PrayogIllu is my ancestral house in Vellulla village, Telanagna state, India and it is artistically conceptualized as a site-specific, interdisciplinary, and alternate place for experimentation in rural-global connection, as well as community building. It aims to blur and reconfigure both social engagement in the rural world, and rural and global cultures. PrayogIllu is a combination of two words: ‘Prayog’ is a hindi word that means ‘experiment’, and ‘Illu’ is a telugu word that means ‘house’. PrayogIllu is an interdisciplinary place that fosters engagement with students and villagers in a rural area with various programs like community library, virtual lectures, video screening, digital literacy, experiential learning, foreign languages, group games, arts, artist in residency, artists and community, women empowerment programs and lectures, sports, and competitions.
This project began on October 2nd, 2021, when the doors of Prayog opened for the first time to families and children from Vellulla and the surrounding villages. The small village of Vellulla, population 6,831 people, is surrounded by small hills and smaller villages. The people of Vellulla are farmers who grow rice, corn and sugar cane, carpenters, potter, charkha, and goldsmith. There is one public school that serves Vellulla’s children and the children of the surrounding villages. Vellulla celebrates cultural festivals every year where the entire village gathers at one place. Generative social gatherings featuring emotionally charged connection with others is a regular life practice. This collaborative social connection is something Vellulla can offer the rest of the world when they are connected through remote Prayogillu reading rooms.
PrayogIllu: An Interdisciplinary Place was initiated through a zoom camera during the COVID-19 pandemic in Vellulla Village, India. I employed the camera as a medium to express my artistic ideas and thoughts to build community through this project. Since then, PrayogIllu has been managing virtually from 8166 miles away (USA). Pandemic conditions necessitated the use of a camera as a medium and became a powerful tool to set up PrayogIllu in a rural place, helping to build and transform the local community.
I was born in 1986, in my ancestral home that is now Praygoillu. Back then, multi-generation families in India lived together and I remember my family (my parents and two sisters), my grandparents, and their daughters all lived in this house. My grandmother told me that this house was built by my great grandparents in the late 1800’s using mud. It was there I first experienced family, connection, and the importance of giving to the world. This home is also where at a young age I saw my family fall apart. When a flood destroyed that ancestral home in June 2021, I felt that I and everything I was connected to, had perished.
The home lay empty for some time, and I relied on my yoga practice to build myself back again. I determined that my ruined home in Vellulla would become a flourishing place of connection and learning.My artistic practice has for many years built thriving communities of connection and learning, through yoga and other social practices. The Prayog: An Interdisciplinary Place in Vellulla, India will build on this earlier work, in the footprint of my ancestral home, to turn personal loss into a place where people can come to be connected.
There are several modes of community engagement happening at Prayogillu now. Firstly, the local rural community experiences Prayogillu as a reading room, or a place for experiential and/or virtual learning. The bookshelves currently hold more than 500 books. In addition to books, visitors to the room engage in group games (Chess, Snakes and Ladder, & Ludo) and build cooperatively with Legos. In Prayogillu’s reading room, books are available in the Telugu, Hindi, and English languages. Genres and topics include literature and fiction, health, family and personal development, history, commerce, economics, spirituality, yoga, society-sociology, technology and computers, internet, biographies, arts, politics, international, traveling, cycling, and sports, etc. Prayogillu intends to create a new passion for the readers in a rural area and to encourage them to read a wide range of books that enhance their knowledge.
Secondly, Prayogillu is a space for socialization and social engagement with rural and global communities. For instance, the space tackles the imposed gender divide by offering a safe and caring environment where boys and girls may engage with the space and each other, reshaping rural socialization.
Thirdly, Prayogillu hosts visiting artists to provide wider cultural exchanges for the local community. Using technology to connect global communities, Prayogillu serves as a mediator between the different agents and sites involved. Prayogillu invites experts to connect rural communities virtually from all over the world to share broad social and cultural knowledge. Prayogillu invites scholars, educators, scientists, artists, artisans, and motivational speakers to connect virtually and share their expertise to provide the rural communities with wider knowledge about global cultures. There have been 13 experts invited from across the globe to conduct virtual sessions at PrayogIllu.
“Artists and Rural Communities” is one of the Prayogillu’s programs, designed to blend artists and rural communities. As part of this blending, Prayogillu invites students from universities, young artists, and professional artists to share their creativity, imagination, and critical thinking with the local community. Artists engage with rural school students and share their artwork with them. Students get an opportunity to work with these invited artists. There are artist talks, presentations, and workshops during their stay at Prayogillu. The act of blurring between artists and local communities promotes creative and cultural exchanges between both communities.