Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Leading Spanish artists came together to create an art route in Anantapur, AP for the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and its counterpart in India, Rural Development Trust . The unprecedented project that links India and Spain through the works of 14 leading plastic and visual artists from the Mediterranean islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera is one of its kind.
Words by Rini Mukkath
Photographs by Beatriz Polo Iañez
“Como estas,” gushes a local to me as I enter the village of Anantapur, a two-hour drive from the Bengaluru airport. Located in Andhra Pradesh, this city is the proud recipient of the generosity of many Spanish volunteers who work for the Rural Development Trust (RDT). I was invited to witness the art project, a call to bring art to public spaces, and while the idea of the journey was to witness mavericks in their field bring their art to life and speak through it, I came away with a lot more. I came away with a sense of joy at the thought of India and Spain inspiring each other.
The Anantapur Art Walk is a project that consists of three phases, two of them in Spain and one in Anantapur , gearing up towards the 50th anniversary of the foundation of RDT. The project aims to create a high profile Art Route in one of the most disadvantaged areas of India, chronically hit by drought.
The art pieces have been created at specific locations in or around the most significant buildings of the RDT − hospitals, schools, fair trade workshops, sports campuses− and will remain accessible to users of the facilities as well as to the general public. With an aim to highlight the RDT’s work in the district, each creation will focus on a particular area of human development: healthcare, education, women empowerment, sanitation or inclusive education. The participating artists, who enjoy both national and international recognition, are: Júlia Ribas, Carles Guasch and Adrián Cardona from Ibiza; Enric Riera from Formentera; Joan Aguiló, Joan Costa, Luis Maraver, Manuel Menéndez Rojas, Mariano Mayol, Beatriz Polo, Esther Olondriz and Marián Moratinos from Mallorca, and Paca Florit and Marc Jesús from Menorca. The project has been curated by Antonio Torres, who will also accompany them during their stay. This cultural exchange has come to life thanks to the contribution of the Institut d'Estudis Baleàrics (ILLENC), a cultural institution created by the Balearic government to promote the region’s cultural heritage.
The initial phase of the project constituted a fundraising event held in the Balearic Islands during the autumn of 2017. A collection of graphic art works, compiling three pieces of each artist’s, in different sizes, were unveiled and sold at the Vicente Ferrer Foundation fair trade shops, as well as in collective art exhibitions. The artists managed to fundraise €8,000 (approx. ₹6.3 lakh) to build a school/community centre in one of the villages covered under the RDT’s integral development programme.
The second phase of the project will be the creation of a permanent art route, which has been named the Anantapur Art Walk. This first experience of Spanish art in India aims to open a door to future collaborations between Balearic and Indian artists. The artists’ experience during their stay in India would be the inspiration to create other artwork back home, which will integrate a travelling exhibition through different galleries and cultural centres around the Balearic Islands and mainland Spain. This exhibition will also countthe support of local and regional institutions.
The jute workshop in Bathalapalli, which works with women with disabilities and produces handcrafted jute products that are then marketed under the fair trade certification in India and Spain, is where artist Júlia Ribas did her mural. She is a self-taught artist born in Ibiza, who is deeply rooted in her origins and surroundings. Ribas uses different techniques and materials in her work. Some of them are organic − ashes, oxides or coal − to show the land of her origins. The light, the colours, the landscapes and the sea of Ibiza are the main inspiration for her work. She calls it “a window into the Mediterranean landscape that we all share”. Thus, the fig and the olive trees or the blue colours of the sea, the sky or the houses on her island are translated into the themes and colours of her artwork. She says, “I want the women here to smile when they walk into their workspaces. It is such a huge honour for me to be part of this project and make art that will inspire women who work here. The idea is to create a tree which is very much like a woman who is grounded to the soil, but also bears fruits and nourishes others.”
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation (VFF) RDT is a non-governmental organisation committed to the progress of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, in southern India. Since its inception in 1969, the organisation has endeavoured to improve the quality of life of the rural poor, with a particular emphasis on women, children, and people with disabilities. It has progressively implemented comprehensive development programmes involving all areas of development. In 1996, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation was established in Spain to guarantee the financial stability of RDT’s welfare schemes. RDT partners with rural communities in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to ensure development leaves no one behind.
