By Christine Joy Ferrer
The devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation to the increase in value of the world of things. Labor does not only create goods; it also produces itself and the worker as a commodity, and indeed in the same proportion as it produces goods…the more the worker expends himself in work the more powerful becomes the world of objects which he creates in face of himself, the poorer he becomes in his inner life, and the less he belongs to himself… The worker puts his life into the object, and his life then belongs no longer to himself but to the object…. (Karl Marx, 1964, pp. 13-15)
How often can you honestly say that you are actually creating something with your own hands? Or that, whatever it is you’re creating you use for yourself? It was Karl Marx who explained that under capitalism, the worker creates products or objects. Commodities produced by labor are taken away from the worker and sold, and labor itself becomes a commodity. This produces wealth for the capitalist, but poverty for the worker. This alienation produces riches and power for some but enslaves and degrades workers. The product of labor belongs to the capitalist, who uses it to create profits. Workers have no control over the product, or over what they are producing and the products workers create end up dominating workers.
I agree. In our modern culture, our nature, creativity and the work of our hands becomes a commodity– we become alienated from the very thing we create.
However, the Devrai Art Village attempts to mend this broken link and make the process of creation a more personal experience. Devrai also seeks to nurture a way of living where nature is not looked upon just as a resource but where plants animals and humans are seen as interdependent and where art can reflect the sacredness of nature.
We journeyed about four hours away from the city of Pune to the Devrai Art Village located in the small hill station of Panchgani in Maharashtra, India. I’ve never seen such beautiful green and purple-flower covered hills and heard the sound of wild peacocks reveling in dance among the trees. I was also distracted by the laughter of children across the way at “On Wheelz,” a local amusement park. Our dear friends, Zoe and Amol, teachers at Sadhana English School, had a meeting at Devrai and my partner and I went along for the ride not knowing anything about this place.
The Devrai Art Village is an NGO that works with adivasi craftsmen to connect with nature and celebrate creativity within their artistry. They produce art suited to contemporary tastes but using traditional means. It’s a place where resource people/designers/artists can come from all over the country to share their skills and perspectives. Local men and women can train here and thus the work can extend to their homes. The craftsmen manage and sell their products directly without any middlemen to the tourists who come to Panchangi.
Mandakini and Atul Mathur founded the Devrai Art village in September 2008 on about two acres of land. “I served two life sentences in corporate Bombay,” says Atul, jokingly, before deciding to move to Panchangi in 1997. “We didn’t know what we were going to do out here,” says Mandakini.
The mission for Devrai solidified when a group of friends from diverse fields came together on this project. Each one contributing his or her unique way, supporting the idea of creating a space for tribal arts and crafts. Under the guidance of Suresh Pungati, a decorated adivasi craftsman from the Madia tribe, five highly skilled adivasi craftsmen and artists from the naxalite affected areas in Gadchiroli and Chattisgarh found a livelihood and a safe haven in Panchgani.
More indigenous people live in India than in any other country in the world.
The adivasi in India are rural, indigenous peoples who generally make up a bit more than 8 percent of the Indian population, according to arsnetwork.org. They have suffered disproportionately from developmental and other projects, which have disrupted their traditional ways of life and displaced them at a rate far higher than any other Indian group.
The craftsmen sought refuge from the Naxalite–Maoist insurgency, an ongoing conflict between Naxalites (or Naxals) and the Indian government. The Naxalites are extreme-left Maoist militant groups who operate mostly in the rural and adivasi areas, most prominent in (from North to South) Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, eastern Maharashtra, the Telengana (northwestern) region of Andhra Pradesh, and western Orissa.
The Naxalites say they are fighting oppression and exploitation to create a classless society, while their opponents say the Naxalites are terrorists oppressing people in the name of a class war, according to rediff.com.* The Naxalites claim to represent the most oppressed people in India. But, the criticism against the Naxalites is that despite their ideology, they have over the years become just another terrorist outfit, extorting money from middle-level landowners (since rich landowners invariably buy protection), and worse, even extorting and dominating the lives of the adivasis and villagers who they claim to represent in the name of providing justice.
War should never be an answer. No matter what side you’re on.
As a living and arts space, the Devrai Art Village has become an artist’s sanctuary.
I asked one of the craftsman which one of his creations was his favorite. “I don’t have a favorite. I’m creating all the time. Everything I make is good. I like all of them,” he replies. My friend translated for me since I don’t speak their native tongue, Marathi.
The unique and distinctive style of their product range comes out through combinations of different mediums such as iron, brass, stone, wood, bamboo and fabric. Devrai Art Village believes in empowering craftsmen and not in doing charity. About 100 percent of the proceeds are given back to the artists.
I was honored to meet the adivasi craftsmen, see their work and watch their creative process. We are all creative beings. It’s our natural purpose to create. But often, we find ourselves disconnected. We’re not free to develop our mental and physical energies, and instead we become physically exhausted. [A laborer’s] work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labor. It is not the satisfaction of a need, but only a means for satisfying other needs (Karl Marx, 1964, pp. 13-15). The adivasi found their liberation in doing their craft. They remind me that I need to keep creating for myself. And one day, I hope to create a space for people to create.
*More about Naxalism: Rising Tide of Maoists in India