Priyanka is kind of a firecracker. She has strong opinions, big emotions and loud laughter. She is one of the Indian participants of this year’s International Artist Residency put on by The Create Commission. As the artists and resident mentors live together for two and a half weeks, they learn about and create art in response to a chosen social issue.
The theme that the 8 Indian and 7 international artists were working around this year was “Human Dignity: The Many Faces of Abundance.” The residency started out with an intense half-day visit to one of the biggest landfills in the city. An experience to engage all the senses, the group navigated through the enormous, smelly garbage-mountains while hungry black birds circled the air above their head. They got to see what life and work is like for rag pickers, and had a chance to interact with them and learn about their dreams and struggles. The Create Commission partnered with a small NGO that works with this vulnerable community and fights for their rights. With their help, the artists were able to visit the community several times during the residency and learn about the lowest caste of India, the untouchables.
Priyanka was truly upset to see the children. As a local, the visit did not hold many surprises for her, but as a mother herself, she felt heart-broken and enraged by the way these kids are growing up. Walking on heaps of dangerous trash with no shoes, taking care of newborns when they should be playing with dolls, sorting through garbage with their own babies in tow when they should be in high school.
As the residency went on, the artists and mentors were challenged to wrestle with what they were seeing and learning both on their own and in group conversations. Whose waste is it that builds up those mountains? How do we treat rag pickers when we come in contact with them? What’s our responsibility? Why do children have to grow up like that? Where is God in all this despair? What do rag pickers desire in life? How can we help? What’s at the root of this brokenness? How can our passion and gifts as artists bring truth, beauty and blessing to them?
Priyanka, just like every other member of the group, wondered how this community’s life could be radically altered. But as the artists listened and learned, they realized that changing these circumstances is a thoroughly difficult and complex issue, and it is not what rag pickers are asking for. Because truly, it’s not their circumstances that hold them back most, but living in despair, without hope. First and foremost, they want to be recognized as valuable human beings. They want to be heard and want people to acknowledge them. They want an identity other than “untouchable.” Love and change starts there.
As the artists spent time at the residency discussing and creatively responding to these issues, they also got to tell their own stories, engage with each other’s worldview, ideas and beliefs, sharpen one another in their skills, and critique and encourage each other’s work. The Create Commission invites local professional artists who give valuable talks on practical topics like career development, benefits of residencies, branding, and presentation.
This was Priyanka’s first ever residency and she couldn’t have been more excited about being here, interacting with other creatives, getting feedback on her work, being inspired by other artists who are serious about their craft, and deeply connecting with people of her own kind. Here, she felt accepted and loved, forgiven for being herself and encouraged to use her unique voice. In other surroundings, with people who are not interested in art, she’s called a weirdo, but this environment here seems like sacred space. She felt at peace, happy, included. Like finding your own people for the first time in a huge city where no one speaks your language.
On the last weekend of the residency, the participants offered a “walking gallery” to the rag picker community that inspired their work. They went back to the landfill, art piece in hand, and walked around, showing the people their paintings, photos, creations. The rag pickers didn’t have much time to stand around and study the pieces, but according to the NGO, the fact that the artists went back to visit them several times is meaningful to them.
The children are most excited to see what the visitors are up to of course. One artist pasted colorful paper flowers over the arch of the ugly, brown, broken-down wall that the rag pickers walk through every day to the landfill. A photographer who took portraits of all the kids handed them out to each one. Priyanka prepared a workshop for them, instructing them to draw what they dream to become as she plays soothing music. She wanted them to hold on to these pictures, and their dreams, for years to come.
The last two nights of the residency were spent putting on an exhibition at a local church gallery The Create Commission has been partnering with. The fruit of these two weeks had and has the potential to impact more than just the artists and the rag pickers. People from all walks of life were invited to interact with the creations and be challenged and blessed by them. The show drew a wide audience and was an amazing exhibit with high-quality work and a strong, truthful voice.
The residency was an amazing opportunity for The Create Commission team and resident mentors to get to know, love on and support local artists in their trade and skills while pointing to the One who created everything and made people like Himself, passionate about the power of art and beauty.
Adrienn is exploring the highs and lows of cross-cultural living with her husband and two young children. She loves chocolate, words, hope, and wading through life’s joys and sorrows with other women.