They implement an integrated development programme designed to ensure access to quality education, primary and hospital health care, housing and basic services; to support the empowerment of women, people with disabilities and tribal communities, and to unleash the full potential of future generations through culture and sports. RDT works in partnership with the communities, other grassroots organisations and the government to provide long-term solutions that contributes to eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities.
The RDT Hospital in Bathalapalli, where Joan Aguiló did one of his wall paintings (paediatric department), is the largest hospital in RDT’s hospital network. They run three general hospitals (Bathalapalli, Kalyandurg and Kanekal) and a Hospital of Infectious Diseases, which is a referral hospital in south India for HIV/Aids.
Speaking about his art work and experience as an artist, Joan Aguiló from Mallorca says, “I studied fine arts and illustration, but when I saw street artists and their work, I realised it was a great way to portray a message. I started working on big walls in Mallorca. I work with murals and I am inspired by the place and the people. Here in this hospital, I had no time to visualise before I got here, so after I saw some pictures and spoke to the volunteers, I decided to pick the images of traditional dancers. So if someone walks by, they can smile and forget about their illness and pains for a minute. I have done street art before in a refugee camp as part of my Anonymous Heroes’ Project with my girlfriend. We try to find daily things that are important to an area, like a bakery, and my girlfriend finds texts, songs and traditional verses, and we make art and put it up on the street. So everyone can reflect. Art in public places makes it more democratic, in a gallery you are forced to like it. The thing about public art is, you may turn a corner in your city one day and be met by a beautiful piece of art that moves you, and becomes part of your story and your life.”
Everyday, on an average, the RDT hospital network treats more than 2,500 patients. In Bathalapalli (general hospital and Hospital of Infectious Diseases), the RDT has 340 hospital beds. People from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka make use of the hospital services. The RDT works alolong the same lines as the government and international institutions, promoting access to the right to health for children, especially the ones living in rural areas and belonging to families with low income, and those children living with disabilities.
The photographer for the project, Beatriz Polo Iañez, who is also working on a series on women, says, “For a country to progress, the women need to be empowered and be made strong — this is what my photographs will capture.” In addition to documenting the
performances of the different artists who participate in this project and the general environment of the place, she will blend into the daily life of the patients and healthcare workers of RDT-VFF’s Hospital in Bathalapalli for a few days. A selection of pictures will be then printed and permanently displayed in the corridors of the hospital to show the hospital’s role in the promotion of institutional health care for the most disadvantaged families in the region.
The Nursing School, where Marc Jesus did his wall painting, was established in 2004 as a solution to the lack of health staff in rural India. Each batch is formed by 40 women that is trained for three years. The students are selected by the government and the RDT, and the fees are subsidised. Jesus’ style is figurative and luminous, with clear Mediterranean influences. In his last exhibitions, he unveiled his paintings of women, which he represented in blue tones and with a sensual and relaxed attitude. The paintings have recently been featured in well-known brands as part of national and international marketing campaigns, as a representation of the spirit and joy of the Mediterranean life. “I wanted to make India the work that I am famous for, so the girls are in Indian clothes and have flowers that show a bit of India. The landscape you see behind them is very Indian. My artworks are based on Greek mythology, and it was interesting for me to adapt it to this colourful Indian landscape.”
The Anantapur Sports Academy was birthed to promote everyone's inclusion into society through sports. Nadal Tennis and Education School is an RDT project, sponsored by the Rafa Nadal Foundation. Two-hundred-and-ten children from Anantapur and its surroundings attend the school before and after government school every day. They learn to play tennis, English, hone their computer skills and receive nutritional support. Artist Marian Moratinos from Mallorca had the daunting task of covering the expanse of a tennis court wall with her work.
“I asked them to send me pictures of childrenwho were part of the project and the space, and some of the children in my art work are still here. I made a pattern and design in London, and brought it here. The children were visiting me while I worked, and they were thrilled to see their faces on such a big scale. A boy in my work brought his parents to show himself on the wall to them. I wanted the children of the foundation to be the stars of my piece. I usually do screen printing, and I use flat colours, but because of the size of the project, I designed it to be a screen print on paper, and then we projected the images on the wall. I am quite pleased and surprised at how it turned out, because I have never painted a wall like this before.”
