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IISER Pune in the Limca Book of Records for the Largest Warli Painting Ever  Apr 07, 2016

The organizers of this unique endeavour where over 400 students came together to create what has now been declared as the largest warli painting ever. (Left to Right): Suhita Nadkarni, Siddhesh Zadey, Lavanya Lokhande, Divya Singh, Prachi Shinde  

On November 1, 2014 as part of the IISER Pune student festival Karavaan 2014, the Art Club of IISER Pune had organized a unique event: creating a warli painting of about 2600 sq ft, nearly the size of a football field. About 470 students toiled away during the day to achieve this goal sponsored by Pidilite Industries. This feat has now been accepted in the Limca Book of Records.

Speaking about the creative energy evident on the campus, faculty coordinator for the event Suhita Nadkarni said, “It was marvellous to see public art take center stage in IISER for a day. Witnessing its collective creation was interesting at several levels. It seemed that art, for its own sake, had energized our campus. The emergent social dynamics among the 400 odd participants was fascinating. Different styles of leadership emerged, crisis managers and problem solvers, cheerleaders who upped the tempo, entertainers who worked magic while earnest workers labored on. There were team builders and whiners at the carnival too. A big budget movie with action, emotion, drama and finally a teary eyed, exhausting and satisfying happy end!”

The main student organizers of the event Divya Singh (DS), Lavanya Lokhande (LL), Prachi Shinde (PS), and Siddhesh Zadey (SZ) share here their experiences in organizing an event of this scale. They describe how they came up with this idea along with Dr. Nadkarni, what went behind the scenes to prepare for the event and how the day of the event progressed.

Working together (Photo Courtesy: Umakant Rapol)

In all its sprawling glory (Photo Courtesy: Pidilite)

The beginnings

PS: The four of us began to gather ideas on an event that we can organize during Karavaan and Siddhesh came up with this suggestion that we should try out something big.

SZ: The main motivation behind planning something of this nature is to plan an event that can bring together and engage the entire IISER Pune community.

DS: In general, we have observed that for any art related event or workshop at the institute, we see participation from the same set of interested individuals. In this effort we got everyone to participate in one event and, in the process, also created a work of art.

Choice of warli style of painting
LL: I don't remember exactly when we decided about warli painting, but I was all for doing something big. Warli came up during a discussion with Dr. Suhita Nadkarni, the faculty coordinator for students' activities.

SZ: When we decided that the event should be that of a big painting, we went to the Limca record site and wondered if we should break a record for the biggest footprint painting. We discussed this with Dr. Nadkarni. She suggested that we make a record instead of breaking one. We were at first mildly irritated for having to tweak our plan, but we now feel grateful for her suggestion. The art club had conducted a warli painting workshop a little before that in August 2014 and we had also managed to a few inputs from the instructor.

PS: I had missed that particular workshop and I was hoping to get another opportunity to learn the warli style!

 The next step

Warli3DS: We had a few rounds of discussions, jotted down what and how much of material is required for this and came up with a tentative budget. We spoke with Karavaan coordinators, who in spite of being skeptical if this plan would work, asked us to come up with a proposal.

SZ: It was not straightforward to prepare a cost estimate for this since the cost of the material varied significantly based on type, quality, vendors so on. We went to a local market to scout for the material required such as paper sheets, brushes, paints, glue, tape, containers, carpets, plastic sheets.

PS: This market was a very resourceful but chaotic place where we still have difficulty finding our way! But our trips there helped us find out what material is available and come up with a budget.

SZ: To raise enough funds, we then wrote to a couple of agencies asking if they would be interested in sponsoring the event, got response from a leading company that due to limitations in time, they can only offer to provide material such as paints and brushes at a subsidized cost but not sponsor the entire event.

DS: While we were waiting to hear back from other potential sponsors and were unsure if we would hear at all, we opened registration for the event with the idea that if there were enough volunteers we might be able to fund the event through a registration fee.

PS: Within 24 hours, we had ~100 volunteers registering!

LL: We thought not more than 50 people would turn up for the event. But when we sent out the mail and within two days more than 300 had volunteered, then we thought, ‘maybe this is doable, we can really do this’.

SZ: This was an important milestone because now we knew how many people are likely to participate and the funds were essential to make an advance payment for the material required for the event. At this stage, we were just about 3 weeks away from the event!

