur in a village, its people and the surrounding area/jungle as day changes to night. She has attempted to show the passage of time through the movement of the scene from left to right, as well as the presence or absence of the sun and moon in the sky.

The first section is about daytime. Some people are working in the fields, two are churning butter in a hut, a few are discussing village matters in the panchayat. One person is returning from the forest outskirts having collected a few herbs and fruits, and children are playing in the open space.

The next section depicts evening, or the actual sunset period. Cattle that were roaming the fields during the day are being herded back. A villager kneels next to the tree of life, paying obeisance. Prepared food is being given to a villager to eat in the food hut. A woman is lighting and placing diyas in the panchayat area. A flock of birds flies overhead as they do in the evenings, and below a hunter returns from the forest with his spoils of the day. Nearby, a peacock dances to the music of the flute.

The last section shows nighttime. Throughout the village, a few villagers play various instruments while the rest dance to the music in their community dance. In the nearby jungle, the animals that roam at night come out to watch the festivities, but are kept at bay by a large fire. And under the light of the moon, a bat flies through the night.

Sunset by Shabnam

In Shabnam’s own words:

This project has been a truly enlightening experience for me. Having had no formal training in drawing before (my few rare sketches would be limited to repetitive doodles or basic figures copied off the internet), I have always wanted to learn more about the structured expression of thoughts via this medium. Thus the opportunity to participate in an ICSP on the topic of Warli was something I couldn’t let go, and seven weeks later, I can say with surety that it exceeded my already high expectations. Sampada Ma’am’s mastery over the art showed in the way she deftly guided us right from the basic elements to creating entire scenes on our own. Since Warli is an art originating from the villages of the Sahyadris, the process of learning also expanded my knowledge of the village community lifestyle followed in such places. Getting to see many of Ma’am’s original creations, and the way she adds more life and beauty to her home with Warli and other art forms was really inspiring. Each class was a chance to learn more about a world full of possibilities, built from the simplest shapes, which really helped in creating the final story. Taking part in this project has given me more confidence in the belief that everyone is an artist; you just have to be willing to put that pen (or brush) to paper without judging yourself, and take that first step.

Knowledge shared is knowledge squared.

I truly feel that I tried my best to share the ethos of the Warli art style and inculcate a sense of originality and creativity. And, in turn, I learnt a lot from the students too! Geographical distance did not pose a barrier, except, since I do work full time at an investment bank in Raleigh, North Carolina, we had to juggle the timings a bit. Late nights on my end and early mornings in India did result in such fantastic artwork though, which is a feat in itself! I am so proud of each and every one for putting in the effort and paying heed to my teachings – I am thoroughly impressed and humbled. It made my volunteering for this engagement truly worthwhile.

I hope the best to all, especially in this difficult pandemic time. It is important that we enjoy the simple pleasures life has to offer. Hence this bucolic scene rendered using the Warli style – living in sync with nature can reap mankind long term benefits.

नमन्ति फलिनो वृक्षाः नमन्ति गुणिनो जनाः |शुष्क काष्ठस्य मूर्खश्च न नमन्ति कदाचन् |

Noble and virtuous people are always humble and and committed to help others, comparing them to a tree bowing down with the weight of its fruits. In contrast, dull and foolish people are always rigid and non adjusting like dried wood.
Simple Pleasures of Rural India by Sampada Agarwal

Here’s to a better tomorrow, where we can strive to live in harmony with nature and learn from it.

And, finally, here is a link to the magazine that the ICSP Roots team published with all the work done by me and all the participants over Summer 2020! Enjoy!!

I had provided details on how this project started in my last post. Taking this forward, I would like to share some of the fantastic student work done, either individually or as a team, in this post (albeit a bit long one)! It has been a great learning experience for me too – for they say, the more knowledge you share, the more you gain! I thank this enthusiastic and creative group who I woke up at 8 am during summer break – a huge sacrifice, indeed 🙂

Wonderful work by Anwisha Mugal highlighting the different stages of life while growing up – the protagonist is the little girl in red and her journey to adulthood. I love the way Anwisha has differentiated the lead character in a different color to bring attention to her.

