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From the land, For the land

Exploring the fusion of rural heritage with contemporary art, Nishchay Thakur’s unique practice embodies cultural memory and sustainability amidst a rapidly changing landscape. Through his transformative use of organic materials and traditional techniques, Thakur’s work offers a poetic reflection on the evolving relationship between agrarian society and modernity. This article focuses on the unique, one-of-a-kind art practice of the artist, upholding the elemental values of the land while involving an array of organic and natural and at times, unpredictable materials.

 Being brought up in Khairlanji village and studying in a school in a nearby town, he has been a close observer of the daily rural practices and farming cultures of his family. His artistic interest received academic understanding and artmaking perspectives in his college and university years in Chhattisgarh and Delhi. However, in the journey of his practice, it was the lockdown period due to covid-19 emergency, he had to go back to his hometown at Khairlanji, and for the first time in 22 years, as a grown man, he got an opportunity to spend a considerable continuous stretch at his village. The lockdown caused a dearth of materials for Nischay, like many other artists, because of market closure. The artist, trained in fine arts, couldn’t do much work in the first couple of months and then he had an epiphany.

The patterns on the indoor walls of a village home can take various shapes from realistic visuals to surreal forms. The artist, having an idea of a similar kind, started to engrave directly on one of the walls of his ancestral home and finally achieved the desired, unique form and direction. In these wall engravings, the cultural elements of rural living, the motifs of yesterday, and his growing-up years are depicted through experiential eyes. The engraving series called Gramin Graffiti features various figures dressed in rural attires and activities, in allusion to the past family members or the village locals. These on-site engravings enhance the cultural atmosphere of the surroundings, adding artistic value to the space through poetic visual elements of a parallel timeline.

The idea of memory and childhood is essentially embedded in the conceptual framework of this new direction the artist took and he, being the son of the soil, reflects the cultural elements of rural India in the rapidly digitalized age. After the engraving works at village houses, gradually he started to create surfaces as his handmade organic mediums, in this case- with mud, cow dung, and clay composed over bamboo, wood, and other bases. Works like the ‘Legacy of Sustainability’ or ‘Fasal’ are contemplative regarding an era of village community life, a fast-changing area in today’s social fabric. The artist translates the village life in these mixed-media sculptural works while transforming natural materials into sculptural values, and he contemplates that because of various urban industrial prospects, the legacy of farming is facing a hard time while the urbanistic rapid consumerism spreads into the villages.

The works have also focused on farming tools, which were gradually replaced with urban elements. In the poetic usage of the sickle in the work ‘Afterlife’ or the depiction of the plow in Balance’, the artist moves on from earlier representative visuals of memory to more open, abstract, and poetical dynamics where he invites questions and dialogues about the cultural journey of an agrarian society.

The practice of the artist is deeply rooted in his cultural identity and the organic elements and objects he’s using in his sculptural forms is an innovative take on the contemporary art scene. In an era of the surge of tech and new media and on the other hand, the toll of farmer suicides increase and farmers of the country protesting numerous times for just pay, the Indian art ecosystem should receive more works in this visual language as well which proclaims the elemental values of land, food and an inclusive Indian social culture.

Self portrait