How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
“Why study visual anthropology?” a typical question people ask about my education choice. In November 2017, I began three-year Master’s Program in Visual Anthropology, Media and Documentary Practices at the University of Münster, Germany, and I was clear about my choice. In today’s world, the social and political news is shaped by the way social media is consuming the data. Media plays a critical role in representing the core domains of our agriculture, food-security and eco-systems. To me, study of visual anthropology promises a road map to learn the academic theories of social change and practical ways to link it with print-media, film, photography, installation and any forms of audio and visual culture.
Ambidextrous, that’s the meaning of my Sanskrit name, Savyasachi. My last name, Anju Prabir, is my parent’s first names. My family has been working in the social development field (women’s right, primary education, environment) using media tools for engaging a participatory method in their approach. I have had many influences from their work and exposure and hence have been interested in different media forms.
What did you study?
After secondary school, I decided not to enroll with formal educational institutes. Instead, I enrolled for two-year program with Swaraj University that do not hand out certificate or degree. It encourages khojis or learners to design their own curriculum within the context of ecological sustainability and social justice in rural India. Simultaneously, I registered at the National Institute of Open Schooling to receive a Higher Secondary Certificate in Science, 2012. This experience was beginning of my interest in connecting the dots of two worlds: science with arts.
Tell us about your work
Landscaping Actually: Forests to Farms through a Gender Lens, 2014, is an E-book co-edited by me. This E-book publication compiles 40 photographs and stories selected from the Photo-Story International Competition organized by CGIAR’s Gender integration of Forest, Trees and Agroforestry research. As an undergraduate intern for International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) I realized stories about agriculture and forests with powerful photographs make a positive difference in the way we understand social issues.
My task of designing this book was an enriching experience. We received diverse perspectives about family farms and meaning of forest management through a gender lens simply by keeping the competition open to anyone who wanted participate from anywhere the world.
Miilelam Miiyoh, 2016, is my undergraduate final year film. I completed my Bachelor’s degree with documentary filmmaking as a major from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India. Through this film I take viewers deep in to the forests of Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary, where the Indian state of Nagaland shares border with Myanmar. In the remote mountainous areas lives the Yimchunger tribe, a traditional forest-dependent indigenous community.
Even as the community tries to domesticate mithuns (an animal endemic to Northeast India) by redefining their boundaries, the film is an attempt to document the changes in their relationship with their environment. Through the protagonists, Shetsulam and Pensokiu, the film offers insights into the bond they share with their immediate environment – the forests, rivers and wildlife. Living for over a month in this remote jungle with the Yimchunger tribe encouraged me to learn how indigenous community interact every moment with nature, including to access food and water.
This film has received Special Jury mention and nominations in multiple film festivals. I have also published a documentation book about my journey as a filmmaker and experience of being a (though temporary) member of Yimchunger community.
Kahan Ka Rasta/ At the Crossroads, 2017, film is an output of my Fellowship with School of Media and Cultural Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
The seed of this film was initiated while I was doing my internship with Kalap Trust, an NGO working in Kalap village of Uttarakhand, Himalayan state of India. Kalap village is located at 7,800 feet and is extremely inaccessible as it lacks road connectivity. The only way to approach the village is by trekking through treacherous forested undulating mountain landscapes for five to seven hours. In winters, during heavy snowfall the village is completely inaccessible.
The film tries to capture the way mountain communities’ hopes of continuing traditional farming and livelihood activities without a road to their social development. Kahan Ka Rasta is the Official Selection under the non-competitive section of the 15th Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, which will also mark as the World Premier screening of this film.
How does your work benefit the community?
As a volunteer for the Landing Together films, I am actively reviewing and advising the editing of independent documentary films on land tenure, extractive resources, and forest rights of India’s indigenous peoples. The recent film, Tara Alpinia nigra, is about non-timber forest products and the way of living of forest dependent indigenous peoples in India.
How is the experience studying in Germany?
My Master’s Program is designed to allow students to study and to work. A part-time job similar to my previous work experience will be ideal enabling me to engage with the real community outside of the student domain. In addition, it will hopefully also connect me with relevant platforms of like-minded youths and mentors to guide my interest in researching and documenting sustainable development practices.
The 8th edition of the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn in December 2017 will be one such exciting opportunity to exchange ideas and learn, and to connect with people and institutions for potential collaboration. I would like to apply visual as well as anthropological methodologies to document and engage with local communities’ narratives to express their challenges and optimism of ensuring social justice and environmental management. Having had experience working in documentary films, photography and other visual media, I feel that I would be able to contribute a lot to the visual representation of blog posts and online/social media. Since, this generation has become a voracious consumer of information, audio-visual outputs help sustain interest, are able to give information in capsules and make the entire process of storytelling rather engaging and interesting. I wish to be a part of this GLF program to create more relevant content that helps us achieve an environmentally, socially and politically conscious audience.