The exhilarating moment

PS: I received a call from Dr. Nadkarni who asked all of us to assemble to discuss something important and to review some details. The four of us got together and put the phone on speaker to be able to talk to her. She said ‘you now have a big problem, you have about two lakhs to spend!’ we couldn't quite believe it and had her repeat the news!

SZ: This was the entire amount we had originally proposed in our budget. Since we had not heard back from any potential sponsors by this time, we had already worked out an alternate plan reducing the cost to one-fourth. We were all really happy that our proposal got funded.

DS: I think not getting the money beforehand made us optimize and think hard about alternate options, although in the end it so turned out that we did need the funds to make it all happen.

The week leading up to the event

SZ: After getting the confirmation, we had to get some documents together for Pidilite to release the funds. We were also given a final list of things to adhere to during and for the event in order to apply for the Limca Book of Records, one of which was to have a few witnesses who would stay through the event and verify that it had in fact taken place. Our Registrar, Col Raja Sekhar and hostel manager Mr. Alom Hussain helped us out in this regard.

DS: We had about 5000 sheets altogether. Our initial idea was to stick them all together before beginning to sketch and paint. This plan changed and we decided to have groups of 4 sheets together beforehand. Several volunteers worked consistently for 7-8 days to stick sheets together to get them ready for the big day. We borrowed (a very generously donated) space from the room which was being used for dance practice to park the sheets before the event.

LL: About two-three days before event, Divya and I had spent about three hours in the market looking for plastic sheets which can be spread on the ground. The sheets had to be thick and strong enough as people would be walking over them while painting. We called nearly 16 vendors before finally zeroing onto one vendor who could provide this at a reasonable cost.

SZ: While most time was spent on arranging for logistics, the more important issues like the design plan, the story we would like to depict in the composition or the motifs we would be using were yet unclear.

PS: Volunteers wanted to know the composition, dimensions of the portions they are likely to sketch or paint and so on. We did not really have the time for practice sessions for sketching and painting for volunteers; instead, we sent them some introductory material online.

SZ: We had a few sets of paintings in mind, but generating one fixed structure, like what the volunteers were hoping for, was not possible. They suggested that we should have the composition planned out, divided into grids, which can then be easily assigned to the volunteers so that each one knows their role clearly.

DS: We did consider making a template and attempted it but found it practically impossible to pull it off while also working simultaneously on the logistics. We however had a basic idea of the theme. We figured that each group would work with about 10 or so sheets and would generate about 300 compositions. But this was too big a number.

SZ: The idea was to start with depicting an entire day schedule beginning with sunrise and show different activities during the day. We had three kinds of colored sheets to match different times of the day, orange (morning), red (day) and maroon (night).

SZ: We met with sketchers a few days before the event; they too wanted a fixed template with grids. I was happy to see that they were indeed worried for the composition instead of simply criticizing our approach.

DS: We gave a basic concept which included a portion of a jungle, followed by a village with a mountain in the backdrop, and a river passing through the village. On one side of the river would be jungle and day-to-day activities and on the other day of the river would be cultivation, harvest, celebration, and a temple.

PS: We had given the sketchers some basic examples of Warli paintings where landscapes and people were depicted and we asked them to maintain proportion for figurines in a manner that one sheet does not accommodate more than three figurines. Many sketchers were imaginative, the eventual composition turned out to be quite elaborate with many details. Most of them were not trained artists... but now they are!

Painters were enthusiastic even though they were not sure what to paint. I would tag them with sketchers so that soon after they were done sketchers, painting would begin. At the end, everyone had fun!

DS: Although it seemed difficult to convey the composition we had in mind, the volunteers demanding more clarity on the design forced us to rethink and helped us improvise. This process also gave us an opportunity to get to know other people with common interests and was a learning experience on how one could go about setting up such an event.

SZ: The composition we came up with in the end was mostly due to the sketchers' work as well as Lavanya, Prachi and Divya indicating which portions require which components (river, mountain, sun, moon etc).

The evening before

DS: The event was going to start in the morning the next day and the previous night, over a carpet on the football ground we started setting things up. We had tons of plastic sheets and thousands of sheets of paper and we were feeling lost about where to begin and if we can ever cover the area at all with everyone busy at Karavaan. We started nevertheless and people began to join to help, a couple of them each time. It was quite amazing how so many people turned up to help and we managed to cover the whole area in about an hour or so. We dispersed at 2 in the morning and were planning to return in a few hours by 4 or so.

