It’s one thing to travel together, it’s a whole different affair to do so with a purpose. Meenakshi Jey and Jey Sushil of Artologue belong to the latter league. The two crusade around the country equipped with a creative eye and paintbrush, ready to bring colours to people’s lives…literally! With a mission of bringing art to one’s home, and an itch to make artworks an accessible reality, the duo has traversed various Indian landscapes. They give us an insight into how they achieve this. By Bayar Jain
1. Tell us about Artologue, and how the two of you started travelling together?
One drizzly August afternoon in 2013, we (Meenakshi Jey and Jey Sushil) were riding back home on our motorcycle when Jey asked me what my grandest wish in life is. I said, “to paint the whole world.” Jey said that while there are fellowships that could support my dream of painting, there isn’t any way he could fulfil my dream of travelling the whole world. This thought remained with us, and a week later we pondered if there was a way to travel and paint someone’s place in lieu of food and accommodation.
We invited some friends over and engaged them in painting the walls of our home. Everyone loved it! The same year in November, we asked friends in Mumbai and Goa to be our hosts. In lieu of their hospitality, we painted a small corner of their homes with their family and friends. I tickled the imagination of the host family and painted a musical animal band in bright colours, and a fish galaxy in another family’s home. Jey documented the whole process of ”creating without concerns,’ and shared it on our Facebook page. Our Facebook friends loved the project! Thus, we named the project: ARTOLOGUE: ART FOR ALL.
In 2014, we undertook a month-long motorbike journey from Pune to Chennai via Goa, Kundapur (Mangalore), Hampi and Hosur. On this trip, we painted at five places and stayed with families recommended by friends. We met these families for the first time. Thus, our art circle began to expand. We started receiving a sizeable number of invitations from all over India to paint with their families, institutions and communities.
2. Few understand the concept of travelling artists. Could you debunk it for us?
The idea behind our travels has been to connect with people and experience the life of the places we visit. As a duo, we work with colours (Mee) and words (Jey Sushil), respectively. We try to complement each other and engage with the host family on multiple levels. We do so by trying to erase the barrier between guest and host. The idea of travelling is to enrich our understanding of the world with each place. This happens with a mutual exchange of experiences and knowledge with our hosts. Art and travelling are equal parts in our idea of ‘being.’ We travel to enrich our art; learn from the place and people; and in return, give them what we have.
3. Your motto is to bring ‘art outside art galleries’. How do you do this?
Our understanding of art is different from the commercial meaning of art, which is limited to artists, galleries and collectors. That creates a very exclusive community. We believe art is a part of everyday life. So why not experience the power of creativity with ordinary people in their domestic spaces? The white space of galleries are sanitised, and showcase a selective curation—and at times, projects—of art which is alien to a large number of common people. In India, people always complain that they do not understand art. This is a chasm created by galleries who want to entertain a certain kind of clientele, and do not want to recognise the domesticity of art unless it is approved by the western notions of art and aesthetics.
We chalked out an inclusive method of creating a collective creative experience. This involves going to people’s homes and helping them experience the creative aspects of their own personality. We also started a dialogue around the importance of art in everyday life for everybody. We are also of the view that everybody is an artist in their own ways and, just like any other skill, one has to nurture it.
4. As a travelling couple, how do you choose a destination that takes into account both your individual tastes and interests?
We travel on invitation. However, we also have a filtration and selection process of destinations we travel to. Most of the times, we choose a route we would like to travel based on the number of invitations from that part of India. While Jey plans and talks to the families, I take the final call post ‘selection and rejection’ process. This system ensures that the host will engage with us and respect our efforts as a creative couple. We also try to travel to newer places to enrich ourselves.
Wherever we go, we try to blend in with the daily routine of the hosts. At some places, we ate dinners at 7 pm. In other cases, the family didn’t eat any dinner; only fruits at night. We try to follow their routine to understand their system of functioning. This helps us engage with the family in selecting a theme and creating art in their homes.
5. How do you deal with differences while travelling together? Do creative differences come in the way?
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Normally, we don’t have any big differences while travelling together because everything is clear from the start. We know who is going to do what. While Jey is responsible for preliminary research in finding a family, engaging with the family, discussing the idea, and then documenting it, I am the boss when the actual process of painting starts. At that point, Jey takes a backseat and becomes an anthropological journalist who is, both, an insider and an outsider. While there are always questions, there aren’t any differences. The boundary is clear.
There is no scope of difference with the families we stay with. This is because we adjust with their routine, and gently nudge them on the art front. Having said that, there have been discussions with the family on controversial art projects of well-known artists such as MF Husain. In such cases, we take a back seat, try to understand where their views are coming from, and analyse their perspective.
6. What are your top tips for planning an #IntimateTravel vacation?
Travel light and travel to less-travelled destinations with an open mind towards the place and yourself. It’s not necessary to achieve intimacy only in a hotel room. It can also be sought by watching an old couple sitting and sipping on tea in their modest homes. Learning from what is around you is the key to intimate travel. Talking to local communities with an open mind helps one understand the existence of various customs and life experiences. This understanding also enriches intimacy between friends, partners or families.
7. Must-haves when packing for an #IntimateTravel vacation?
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We always keep an emergency medical kit; a list of phone numbers, preferably of people close to the planned destination; and a lot of underwear. Any travel that is hassle-free and safe can become an intimate travel experience. A decision of not using the phone for more than 30 minutes a day is key to making the most of the vacation.
8. The most romantic destination in India according to you, and why?
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Coastal parts of India have been the highest on our list of romantic destinations. The fascinating terrain, tropical vegetation, moderate weather, tasty food and humble people make it the best region to travel to. For us, it is Goa but not everyone is a sea person. I love the sea, but Jey wants both, jungle and sea. And Goa offers that. We’ve also been planning to travel to the north-eastern part of India for similar reasons.
9. A hidden gem in India you wish people knew more of?
Lodrawa (Rajasthan), Dhanushkodi (Tamil Nadu), South Goa, and the backwaters of Kundapur (Karnataka).
10. Your tips on becoming a more conscious traveller?
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When you are planning your travels keep in mind that it is a new place which will offer new experiences and challenges. If you approach every unfamiliar experience as new learning, the travel will become very joyful. Be respectful and act responsibly—not only to the people but also to nature. We try not to use plastic in our travels. While it can be tricky, it is possible. Travelling is not an act; it is an experience that makes us better human beings.
Note: all photographs are courtesy of Artologue.in