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For a folk experience

A festival of folk paintings, musical instruments and oral narratives is on in the city till March 13. Find out more.

COME MARCH, Chennai-ites are in for a folk experience of carnival proportions. With numerous performances and exhibitions spread throughout the city, the festival ``Oral narratives, folk paintings and musical instruments of India'' being organised by the National Folklore Support Centre (NFSC) looks set to transform an urban culture beset with ``the spread of information devoid of significance and signification'' with the richness of oral expressions.

The declared aim is to ``animate urban public spaces in Chennai with intellectually challenging and artistically engaging folklore content'' and ``to reconstitute the public sphere in favour of folk culture''.

M. D. Muthukumaraswamy, director of this three-year old organisation, has conceived the festival as an ensemble of events as a way of exploring the connection between various folk genres from different parts of the country. The fest will consist of 10 oral epic performances, several folk painting exhibitions, a folk musical instruments and photo exhibition. These are curated by Lakshmi Krishnamurthy (traditional painter) and Karaikudi Subramaniam of Brhhadwani (with Marcie Sarangan) and R.V.Ramani (art film maker).

The oral epics of India employ a variety of communicative forms. Apart from music, acting and singing some oral epic genre will include in their repertoire dance, paintings and puppetry.

The story of Pabuji, a heroic epic and one of the 10 oral performances in the festival is such an ensemble. The performer accompanied by his wife sings the story of the Rajasthani hero, Pabuji. He dances and plays his ravanhatta (a stringed instrument) in front of a scroll painting about 15 feet in length that acts as an illustration to the narrative.

The exhibits will isolate these constituent elements and will re-contextualise them in terms of a painting tradition and as part of a history of folk musical instruments. The photo exhibit will meanwhile attempt to show all that the objects and performances themselves cannot — the ethnographic context — the environment from which these expressive traditions spring from. By placing the object in various presentational contexts and by strategically shifting the viewer's gaze, the ensemble seeks to encourage consideration of the oral epics of India in their totality as a structure of interrelations — of resemblance and differences and ultimately the fount of Indian civilisation and culture.

One of the invigorating aspects of the festival may be its emphasis on presenting the folk arts as an evolving and dynamic process. The festival will provide a snapshot of what folklore is today in all its manifestations. By showing them as they are, the festival seeks to bypass the popular conception of folklore as existing in an unchanging past, is exclusively rural and thus romantic/authentic other to urban culture.

The festival is a culmination of two years of preparation and it has been put together by the dedication of those at NFSC along with the efforts of numerous volunteers and professionals, and the cooperation of folklore organisations around the country.

It will present up to 200 performers and artistes to the public. Major Tamil writers will preside over each event. Seven galleries across the city will display folk paintings and the photographs. Dakshinachitra on the East Coast Road and the Madras Museum will play host to the puppetry and oral performances. The public will be able to meet some of the artistes and can participate in essay writing and photography competitions during the festival.

This celebration of folk also marks the 50th year of the Ford Foundation in India, of which the NFSC is a beneficiary.

The festival will be on from March 3-13. Oral narrative performances will be held at the Government Museum of Madras till March 13, 6 p.m. onwards. The folk paintings are to be displayed at the Manasthala Foundation, Alliance Francaise, Amethyst, Art World, Vinyasa Art Gallery and Little India Gallery. The exhibition of folk musical instruments and exhibition of photography will be on at the Government Museum galleries. The puppet performances at Dakshinachitra will be on till March 10.

SHANKAR NATARAJAN

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