Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

Regrouping – the new journey begins

I can’t begin to recount where the past five weeks have gone since I walked in the door from India and began the real work. They certainly disappeared down the chute of time so rapidly that I woke up one morning to the realisation that Markers for the Journey had opened the previous night. I was still wired – I mean how can the energy required to mount a major exhibition suddenly turn off? How can the unleashed creativity be abruptly reigned in and how can one face the space that held me captive while I cut, stitched, placed, sorted, pressed, printed and let my ideas run riot? I opened that door today and shut it again promptly. The clean up will wait for another time.  Instead I open up my computer and clean up the desktop – this activity takes less brainpower and certainly requires less physical energy although I do get caught up in images let loose on the screen. I sit absorbed into the memories of camels at sunset in the wide flat landscape near Chari Dhandh wetlands, the small giggling girls from Hodko carrying their water pots bright and new from the wedding the previous night and the seamed face of Ayub, camel trader from far away, as he wrote his name and number in my journal with such pride in his ability.

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Girls with shiny new water pots the night after a wedding at Hodko. © Carole Douglas 2012

If I were honest I’d say I was tired but I am afraid to give in because it is ten years since I accepted the invitation to exhibit at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum and now that I have done it I simply want to keep following the inspirations that were waiting for me in boxes – out of sight and out of mind and now in full vision and full frontal lobe! And it is much more than ten years since I exhibited my own work – funny how an earthquake changed my direction and lead me on a circuitous route to this.

Markers for the Journey is a reflection on my first15 years in Kachchh, a journey that is echoed in the narrative imagery of those who journey in the landscape of that most magnetic of places and it is a tribute to the people who have enriched my life in so many ways. And if you are in Kachchh and reading this then you know you are one of them! Thank you.

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Kuldip Gadhvi and Sumar's brother share a yarn over early morning chai. © Carole Douglas 2011.

I use three large screens onto which we project glimpses of the lives of wandering pastoral people – Maldhari, Fakirani Jats  and Rabari. While I know that in reality the divisions are not quite that cut and dried I use them as a framework from which to hang the details – the shelters, textiles, adornment, land use and ritual, and to uncover the patterns of life and the complex codes of tradition. The fourth screen, a 2m diameter circle of salt crystals on the gallery floor, carries circular symbols of heritage, beliefs and local iconography. The soundscape that accompanies the imagery was recorded over an extended period of time. It carries the ambient sounds of Kachchh and gives voice to the people and their animals who wander this resilient land.

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3 large screens and a circle of salt on the floor show images that reflect the wandering life. © Carole Douglas 2012

The gallery space is divided (and thus darkened) by a ‘wall’ of floor to ceiling black woollen shawls found just in time (March) in Bharat’s shop in Bhuj. Brand new, 3.8 m in length and subtly tie dyed they are the answer to this artist’s prayers. On the wall facing the screens is a 3m length of heavy wooden dowel over which is draped the everyday textile items of pastoral communities – shawls, quilts, jackets, skirts, scarves – oudni, kanjiris, dadkis, choliyas – made not by any NGO or craft cooperative but by the people themselves. And like the people these items are honest, strong and enduring.

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Items of the everyday kind. Original pieces from Kachchh. © Carole Douglas 2012

Just two weeks before we set up the gallery, Mike and I went scavenging for branches to interpret the ‘markers’ pastoral communities place along roadsides to indicate a nearby camp. We looked far and wide and then found exactly what we needed close to home in the yard of the local ambulance station. They had cut down a mature gum tree – perfect branches, straight enough and forked in just the right places to hold the needs for journey – cloth covered water bottles, animal bells, bags and other necessary items. We finished off this darkened space with randomly placed round mirrors to catch the light in much the same way as a mud mirror wall or an embroidered bodice glints seductively and elusively. I now sit in this space – a piece of Kachchh within the walls of Manly Art Gallery and Museum - and watch the still and moving images as they morph one into another – a mirror becomes the sun becomes a shepherd’s eye … and I am ‘home’ again. And on the other side of this intimate space is another story for next time.

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Random mirrors and a 'marker' for the journey. © Carole Douglas 2012

Markers for the Journey is on at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in Sydney until June 3rd so if you are in the vicinity do drop in and become part of the magic of Kachchh. If not, then I will bring it to you – Inshallah.