Miti ki Dukaan – the Shop of Mud
Mudita Bhandari is a ceramics artist and sculptor, although to the villagers here ‘sculptor’ must mean someone who makes statues of deities.
Part of the guidelines for artists in the project is that they must use locally-available products. So Mudita arrived a few days early to participate in the SHOPART project in Gunehar, as she had to first find some clay, and then prepare it. With luck Mudita found clay the first day she looked but then it rained for two days and she couldn’t do anything. Now for the last 4-5 days she has collected two truckloads of the clay and brought it to the village, and has engaged some local labour to sift the stones out.
Because of all this preparation work, Mudita’s has been the only project visible to the villagers for several days and they’ve all walked past her work-in-progress, making her also a primary point of engagement with the village. Since she has such a warm and open personality, this has been valuable public relations. It’s wonderful to sit and talk with Mudita. She has a world view that seems to make her comfortable and happy to engage with anyone.
Growing up, Mudita had a somewhat ambivalent relationship with art as her mother was a painter. But at age 10 or 11 she went to a pottery class and knew straightaway she wanted to work with ceramics. After finishing school, she went to Vishwa Bharati University and did a 5-year degree, followed by a Masters, followed by two years of teaching. Her university was in a new state with a different language and culture and was foreign and strange to Mudita but she loved it. (English is the universal language of India, having as it does so many languages and dialects.)
When we think of ceramics most of us probably imagine plates and cups and the like, but Mudita likes to work in architectural spaces, as opposed to the small, ‘inside’ ceramics. Her pieces are large. Her project is probably the biggest here, certainly in terms of process; she also has to build her own kiln to fire the ceramic pieces she will make to eventually join together into the art installation.
Added to that, getting her clay to the right consistency has been challenging. It turned out that the clay had a lot of sand in it, and that’s undermining the stability of the formed product. Her first experimental piece cracked whilst drying. In an attempt to deal with this, Mudita is adding husks of wheat (of which there is an abundance, being as it’s wheat harvest time) in the hope that the fibres will bind the clay more. She’s been testing various pieces and so far, so good.
All of the artists are ‘hiring’ shops in the village; most are given for free. A shop is about the size of a one-car garage, probably a little smaller; it may have no front on it at all and may or may not come with electricity and lighting. They have bare concrete walls and floor.
Mudita organised her shop as soon as possible, near to where she will build her art installation. She’s employed several villagers over the last week, to transport her clay and then to help prepare it. They are paid 200 rupees for a day’s work from 9 to 5, with a break. That’s equivalent to about £2, or about $US3. It’s the going rate and is extra income for a family and very appreciated. The villagers seem to enjoy being involved and also seem to be able to turn their hand to anything. I talked with Indira Devi who was working with Mudita today (with Mudita’s translation assistance). Indira said she liked my hair and asked me quite openly if the reason I dyed it pink was because it was going white. Clearly I look older than I think.
Hanging around Mudita and her shop most days is 7-year-old Saraha (pronounced Sha-ha), who wants to help work with the clay. She loves putting her hands in it and seems very willing to learn. Perhaps there is a budding ceramics artist here. She’s very clever, and fascinated with my smartphone, constantly looking over my shoulder at what I’m doing. She loved that I could take her photo and then show it to her straight away.
With so much to do, Mudita is at her shop at 6am; her breaks are short and she is the last to finish most days. And yet she seems as relaxed as the villagers; she said if her ceramic cracks then she will make the cracks a part of the artwork and fill them with stone or something, just as the villagers fill the cracks in their homes with whatever is around to fill it with.
Below, Mudita speaks briefly about her project.
You can view more of Mudita’s work at www.muditabhandari.com