SZ: By the time we completed spreading plastic sheets, we realized there was going to be a lot of dew on them by morning and indeed they were by 5 in the morning. We trying mopping them dry and then spread some sheets of paper only to find them wet as well.

LL: We thought not more than 50 people would turn up for the event. But when we sent out the mail in two days, more than 400 had volunteered and then we thought, maybe this doable, we can really do this. But now when we saw the paper wet with dew, I thought we cannot do this. After all that we managed, getting funds and material, it seemed shocking to have to let go.

SZ: By now, we realized this was not working, and decided to delay this process, wait until a little later in the morning for the sun to clear the moisture. We sent a mail to everyone that we will start by 9:30 in the morning instead.

The day of the event

SZ: We officially started at 9:30 am and by 11, our entire work was literally blown away! The winds were too strong and the sheets couldn't be held in place. We made more trips to the market and got tapes to stick the sheets together to keep the sheets in place.

LL: This is when the housekeeping staff members helped us by bringing stones to hold the sheets in place.

PS: We also had faculty members like Dr. Balasubramanian filling and distributing glasses of water for those of us working on the painting. Many other members too visited us during the day to encourage and cheer.

SZ: A great moment of encouragement was when someone took a picture of the painting from one of the top floors and that was a major boost for us to believe that we might indeed be able to do this.

DS: For more than an hour or so, all that we did was to stick sheets. Some of the sheets were painted already. We asked people to begin sketching. We started around 2 pm and by evening 5:30 pm, we were done painting two thirds of the area. By this time, we realized we were falling short of red sheets, but we took a call in the interest of time to use the excess orange sheets that we had, even if this meant a deviation from our plan.

Sketching of the celebration portion, which was supposed to be the most elaborate portion of the painting, had begun around 6 pm. Around twenty people were working on a large circle and 3-4 of us were working in the peripheral area. Even though several people worked on this, the composition was so coherent that it seemed like it came from a single artist's work.

There was about half-an-hour wait for new sheets which Siddhesh had gone out to get while we were all thrown back to doubts on if this would work and why, after all our thorough calculations, we fell short of sheets. When he returned with sheets, everyone spontaneously cheered for him!

DS: Work began very swiftly and within 20 minutes, they were done and we needed a plan on what to paint in the tiny empty patch at the centre. We decided to paint people cooking (after harvesting and before celebrating).

SZ: This was the only time I finally got to sketch! In the meantime, during the day we also went around correcting a few portions which did not seem authentic. It was good that corrections were not left till the end. We were done by 8:30 pm.

DS: After the dimensions were measured, breadth was exactly 34 metres, the length was 76.5 metres as opposed to 74 that we had planned. This explained why we fell short of sheets!

LL: Dr. Nadkarni did an awesome job of keeping everyone upbeat this whole time. Mr. Alom Hussain, Mr. Ramlal Chowdhury and many others played very important roles helping and supporting us for us to be able to achieve this even though only students could work directly on the painting.

 Concluding thoughts

DS: An important outcome of this event is that apart from organizing a never-before kind of event at the institute, we now have something to show for to say "we have plans and they do work out"!

PS: The event more than made up for the warli workshop that I was unable to participate in!

SZ: It is only when you begin to work on a research problem do you realize the many small and peculiar issues that need addressing and that you had not anticipated to be important. The warli project was pretty much the same as well!

LL: I think irrespective of what one's main career interests are, one should also stay informed of what's else is happening around, explore what's the latest in other areas, try out something crazy and out-of-the-ordinary and keep oneself entertained. I think it helps one to grow as a person and gives an immense confidence boost. I would not have thought I could organize an event of this scale, but now I know that I can. And the adventure was fun and worth it!

Nadkarni adds, “The effort, skill and perseverance shown by the students to put this together is highly commendable. Their efforts were generously supported by Pidilite industries, no questions asked, no doubts expressed. The final piece of art, a tribute to the Warli style of painting, in its football-field sized magnificence and minute detail told a story that could be read from the roofs of the tallest buildings in IISER.”

 -Interview by Shanti Kalipatnapu