Seven stages of life by Anwisha Mugal

Here is Anwisha’s experience in her own words:

Warli painting is a simple, ancient and a exotic way to express your thoughts and emotions on paper. Only with some simple figures and use of two contrasting colours , one can make wonders.

Being a part of ICSP roots and with the help of wonderful teacher like Sampada ma’am, I got a chance to learn and experience the above. Earlier I could only draw the form by coping it from a source, but now I could actually draw stuff of my own (this gives me immense pleasure). Last but not the least, I thank Yashika and all my artist friends who made this a wonderful experience during this lockdown. Thank you.

Here is another work by Poojachristine Thayyil, an MBA student at SJMSOM in IIT-B, where she was inspired by children’s books – especially ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein. What is exciting about her idea is that she created a video for her story, thus exploring a completely new dimension and adding a unique approach to this age old art!

Here is one of the images – the full video of all the 27 hand-drawn images available here.

The Giving Tree: Warli-style by Poojachristine Thayyil!

Here is Pooja’s experience of this project in her own words:

The Institute Cultural Summer Project ‘Story Telling with Folk Art’ provided an avenue to rediscover the childhood artist in me. Living in Maharashtra, I’ve had exposure to Warli art and I’ve seen Warli motifs being used on clothing and other daily objects. This program helped me understand the meaning of what I see – how men, women and unisex are represented differently in Warli, the significance of the chowk, the tarpa, and so many details that are distinctive of this art form. I realized the range of emotions and actions that can be conveyed with simple drawings, and I was able to try it out myself in the Yoga Day artwork and in the final story. It was a refreshing experience to complete this project. The instructor Ms. Sampada brought a lot of positivity and encouragement to her sessions, the Roots team was ever supportive in offering ideas when stuck, Prof. Mazhar took the time to review the project with each student. I am thankful to everyone involved for this experience.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

The next Warli story is by Alen Rujis, depicting an adventurous day of a curious 6-year old boy named Appu. He started off following a line of ants, got distracted by the beauty of a peacock and finally got saved from a tiger, who got chased away by the villagers when he called for help.

A day with Appu by Alen Rujis

In Alen’s own words, here is his art experience:

Thank you so much to ICSP Roots for organising this wonderful workshop on Traditional Maharashtrian Art, Warli Art. Warli art is all about composing beautiful and meaningful drawings with simple motifs.

Even if the classes were scheduled early morning and you were all sleepy at 8am, the contagious passion and excitement to teach by Sampada Mam would inspire the inner child in you and make you want to draw again. The Roots team was always encouraging and Prof. Mazhar took the time to review the project of each student and help with the storytelling. I am thankful to everyone involved for this workshop.

At the end I was filled with deep respect for Indian Art and Cultures and a realisation that not all beautiful drawings are made up of complex shapes and structures. It was amazing how we could bring the emotions on a paper with just some straight lines and circles. Indeed a vacation well spent!!

The next story, selected by Anusha Mantha, is the very well known fable from our childhood – the thirsty crow – that she depicted as a series of Warli drawings.

Searching for water
Water too low in pitcher
Smart crow!!

A wonderful idea depicted so well by Anusha!

The next project is a team collaboration, where Pallavi Kochar, Pavan Kale, Durgesh Ahire, and Vaibhavi Agrawal did a commendable job conveying a very contemporary topic.

Collaborative work by Durgesh, Pavan, Vaibhavi and Pallavi

Here is their response on the experience:

Durgesh: After getting to know about this project, I was very thrilled to be a part of it. The brainstorming discussions we had while finalizing the folk style which we’d use, were quite fun. Throughout this project journey, I was able the witness the different classical folk art styles and admire their beauty. Summing up, the entire experience was very thought-provoking and lively.

