By transforming barren houses in a Himachali village, 11 artists present an alternative to pessimism
As mountain trails go, this one is particularly picturesque. The Gunehar Art Walk comes three weeks into the third edition of the ShopArt ArtShop residency. Eleven artists have been working in unused
structures in Gunehar village near Bir, on the lower slopes of the Dhauladhar range. So, amidst terraced fields and slatetiled roofs, there is the occasional burst of colour or sound that is new and seeking to fit in.
The beginning of the trail is above the village. Bengaluru-based artist Sultana Zana’s presentation involves asking par
ticipants to stand silently, with their eyes closed, in a small stand of deodars. She has been making measurements to model groups of trees as networks. Frank Schlichtmann, who started the residency, moves the group on to the next ‘shop’.
Schlichtmann, who lives in the village, explains how he saw, in 2012, that several shops in the village were empty. He thought of starting a residency where invited artists worked in the shops—ShopArt. And, since the work was unlikely to ever be sold, he thought it would be amusing to tag on ‘ArtShop’. Today, the residency is in its third edition, and disused houses have replaced actual shops.
The children of Gunehar are particularly enthusiastic participants. Another artist, Al-Qawi Nanavati, has been teaching them to draw and paint with a sense of abstraction—and one of the shops is dedicated to their work. Manish, creator of a dazzling mountainscape, explains, “Pehle book dekh ke banata tha. Yeh marzi se banaya (I used to copy drawings out of a book earlier. This I drew myself).”
It’s the younger generation’s will, perhaps, that’s causing Gunehar to change. The village is mostly gaddi—herders who walk from pasture to pasture with their flocks— but few youngsters want to take up the traditional occupation. They’d rather start a business or find a job. Pramila Choudhary, who works with textiles, has tried to look at changing fashions in Gunehar by collecting scraps of waste fabric from tailors, setting these against old photographs of villagers. And in the shop above hers, musician Yash Sahai has been sampling local instruments and songs to create compositions that “hold the mood of the village”.
Schlichtmann decided on the theme of this year's residency—Borderlines— out of a sense of frustration that they were increasingly hard to cross. The artists did their own thing in response. Asmita Sarkar painted on textures she found unique or magical. Amritah Sen made a hand-painted book that contrasted the real and fantastic in Gunehar’s lives. And ceramic artist Sarban Chowdhury used hundreds of hand-moulded terracotta objects on a mound to represent the encroachment of man-made structures on the landscape. “If I was sceptical,” says Schlichtmann about the theme, “I have been proven wrong by the artists.”
REJUVENATION (Clockwise from top left) Pramila Choudhary’s Roots; K.M. Lo’s Tuk Tuk Cinema; Yash Sahai in his mud-house studio; Sarban Chowdhury’s installation; Devyani Smith’s Coming Together