An artist from Jasaan, Misamis Oriental represented the Philippines in a recent artists’ camp held in Udaipur (City of Lakes) a city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, India, and formerly the capital of the Mewar Kingdom, as a celebration of 30 years of  India-ASEAN ties.

Rajasthan Land of Kings (or Land of Kingdom) is India’s largest state by area. It is located in the northwest part of country and is a melting pot of cultural diversity. Its features include the ruins of Indus Valley Civilization, Temples, Forts and Fortresses in almost every city.

Melissa Abuga-a (5th from left) represented the Philippines in the ASEAN-India Artists’ Camp celebrating 30 years of ASEAN-India ties.

Melissa Abuga-a, a freelance  illustrator, independent arts and crafts professional, was one of the 20 artists that participated in the camp titled Oceans of Connectivity at Taj Aravali Resort and Spa, Udaipur, organized by the Ministry of External Affairs and creative arts company Seher.

“Seher India requested the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for the names of Filipino Artists who would be interested to participate, and I was nominated by the NCCA’s National Committee on Visual Arts (NCVA),” Meling (as she is known to friends) said.

“NCVA asked me to submit the requirements and a week later Seher India informed me I was chosen to represent the Philippines,” she added. “All artists from the ASEAN also underwent a similar selection process.”

Melissa Abuga-a (2nd from left, back row) with fellow artists from ASEAN who attended the camp.

ASEAN artists from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, and recommended by their respective culture ministries joined Indian artists from Gogunda, Bhopal, Bhilai, and other Indian cities and provinces.

“Oceans connect these countries. Oceans also give them livelihood, with maritime trade. Interestingly enough, these very oceans are the borders that separate them too. So, it’s interesting to see the artists’ interpretation of this theme,” says Sanjeev Bhargava, Seher founder, in an article published in The Hindu newspaper.

The camp seeks through the medium of the arts to understand and appreciate what makes each culture unique as the means to public diplomacy.

A community in progress

Over nine days, several hours of conversations, some workshops and a day out in the city, a mostly abstract display came to fruition. While some experimented, others stuck to their preferred styles.

Meling’s large canvas entitled There’s Transcendence in Persistence (श्रेष्ठता में अटलता ) was described as quintessentially Rajasthani with a twirling folk dancer, her skirt revealing a world of exuberance that is so characteristic of the eastern State. A bright yellow piece of fabric picked up from a nearby market and mirror work that pays homage to the State’s craftsmanship complete the canvas.

Meling with her chef d’oeuvre and camp staff who helped her set it up.

The flare of the skirt leads one to the ocean, as the artist draws parallels between the dancer’s exultation at liberation to that of dancing underwater.

“The water, you see, is from home [the Philippines]. When anybody is dancing, it feels like they are underwater and when you are underwater, it’s like moving around with a skirt on. Heavy, but once you get the flow, you are good,” Meling noted.

She adds that she discussed her work with fellow Indian artists almost on a daily basis.

“When they share their opinions, and what I can do better, I start again,” she says with a chuckle. “The camp made me realize that I can work with other people after all. There’s transcendence in persistence.”

Besides interacting with other artists, Meling also got the opportunity on the fifth day of the workshop to interact with students at the Maharana Mewar Public School (MMPS, an English medium school) along with Indonesian artist Eddy Sulistyo and their Indian camp mentor.

The artists pass on the creative knowledge and the nuances of art and how it connects the world to the young students of Maharana Mewar Public School ,Udaipur (Sehar India)

“One of the privileges I had during the camp was to spend time (talk, paint, laugh!) with kids from MMPS-Udaipur, not only once but twice!” Meling exclaims.

Meling enjoying an art appreciation session with MMPS, an English middle school in Udaipur.

“Although I was told we were to merely talk about our art, we were surprised to see a blank canvas set up at the school located inside the city palace. I was amazed at their appreciation for art. Instead of me just painting on  the canvas, I also asked them to paint along with me.”

The nine-day camp culminated with an exhibition in the presence of the Minister of State, Ministry of External Affairs, Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh.

Minister of State for External Affairs and Education Dr Rajkumar Ranjan Singh graced the concluding ceremony of the ASEAN-INDIA ARTISTS’ CAMP. (Seher India)

After nine days of working together, they are now more aware of the similarities in cultures that their countries share.

“New learnings emerge when you share your music, dance and art with artists from other countries,” reflects Yogendra Tripathi of Bhilai . “That is precisely what has happened here. One got to learn, even when we ate together or went on walks.”


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