Pavan: I was really great experience to explore Indian Folk arts. Thanks to Sampada ma’am for conducting such awesome and insightful sessions despite the pandemic. Special Thanks to Yashika Singhal and the Institute Cult Council for organising this and executing it so well. Although we are not pro artists, but we are very much proud of our scribbles. We had so much fun in ideation, brainstorming and drawing. And all this was not possible without the efforts of my dedicated team members. 

Vaibhavi: Participating in the ICSP Folk arts has given me a lot of learnings and memories. It has been a great experience working with others and creating a story using warli folk art. The sessions were so fruitful and insightful. I learned a lot about the specifications of the folk art. Overall it was a great experience, and I am happy I participated in something which provided me inner peace!

Pallavi: I always wanted to explore fork arts and thanks to ROOTS for this opportunity. It was great to work with the team from ideation until the execution. It was a great learning experience. I regret that I couldn’t attend all the sessions but the feeling when we finally completed the project and presented it to other participants was really awesome!

Next is a beautiful artwork done by Neha Vyas, where she has portrayed the transition of human existence from nature to machinery, coordinated in color from green to brown.

Mankind’s transition from rural to urban way of living by Neha Vyas

Here is Neha’s experience in her own words:

‘The Core of Beauty is Simplicity’ – Paulo Coehlo
I have been a person who is always interested in various forms of arts. My main interests were towards sketches and portraits. These art forms focus more on making the drawing appear realistic and 3 dimensioned.
When I joined the Institute Cultural Summer Project(ICSP) offered by roots, I was introduced to a completely new art form ‘Warli Art’. Warli Art is a style of tribal art created by the tribal people from the north Sahyadri Range in Maharashtra.

The best part of this art form is that it made me realise that not all beautiful drawings are made up of complex shapes and structures. Warli art is all about composing beautiful and meaningful drawings with simple motives. Secondly, one of the most captivating things about warli is that it is a shows people as a community and gives the insight about the lives of people then.
It also reflects upon the ideas and believes of people then and how they have changed over time. I would really like to thank Ms. Sampada for teaching me this form of art in such a beautiful was that I just don’t DRAW but EXPRESS through my Warli Art.

All in all, a very invigorating and fruitful collaboration! I hope these students continue to explore other such areas of creation and keep their curiosity intact!

I end this post with my Warli version of a popular nursery rhyme:

Warli meets a popular nursery rhyme! by Sampada Agarw

Little did I know that a phone call out of the blue from Yashika Singhal, the secretary of the Classical and Folk Arts Club of IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay, would end up in such a wonderful collaboration for their Institute Cultural Summer Project (ICSP) 2020-21! The project aims at revisiting traditional art forms of India to depict stories through drawings and paintings to promote folk arts culture among students of IIT Bombay.

Prof. Mazhar Kamran from the Industrial Design Center at IIT Bombay, an expert in story-telling art, plus a renowned cinematographer, along with his Ph.D student Manisha Naskar agreed to assist the students in the project from the story-telling angle. Yashika wanted me to guide this group on the drawing aspects. I suggested the Warli style of art, since it is quite basic in its visual vocabulary, requiring no prior art/drawing experience, but quite powerful when it comes to conveying a visual message. Plus, the fact that the Warli art style originated from the district of Thane in Maharashtra (around the lush Sahyadri mountains of the Western Ghats) – in close vicinity to the IIT-Bombay location, was an added bonus!

Here is the first of a series of blogs documenting the entire experience – I had to start with Yashika first, since she was the one who initiated this engagement! Yashika, a student at IIT Bombay, active with extra-curricular activities and a wonderful dancer, tells the story in her own words:

I believe life isn’t an accident. Whatever happens, is for a reason; so was meeting Ms. Sampada. I took up as Institute Classical and Folk Arts secretary at IIT Bombay on 1st May 2020, with a vision of introducing the beauty of classical and folk art to as many people as possible. I was not sure of how I would do this amidst this lockdown, with no one-to-one interaction and absence of physical presence; little did I know that it is actually a blessing in disguise as I could connect to anyone across the globe without any limitations.