The Anantapur Football League for Girls continues to grow as the third edition of the league has come to an end after receiving a great response from the local community members of Anantapur. In September 2015, the Anantapur Sports Academy started the Anantapur Football League for girls, a community sports league to engage girls from the rural areas of Anantapur through football. In the initial edition, 11 teams participated in the league, lasting three months, which laid the foundation. In 2016, the number of teams grew to 13, with the league being played over five months. Artist Adrián Cardona did his wall painting at the football stadium.
The RDT works with persons with disabilities to help them become the main actors in their own development and to achieve equal rights and opportunities that give them the tools to live their lives with dignity in a society free from stigma and discrimination. The Primary School for Inclusive Education, where both Paca Florit and Joan Costa have set their wall mural/installation, was inaugurated in July 2016. This residential school provides primary education to hearing-impaired and visually impaired children, children with physical disabilities, as well as children without disabilities.
Speaking to me, artist Paca Florit from Menorca said, “When I found out that the space was a dorm for an inclusive school and the children were visually impaired, I wanted to create something that was tactile. The ridges from the tiles I have used can be felt by the children. I am inspired by the rangoli in India, and as you can see, there is a lot of green. The flower patterns are from the rangoli I saw. I brought materials from Spain — blocks of tile — which the children helped me break into tiny pieces. The technique I use is famous because Gaudi uses it. It is called Trencadis and is a type of mosaic based on assembling pieces from broken glazed ceramic tiles in different colours,. I wanted to bring a bit of Spain to India through this technique and my work. The little white houses are inspired by the Balearic islands.”
A short distance from her coloured mosaic wall, is the art work by Joan Costa who is from Mallorca.
“I normally use olive tree branches and meld them with aluminum, but this time I have used bamboo, which is more culturally specific and found here in India. I wanted the material to be safe for children and since it is a primary school, I wanted the children to be able to interact and play with them. When they walk past it, the sticks rub against each other and make music.”
The mammoth task of bringing these artists together can be credited to the curator, Antoni Torres Martorell, who was introduced to the RDT while working on a fund-raising event in Spain for the NGO, and was then invited to collaborate. “I saw the infinite shadow video about the project and was greatly inspired, so this project is about killing shadows and eliminating barriers. The artists were selected on the basis of the fact that are from the Balearic Islands, but the criteria also was that they be the best in their field, high profiled, with some international exposure and also have a history of having worked pro-bono. Since March last year, we have been meeting with all the artists and preparing for this beautiful project. I wanted the project to really represent the islands and respond to the art scene there. The artists will create a few art pieces that are inspired by the India project and we will travel with the exhibition throughout Spain. The experience here has been spectacular and it’s good to be welcomed here. I am personally very happy with the art being left behind here.”
Enric Riera, Formentera, about his art work says, “Lately, I have been using turquoise stones in my art work, there is a lot of this colour in India. Such a happy coincidence for me. So I took this as an inspiration and created the art work. There is no way to express the joy of being here and making art here. I am a very minimalistic and monochromatic artist, which is the opposite of what you find in India, so this was a great project for me to be part of and experience.”
The High School for the Hearing Impaired was established in 2008, and offers adapted education (sign languages) for girl and boy students of the 6th to 10th grade. Luis Maraver has his art piece in this centre. The Integrated Development Trust is the RDT’s fair trade project — it has around 240 women with different disabilities, who are from disadvantaged communities. They have access to a dignified job through this project. The Shelter Home is part of the Women Sector at the RDT. It is a safe haven for women and girl victims of gender violence, such as girls who were forced into child marriages. Carless Gash made a painting to be displayed at the centre, although it is the only art piece that cannot be visited (for obvious reasons). Joan Aguiló also did a wall painting inspired by Swatch Bharat. The RDT has partnered with the government to build more than 20,000 toilets in Anantapur and Kurnool districts.
Just before I leave Anantapur, I sit down to talk Judit Alguero Llop, International communications coordinator for the FVF, who says, “We hope that this will bring light to the shadows of Anantapur, and people will come to enjoy the artwork here and see the work we are doing. We are very happy with the way the artists have come forward to help channelise their creativity in such a positive and uplifting manner.”