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July 23, 2017

5 Charming Artist Retreats Around The Country

Text by Zaral Shah

Let your imagination run wild with history at Kaladham, Art Ichol, Dune Eco Village, The Mirage or in the urban oasis that is 1Shanthiroad

Kaladham

Even though treks through rocky terrain and visiting the ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site are what Hampi is most known for, Kaladham has been earning a name as a hub for creativity in the region. Formally inaugurated in November 2015, it was envisaged as a centre to experience the ancient folklore and crafts native to Karnataka, against the setting of the last capital of the prominent Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar. It aims to bring together artists working in a variety of mediums and provide a platform to showcase their talent.

Kaladham, which includes an art residency and museum, is built on a 10-acre site within the JSW Township. Along with project coordinator Preeti Goel Sanghi, JSW Foundation’s chairperson Sangita Jindal continues to lead the project. “I see the need to utilise India’s vast reserves of artistic traditions to create a better tomorrow and believe that only when the future generations feel pride in their past will they bring glory to the nation,” she elucidates. “Kaladham can, in a big way, help create awareness for the arts and make the youth keenly participate in the propagation of the same.”

With amenities like an open-air theatre, stunning panoramic 3D photography, conference facilities, an exhibition hall and cafe, you would find little reason to leave Kaladham. “It is also an excellent example of harmony with nature. There is never a corner that is dull or a wall that is monotonous. Every patch or view holds delightful textures, light, shade…all waiting to be discovered,” Jindal describes.

Local flavour: In between exploring the boulders and ruins, paddy fields and banana plantations in Hampi, one can also take time off to drive to Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal. Trek to the 1,500 year old sandstone temples, or climb up Meguti Hill to enjoy delicious and authentic northern Karnataka fare.

Art Ichol

It is home to three estates — the Maihar Heritage Home, the Ichol Art centre and Amariya, a writer’s retreat. Creatively constructed from scraps and recycled materials, the Ichol Art centre houses an open air sculpture park, performance stage, gallery, cafe, an artists’ residency and various studios for metal moulding, stone and wood carving, graphics, clay modelling and painting. “Besides living in an environment which is close to nature, peaceful and beautiful, the residents can explore a discipline which is not their own. For example, a painter could try his hand at ceramics or bronze-casting. A ceramist could learn etching and printmaking. Residents and visitors are also encouraged to interact with the locals, who have an innate sense of creativity and vibrancy,” says founding director Ambica Beri.

In the two years since its inception, Art Ichol has conducted six residencies and been home to artists from roughly 17 countries (the residing president of the International Academy of Ceramics, Jacques Kaufmann being one). It hosts a yearly visual and performing arts festival. “Art Ichol is my vision for a world-class multi-arts centre, a dream that came with a will of its own and became my sole purpose and driving force during its making. I envision it as a cultural reservoir for legacies to be left behind in; where, for generations, people will be remembered by the work they did here,” says Beri.

Here, one can work under open skies while revelling in nature, away from the humdrum of urban life. Over time, the place has attracted architects, photographers, textile artists and theatre artists from all over.

Local flavour: Art Ichol is equidistant from the Khajuraho temples and the Panna and Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserves. Only eight kilometres away lies Maihar, home of Baba Allauddin Khan, the renowned sarod player and court musician, where one can explore abandoned palaces, scenic plateaus and forests. Of the many temples lying in ruin, the Sharda Devi mandir is known for the 1,000 plus steps that have to be climbed to reach it. For a peek into the industrial history of the region one can also tour some of the mines and brass smelting factories.

AIR Artist in Residence by Dune Eco Village

Expansive 35 acres of unscathed nature alongside a beach work in favour of the Puducherry-based initiative created by Dune Eco Village Resort. What internationally renowned musician Shivani Ahlowalia, stencil artist Tona, photographer Frédéric Delangle, graphic artist Julien Colombier and artist Jean-Paul Ganem have in common is that they have all been part of the AIR Artist in Residence programme.

