In the beginning of the 21st century, before Art began to Illuminate Mankind, it had to illuminate two hearts and two minds in 2002. That was when Gopal Poddar met Sonali Chakraborti, and the two hearts beating as one, founded AIM.
Over the past 14 years AIM – Art Illuminates Mankind, has done more for the Traditional Arts and Crafts in West Bengal and most of India, than many organizations had done for decades. “Traditional” has come to be just an empty word, and a mantra, to be used by politicians to build their own images and gain votes, and for unscrupulous businessmen to exploit the artisans. This process has now been reversed, and we in South Asia and all other developing countries could learn from Gopal and Sonali and AIM.
I met Sonali Chakraborti through a mutual friend, first by e-mail on 2nd, July 2012, and in person on 27th December the same year, and Gopal Poddar a few days later at the Karigar Haat 2013. Since then I have been following the giant strides they are making across India with AIM and across the globe with Deshaj. What captured my mind, from her first email, was the theme for their Karigar Haat 2013, which was, “expression of Love, Peace and Humanity in our traditional art and culture.” That is how I see their entire effort.
The most wonderful development I have seen is the dedication and eagerness of the team with AIM, who have grown into one big family, and they have accepted me and my wife into their family too. India is one of the richest countries in the world, rich by way of manpower first, then their talents and creativity and the awareness of the vast resources available to them. It was most unfortunate that the European invaders killed this creativity of the people, killed not only their traditional values but their traditional knowledge and skills. they did it in many ways, some openly, some most subtly.
They did it openly by restricting their access to natural resources, preventing them from practicing their trade skills, and subtly by introducing worthless trash from their countries, brainwashing the urban population that such trash was far superior to what the indigenous craftsmen could provide. One very good example is the way they destroyed the healthcare system that had been very successful in keeping the India people healthy for several millennia.
Mahatma Gandhi had a great vision of real practical education for all, so that every Indian could be self-sufficient and be able to support a family. Unfortunately it failed, because most of his followers could not or would not follow through. It happened in Sri Lanka too, when the ‘Father of Free Education’ in Sri Lanka, C. W. W. Kannangara started an experimental school in a village called Handessa, but it was sabotaged by those who wanted to maintain their social and caste status. In other South Asian and Asian countries too there would have been many such visionaries, who could not bring their dreams to come true.
Probably most such good hearted projects did not achieve the expected success because they waited for the mountain to come to them. But AIM went to the mountain, went to the people who had the traditional knowledge, and the traditional skills. AIM members were willing to learn from such great people, treat them with love and respect, and show the world their importance and the service they could do to society, to humanity.
AIM was able to make our traditional craftsmen and artists raise their heads, to realize their own importance and value and grant them the respect and status they deserve in society. When AIM picked up the motto ‘Be Peaceful and Useful’ they were able to reach into the hearts of more people around the world. They managed to bring great craftsmen and artiste from all over India to one major festival in Kolkata, where they could display their skills, not only with their products, but with their creativity in music, song and dance. and AIM was able to draw the attention of state organizations and open the eyes of the general public.
Opening ‘aim‘ at Swabhumi as a non-profit Art Gallery in 2005, followed by regular exhibitions was a step towards bringing Gandhiji’s dream to become a reality.
MORAM, a dream come true for Gopal and Sonali, is their training and production centre, just 12 km. from the world’s greatest cultural education center, Santiniketan. This i see as one more attempt by AIM to eliminate the stigma attached to the official classification of “Backward Classes”. These people are not “backward”. They have been pushed back over centuries, so a few people could appear to be “forward”. It is time for them to gain their rightful place in society, so that the real anti-social people could be exposed as the real “backward” people on earth.
AIM has been reaching out beyond borders, convincing us that all borders are man made, and the true artists cannot be separated by borders or barriers. Gopal Poddar showed this in 2013, when he was able to bring “Truck Artists” from Pakistan to decorate the Nabin Pally Durga Puja Pandal.
DESAJ is taking ‘indigenous to international’ with the innovative products made by the skilled craftspersons at Moram, and this is paving the way to train more and more young people to display their skills and become economically independent and socially recognized.
ROOTS, will bring Indian Traditional knowledge to the world, for art lovers, research students and nature lovers, through the new publications.
Our Arts and our Culture are now owned and controlled by the business mafia around the world. It has all been commercialized. The primary motive for all human action is profit. Profit at any cost. All books, films, dramas, traditional cultural shows all have become commodities. Mass produced and sold for a quick turnover or production controlled to make them special items for maximum profit. Let us all hope that Art Illuminates Mankind, can really illuminate and bring out the humanity in man.
Daya Dissanayake is an award winning bi-lingual Sri Lankan author, who won the SAARC Literary Award 2013. He is the first author to have won State Literary Award for English Novel twice. He won it for the first time for Kat Bitha which was his first novel. His second book The Saadhu Testament is the first electronic novel by an Asian Author. He followed it up by releasing Wessan Novu Wedun also as an e-novel thus becoming the first to publish a Sinhala Electronic Novel.Daya’s Chandraratnage Bawantara Charikawa was one of the joint winners of the first ever ‘Swarna Pusthaka’ award for the best Sinhala novel. The same year Evesdropper was received the literary award for the best English novel.To date, Daya has published eight novels and a collection of poems. He also contributes regularly to newspapers.