The first of its kind festival, Gram Dhara Chitra Utsav (the Land Art Festival) showcases naturally-grown artworks on farmlands. It is an attempt to send a strong message to seed companies that sell hybrid seeds, discouraging natural method to grow crops.
The festival is being held at Paradsinga village in Chhindwara District, on Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh border, about 70 kms from Nagpur. Though organised by art students, Shweta Bhattad and Lalit Vikamshi, the festival has found participants in NGOs workers from Wardha, folk singers and local villagers. Unlike other art festivals that make use of paints and brushes, Gram Dhara Chitra Utsav exhibits artworks made by growing greens that are widely popular in the region, such as spinach, fenugreek and amaranth leaves. Not only these artworks make a compelling picture, but can be used as food too.
Here, most farmers grow cotton which takes six months to harvest during which they do nothing but wait. Bhattad advises farmers to be less dependent on BT cotton and use land more purposefully to grow vegetables as an alternate crop for sale and consumption.
Besides land art, the festival also included a talk on superstitions, snakes and snake bites, a live performance by the music band Zubaan, and performances by two folk singers who sang songs about the plight of farmers in the region. Vidharbha is infamous for severe drought conditions and high suicide rates among farmers. However, last year, rain gods were kind and blessed the region with ample rainfall. Besides a good cotton crop, the farmers are lucky that even the pricing is at its best this year.
But the extensive use of hybrid seeds by farmers is worrisome as the practice not only makes small farmers dependent on multinational companies for regular supply of seeds, but also turn them away from traditional methods of growing and storing seeds. In the last few years, bad monsoons along with misinformed choice of crops by farmers led to many suicides in this region and in other states too.
To emphasise the fact, the artists grew coffins and lay down on the greens to symbolise suicidal deaths of farmers. While the festival is a platform for artists and other participants to express themselves, it is open for public. Besides seeing artworks and attending the day’s programme, visitors can stay with a farmer's family by paying a nominal amount to gain the first-hand experience of living like a farmer.
The festival was to end on December 31, but has been extended till January 15.