Dimitri Klein, founder and CEO of the Dune Wellness Group, reckons that programmes like AIR are necessary. “Art is real freedom of thought, and artists need to be encouraged.” Here, residents are prompted to work with local craftsmen and materials. “It is a non-profit programme sponsored by the hotel. No one else is involved and we inspire artists to use this bubble, far away from their agents and galleries, to explore new mediums and techniques. This isn’t something they can do in their normal work life, where people expect them to produce what they are known for,” Klein adds. Monthly residencies begin in December and continue until March.

Creating a space for artists to live, meet and work in while exploring the rich culture of South India, Klein emphasises, “As patrons of this programme, if needed, even on a daily basis, we would help them find their creativity and innovate or understand the culture that surrounds us. If they aren’t happy with their work, they can just burn everything!”

Local flavour: To its north is the ancient Pallava port of Mahabalipuram, known for its glorious temple; to the west are an old fort (Gingee) and Arunachala, a renowned sacred hill in the city of Thiruvannamalai. To delve deeper into Tamil heritage and culture, a trip can be taken to the nearby towns Chidambaram, Karaikudi and Madurai. And, of course, a short drive away is Auroville, a hub for designers, artists and craftsmen from around the world.

The Mirage at Andretta

Find yourself amidst dense foliage surrounded by the groves of the Shivalik Hills, along with the towering Dhauladhar range and its snow-capped peaks across the Kangra valley when at The Mirage in the artist’s colony of Andretta. Its mission continues to be to provide an escape from busy metros; a space to relax and discover oneself.

Co-owner Denis Harrap explains, “The Mirage runs acting workshops, and artist and yoga retreats, while functioning as a very successful homestay. The most notable parts are the rooms, hospitality and setting; located peacefully away from the road and with wonderful views of the Himalayas.” Theatre personality Norah Richards laid the first stone for the colony about 75 years ago, when she acquired the land from the District Commissioner of Kangra in 1935. Harrap adds, “We’re situated in a historically important community which was created in 1947 by artists who moved from Lahore at the time of Partition. It’s still an active community with regards to pottery.”

Built in 1956 using a mix of mud and bricks, The White House (which once belonged to a close friend of Richards) — maintains its old-world charm even after major renovation. Bedrooms are accompanied by a reading, living and dining room, and a kitchenette, making them self-sufficient living quarters.

Local flavour: Ride in the Kangra valley toy train that runs between Pathankot and Jogindernagar and tour the rural areas away from the main roads. For the adventurous type, there are jungle and farmland walks, paragliding at Bir-Billing, a tea estate tour and Tibetan monasteries in the vicinity. And for those seeking inspiration of a more spiritual variety, Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj are less than 50 kilometres by road.

1Shanthiroad  

“It is different because it is an artist-led initiative, where the artist in residence is supported, mentored and connected to the host and local community in Bengaluru. We personally work with each one of them and are concerned about their journey,” says Suresh Jayaram, founder and director, 1Shanthiroad Studio/Residency in Bengaluru. Comprising a gallery and multiple studios for local and international artists, 1Shanthiroad — administered by the Visual Art Collective — takes pride in cultivating programmes that bring in innovators from diverse backgrounds, fostering engagement and a discussion within the local community.

What gave rise to the centre was a need to extend the dialogue on art beyond the commercial aspect. 1Shanthiroad focusses on the process and not just the end product. Jayaram emphasises, “The warmth and openness of the space are very special. I also live here and the artists have access to me 24/7. Residents are free to socialise or be on their own journey in their unique spaces. We help them understand themselves, and make sure they work towards a solo show. We also always stay in touch after they leave.”

One of the few art spaces in the country to be located in a metropolis, 1Shanthiroad also conducts lectures, talks, exhibitions, screenings, music events and panel discussions. Open to all creative individuals, this is a place that serves as a catalyst for conceptual ideas that connect artists to a wider audience.

Local flavour: Situated in bustling Bengaluru, one doesn’t have to look far for a plethora of activities and entertainment. Take advantage of the city’s multicultural nightlife and dining scene or get your dose of its many parks. Nandi Hills, 65 kilometres away, is the perfect getaway with its fortresses, flora and fauna and growing number of vineyards.

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