Trash To Treasure

More than anything, Jaipur is a city of sights. Swathed in dust, drowning in industrial modernization it was less reminiscent of buttercream frosting, bubble gum or smoked salmon pink but more of a gritty, terracotta pink. I was invested in spending five days with six nine-year and eleven-year-olds doing nothing particularly leisurely other than submerging ourselves in art, craft, and conversation. These six nine-year and eleven-year-olds were no ordinary nine-year and eleven-year-olds, they belonged to a fascinating group called Trash to Treasure. Their group often asks the question “Where does it come from?” and “Where does it go?” which informs their art practice.

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Investing children in the conversation around sustainability is critical. Being residents of the only habitable planet in the solar system(s) we must inspire the children in our care to being responsible millennials. Here’s a glimpse of the five days we spent in Jaipur!

A short, non-hectic drive down the Ajmer highway brought us safely to the municipality of Bagru. Wildly popular for a special community of block-makers who make blocks used to print on textiles. Dheeraj who comes from a family of block printers invited us home and taught us the entire process succinctly. The specialty of Bagru is ‘Dabu’ printing where a paste made out of Mitti (clay) is used to print on specially prepared cloth and then sawdust is sprinkled on it so that it sticks to the printed portion. Each of us proceeded to block print and cover our prints in sawdust. After a quick dry in the sun, Dheeraj drove us to the dying facility. Here the craftsmen make blue color from indigo, red color from madder root, green from indigo mixed with pomegranate juice and yellow from turmeric. The sawdust on the mitti paste does not allow the color to permeate the cloth. After dyeing, the cloth is washed and the mitti removed. We had a grand time using branches to swirl the indigo vat and spreading out our self-designed and dyed cloth to sundry. All through we had the company of cows, goats and lots of farm vegetables! On the drive back I reminded the six nine-year and eleven-year-olds about the rich heritage and tradition of art and craft and how technology, industrialization, and modernization stand tall and forebodingly over it, casting a threatening shadow. We quickly brainstormed on how we can keep this form of art relevant and alive and the top ideas were – share our experiences with more people and appreciate the complexity of design and art.

Our next stop was to the Jawahar Kala Kendra designed by the iconic architect and urban planner Charles Correa.  The Jawahar Kala Kendra in collaboration with the Contemporary Clay Foundation was presenting the first Indian Ceramics Triennale: Breaking GroundWe were fascinated to see how artists had interpreted their thoughts, philosophies, and ideologies through ceramic and clay which took center stage as their media of choice. Their projects, installations, and artworks explored the themes of self, society, language, environment, and nature. We walked through the extremely cool Jawahar Kala Kendra admiring the architecture, landscaping, the cafe, and the galleries and the little public art installations dotted around the campus. We also learned about how Jaipur was built on grids and a deep astrological ideology, which inspired Charles Correa to build the JKK around the same structure, paying homage to the city and the solar system.

These were my favorite works at the Triennale.

Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s Self Portrait Plates focusing on the politics of sex, gender, and organized religion. Absolutely loved the shocking colors, the tautness of expression and the fluidity of form, gender, and narrative.

I loved Shirley Bhatnagar’s The Broken Promised, an absurd, tongue in cheek work in stoneware, porcelain and earthenware. Her dinner table was beautifully laden with fancy but quite unusable tableware. She used ceramic to narrate the inherent fragility of promises made by politicians, proving that promises are fancy but useless like ceramics and that nothing ever changes with political rhetoric.

We spend half a day exploring the cluster of blue potters in Sanganer and a recycled paper industry. Learning just how time-consuming and process-driven manufacturing a handmade product is. We were extremely overjoyed to interact with the creators of the products, talk to them, feel the materials in our hands, walk through their work areas and take pictures. The visit had a pleasant surprise, where each of us marble painted and printed our own handmade paper.

A highlight of this trip was a restored haveli which houses the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. Dedicated to the art of block printing, and the craft of textile design its inhabitants are artisans themselves, who indulge guests in block printing a scarf or a handkerchief. What was inspiring about this space is that through education they are informing the general public about the serious challenges that these ancient crafts face as they try to keep pace with modern manufacturing and fast fashion. We left the museum wiser and more sensitive to the craft of block printing.

I’ve been curious to learn about Barefoot College for a few years now and I was vastly happy to finally go visit them in Tilonia. Learning from the head puppeteer through his musicians and puppets about Bunker Roy and the incredible people of the Barefoot College, reaffirmed that goodness and virtue are not at all connected with literacy and wealth. Barefoot College is steeped in humility and empathy and is committed to making a difference in the lives of countless people through skills development, democracy, and empowerment. We loved our short visit to the recycling unit and spent a large part of the afternoon wandering through their gift shop filled with handmade products, making it the perfect place to buy our souvenirs to remember our trip by.

Edited by the wonderful nine-year and eleven-year-olds of the Trash to Treasure team.

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