One of my friend’s suggested storytelling through the arts and implementing it using folk arts. I searched #warli and saw Sampada’s profile (@ansimit.sampada) which was very intimidating and it said – DM for collaborations. So I texted her asking if we could connect and execute this idea.

Well! We all know the answer, as here I am writing a blog for her. I did not expect things to be this amazing and the entire credit goes to Sampada ma’am. She is the one who introduced me to Warli and I think I can draw decent enough Warli now. Here are a couple for the record:

Celebration with song and dance, Warli-style!
Warli dancers!

I really love the enthusiasm and dedication with which she teaches, the broad mindset of accepting the new things, exploring new things and the ability to pass on good vibes.

I am really thankful to her for making this project a success and collaborating with us. I would love to meet her in person whenever possible. And with all my heart I wish that her art flourishes as much as possible just the way it’s named: without boundaries – Ansimit!

I thank Yashika for her kind words and hope to meet her some day, too. I also hope she continues her Warli art journey! With such a lovely set of Warli creations, she most definitely has potential – just as all of us do. Plus creativity is contagious, isn’t it? 🙂

More stories coming soon…

A lot has happened since my last blog post back in March. One very important change, of course, has been the rampant worldwide spread of CoVid-19 and its impact on life, in general. I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole – not during this blog post.

Instead, I would like to highlight this other happening in my life where an art opportunity has opened up – to capture the changing landscape of Durham using an indigenous tribal art form from India called ‘Warli‘ as part of the Downtown Durham Public Space Project. My partner in crime in this project is Ramya Kapadia, a fantastic Bharatanatyam dancer as well as an accomplished Carnatic singer. Needless to say, her attention to detail makes her a great visual artist as well. Most importantly though, she is a great collaborator and a joy to explore art with.

Once we submitted our proposal in January, it was then a waiting game. On Feb 14th, when we received the project proposal acceptance email, we were thrilled to bits! We could not believe that we were one of the 7 projects accepted out of the 30+ submissions. Soon it was time for us to meet up with the lovely folks at Downtown Durham Inc, the non-profit supporting this initiative. Project plans were discussed and possible venues were explored.

It was a fun, cold, early morning when both me and Ramya drove around in Durham to scout for that perfect wall to paint the mural on. We narrowed down and prioritized from the list given to us. Soon, we had the wall chosen and approved by the business. Just as we were about to embark on this art journey, the virus struck. Once the area and the state of North Carolina was under lockdown, we could not proceed with painting the mural nor run learning sessions for passers-by in an effort to engage the community, as originally intended.

April 24th 2020 – Introductory workshop

April 30th, 2020 – Warli, the next steps

Instead, we persevered and decided to conduct two online Warli workshops for any and all to join and learn the Warli vocabulary and the basic building blocks of this art style. We were so very glad to see a great number joined the live sessions and appreciated them. We still have folks looking up those recorded sessions and getting initiated in the art form. We learnt that in spite of the lockdown (or maybe because of it), community engagement – a key goal of our project – has definitely been met; online engagements help break geographical barriers, for sure.

Here are the links to the workshop recordings, for your convenience.

Workshop 1 recording: https://www.facebook.com/sampada.k.agarwal/videos/10219601730026959/

Workshop 2 recording: https://www.facebook.com/sampada.k.agarwal/videos/10219677807688853/

Looking at the interest raised among all those who attended/viewed the workshops, I consider it a true win for Warli, a simple, yet highly expressive art style that sneaks into people’s hearts with its guileless, matter-of-fact approach to art.

Warli and nature – an inseparable bond!