- Sai Sathya
Photos: Rekha, Dakshinachitra
March 24, 2023
There has always been a buzz about women-centric festivals in March, in connection with International Women's Day. Utsavam 2023, Dakshina Chitra's Annual Music and Dance Festival this year aimed at providing a platform for female professionals in the field of law, performing arts, business, photography, fashion, tattoo making and many more.
Shreya Nagarajan Singh
Dakshina Chitra, for its 8th consecutive year presented Utsavam on 25th and 26th February 2023. Every year the festival claims a new theme. This year it is 'Future is Feminine'. The festival was curated and produced by Shreya Nagarajan Singh Arts Development Consultancy for Dakshina Chitra. Utsavam 2023 was sponsored by Star Health Insurance.
Leading up to Utsavam, there was a Girlboss networking session for women at Goethe Institut a week prior to the festival. The idea was to get women and like-minded entrepreneurs, artists, and business owners to come together and network. The directors Dr. Katharina Görgen, Dr. Patricia Théry-hart, and Kausalya Devi Apparao from the Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise, and Dakshina Chitra, graced the occasion.
'Future is Feminine' was curated keeping in mind women and women-identifying who are creating and presenting path breaking work in their own fields. The festival started with Shreya giving the curatorial note followed by Patricia lighting the lamp.
Female voices from the Odhuvar tradition
The first session was a unique session of female artistes from the Odhuvar community, who are the disciples of Mylai Naganathan Odhuvar. They rendered Thevarams (Tamizh hymns on Lord Shiva), which were composed by Appar, Sundararaja, and Sambandar. 'Paadal vilakkam' or the verse explanation was given before presenting the Thevaram.
Saishruthi, a lawyer and a dancer, presented her research on protecting artistic work using the law as a tool. She spoke about how presenting the literal meaning of the padam doesn't become an infringement, but exactly replicating another artiste's personal way or idea of expressing a padam becomes one. During the Q&A session, Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Priya Murle shared insights on the prevalent copyright issues in the music and dance fraternity. Over the past few years, there has been a constant misuse of an artiste's creative work. Proper sensitisation on copyrights and protecting their work is indispensable. It has become a requirement among the artiste community.
'Rangabhava' was presented by Geetha Varma, a Kathakali artiste. She spoke about the history and evolution of Kathakali and representation of other genders in this art form, especially her 'all female' Kathakali group from Kerala. She says that the art form was mainly performed by men earlier, but now a lot of women have started to train. She even mentioned the challenges faced by female artistes to establish themselves and shared interesting anecdotes on how women had to disguise themselves in costumes to take part in competitions organised. It was fascinating to know about the variety of colors used for Kathakali makeup, which are obtained from natural mineral stones. There was also an activity which engaged the audience.
The session 'Power Dressing for Women', featured Prazzi, a model and Miss Trans Queen India 2022 finalist, whose outfits were styled and presented by Purushu Arie. He shared his idea of eradicating gender-based clothing, which created an impact among the young audience. He spoke about how an outfit could determine a person's identity and how it serves as a potential catalyst to boost self-confidence. The audience questioned the speaker about clothing, gender stereotypes, comfort, personal choice, etc., to which the speaker gave convincing answers.
Mangala Bai Marav
The session 'Meet Mangala Bai Marav' was in Hindi. Sahana Rao and Sneha Mahesh were in conversation with Mangala Bai Marav to translate her experiences to English. Mangala Bai is a traditional tribal tattoo artist from Lalpur, Madhya Pradesh. She spoke about her ancestors practicing this art form for generations and how she has been making tattoos since childhood. Mangala Bai explained the significance of healing tattoos and the specialities of her patterns. These practitioners of lesser-known art forms need mainstream representation to prevent them from becoming extinct.
'Found in Translation' is a project that aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice in dance. In the two-part video essays, Shabari Rao and Kumudha Chandrasekaran revisited familiar concepts in dance and explored the relationship between movement and language in Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance. The execution was a bit ambiguous and could have been communicated with crisp and simple explanations. We felt the questions at the end of each essay were quite complicated.
Vanitha Kathakali Sangham
The highlight of the day was the performance by Vanitha Kathakali Sangham, an all-female Kathakali group from Kerala. They presented the episodes 'Bheema Panchaali Samvaadham', 'Gitopadesham', and 'Duryodhana-Dusshasana Vadham' from Mahabharata. The distinct costumes and majestic, rich makeup enthralled and held the attention of the audience.
Right after the exhilarating Kathakali performance, Prasiddhi Singh - a 10-year-old social entrepreneur, an environmental activist, the youngest recipient of the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Award, and brand ambassador for Green Tamil Nadu - gave a short but strong pitch to find ways to save the environmental crisis we are in. She has planted over one million trees across Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The day ended with 'An Unexplored Mic' and 'Deleted Drafts' presenting an open mic with the theme 'Future is Feminine', inviting people of all genders and ages. It included poetry, stand-up, music, spoken word, and more.
Utsavam also featured the Kala Collective and a Sandhai over the weekend of Feb 25 & 26. The Kala Collective (a collective for female and non-binary lens-based artists) hosted its first ever PhotoBooth at Utsavam 2023 on February 25th and 26th. Visitors had the option to book 15-mins, 30-mins, and 1-hour portrait shoot sessions with the Kala Collective photographers. 'Sandhai is a marketplace for women and women-identifying entrepreneurs, service providers, and business owners to showcase their products and services. The stalls featured a range of items like food, handloom products, cosmetics, artwork, stationery, and jewelry. We also had a tarot reading stall that caught the attention of visitors.
Utsavam 2023 had female representation in the art forms which were primarily performed by male artistes. The inclusion of queer community made the festival a safe space for the visitors. Sessions and talks based on gender stereotypes led to vital introspection, making the audience question their unconscious biases and internalized ideas of patriarchy.
Sai Sathya has been learning the Kancheepuram style of Bharatanatyam from Dr. Udupi Madhumathy Prakash for the past 15 years. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and is currently pursuing a master's in Journalism and Communications.