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An Indian summer in Wales

Welsh animation studio Winding Snake Productions are launching their latest program at Small World Theatre, Cardigan this August.

Funded by Wales Arts International, British Council Wales, First Campus and Ffilm Cymru Wales to name of few of the project’s impressive list of supporters, the studio welcome special guest Mrs Rajni Kiran Jha from Delhi to Cardiff to launch the scheme, with events in Cardigan and Newport, where members of the public are invited to learn about Rangoli. The event is part of India Wales, a major season of artistic collaboration between the two countries to mark the UK-India Year of Culture.

Rangoli, or kollam, is an Indian decorative art form traditionally designed and created by women. It is a practice handed down from generation to generation.

Mrs. Mangalam Swaminathan of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts and Culture in Delhi explains, "Rangoli has a vital social function in the maintenance of women's friendships.”

Mrs Swaminathan told us, when she was growing up, women in her community would gather water together every day and talk about their lives. She would help her mother create Rangoli, and then they would go to a friend's house to help them decorate their home with Rangoli. Now that women in her community no longer need to go to the river to get water, "creating Rangoli is the only time in the day to socialise with other women and talk about things, and even that's disappearing. Not everyone has time to make Rangoli every day anymore. In the cities now a lot of women use Rangoli stickers instead. That sense of community space is disappearing all over India."

Recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to connect all people of India via state subsidised mobile phone contracts. Whilst this is undoubtedly good news for a vast nation with a mixed demographic, as digital connectivity grows, could it diminish the necessity of connecting in physical space? It is easy to see how this development could also mark another step away from the sense of community space Mrs. Swaminathan describes.

Winding Snake Productions is a young company led by Amy Morris, and Mrs Swaminathan's thoughts on women's friendship and community resonated with her. “In my lifetime the nature of friendship has changed, and while global connection has progressed and is brilliant, I don’t know what the women who lives across the street from me is called.” 

In 2016, to research the art form of Rangoli, Amy spent two days at the archives with the principal librarian at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art and Culture the Folk Art Museum in Delhi. Every Indian state has its own style of Rangoli, but the techniques used to create them, a dot and grid system, are very similar. All designs have symmetry and are designed to reflect the natural world. Rangoli is about creating a sense of balance; it is commonly believed that "Rangoli is life", and that it "purifies and transcends space and time" (Ralph M. Steinman, 1989). For many creating Rangoli is a spiritual event, which is said to bring forth wellbeing. This is reflected in the materials used to create Rangoli, such as flowers, sand and rice: all materials that are part of one's environment, and which symbolise life.

The project takes its name from a conversation with Vidyun Singh from the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, another supporting organisation. Like Mrs. Swaminathan, Vidyun spoke about Rangoli as a unifier of women, "Rangoli is the art that binds".

During the project, artists and animators from Wales and India will explore the relationship between Rangoli folk art and women's friendships, and introduce and celebrate the practice of Rangoli making with women and girls in Wales.

Working with female artists in both countries; Dr Beena Jain of Rajasthan University and Delhi based Rajni Kiran-Jha and Welsh animators Rosie Holtom and Amy Morris will collaborate to create Indo-Celtic Rangoli designs for a series of live events and workshops at Chapter (Cardiff), Small World Theatre (Cardigan), Jawahar Kala Kendra (Jaipur) and the India Habitat Centre (Delhi).

The work created by professional artists at community events will be made into a series of animated short films.  Amy Morris “A key element of Rangoli is its transience; as soon as a piece of Rangoli art is created it begins to be destroyed by the elements and by the movement of people in the community carrying out daily activities, and the remnants are swept away the following day ready for a new creation to take its place. This transience is also integral to forms of stop­motion animation, in which each frame must be destroyed to create the next frame. In this way, animation is the perfect medium through which to capture the essence of the Rangoli.”

Visit www.artthatbinds.org after the launch to find out more about the project as it progresses. The site is available in English, Welsh and Hindi and along with photos and video, will gather stories from people in India and Wales about human experiences of art as a social conduit.

Rangoli: Art that Binds, is a project is about friendship. A friendship between women and girls; between art and culture; between international artists and international arts organisations; a friendship between India and Wales.  It will bring together groups of women and girls in both India and Wales to work in collaboration to create something beautiful.

The official project launch will be celebrated on 15th August, with participants creating a giant Rangoli and live music performed by Indo-Celtic musicians, doors will be open from 6pm.  For more information, please visit www.smallworld.org.uk

To learn more about Winding Snake Productions visit www.windingsnake.com. You can also join us on twitter @winding_snake   #artthatbinds  #IndiaWales.