During her 12 month jaunt around the world -- from Slovenia to Vietnam, Peru to Malaysia -- Geetika Agrawal, a Delhi-born, New York-based creative director and design educator, turned her passion for arts, culture and travel into a new creative startup.
Vacation with an Artist (VAWAA) is an eight-month-old platform helping travellers connect with artist studios around the world to learn a new skill.
Learn rattan weaving in Malaysia, natural dyeing in Vietnam, work with a street artist in Argentina or contemporary ceramics in Slovenia. These interactive, creative experiences are for one to three guests at a time and range anywhere from 10 hours to 100 hours, typically over a couple of days to a few weeks. Taking place in an artist's workspace, travellers looking to dive into a new skill experience a seemingly longer, hands-on experience with periodic or daily interaction with the artist -- different from the typical two or three hour workshops usually offered to tourists.
For Geetika, the idea for VAWAA had been brewing for a long time, inspired by her early childhood and college travel experiences in India, her academic and professional background in Architecture and Industrial Design along with her personal need for creative learning during her travels. After taking a sabbatical from work and joining Remote Year, a yearlong program for digital nomads, Geetika had the opportunity to work on her idea while travelling to 12 countries in 12 months. During her travels, she focused on personally curating the artists, visiting them in their studios, taking photographs, developing the VAWAA brand and launching the site in November 2015, six months into her travels.
When curating the artists, Geetika has a process and criteria in mind. "I look for two things -- their depth and mastery of art so they have an immense knowledge to share with different skill levels, and an open, welcoming personality to spend a few days with people from around the world."
For Juliet Imbert, a French artist and eco-fashion designer from Paris, collaborating on a specific project with Katja Špiler, a ceramics artist from Slovenia, is how she created an enriching, life-changing VAWAA experience for herself. Juliet is a young, stylish artist with an energetic spontaneity that carries into her travels. "I'm a freelancer so I have a chance to say, OK, let's go to Slovenia for a week!"
With that same carefree attitude, she found VAWAA on Facebook and within a week booked her ticket to Slovenia. "For a long time, I wanted to learn to make doll heads in ceramics. I didn't know Katja worked in that technique, using plaster to do moulds. I was expecting nothing, just you know, let's see how it goes. It was a huge surprise and a beautiful one. Katja is a friend now, we Skype and I'll be back in Slovenia in September to collaborate with her again."
For Vu Thao, a textile artist and fashion designer from Hanoi, Vietnam, it's this idea of learning and sharing ideas that piqued her interest in offering travellers a chance to learn natural indigo dyeing techniques from ethnic groups in a remote part of Vietnam. "The thing that interested me [about VAWAA] is that it is a new concept of studying and travelling at the same time. I travel a lot and many times that's where the creative ideas come from, by observing other cultures and the people around you. You carry this back home and that's how you start to make things."
After working with a number of fashion designers in London and Berlin, Vu launched her own fashion brand, Kilomet 109. Collaborating with ethnic minority women in the mountain regions of Vietnam, she created an eco-sustainable fashion line focusing heavily on traditional techniques and textiles, 100 per cent developed in the country. "We plant our cotton, hemp and silk and we also weave and dye ourselves using 100 per cent natural dye."
Over the course of five days, travellers visit Cao Bang, an artisanal village north of Hanoi. "The community I'm working with is the Nung An ethnic group, which is one of the very few ethnic communities left in Vietnam to work as a community. We have 12 women working together in the village, well-known for weaving and indigo dye for a long, long time." Travellers learn to make dyes, understand how to grow indigo, magenta and other natural roots, take part in the pre-dye process and create their very own hand-woven, hand-dyed samples.
Through VAWAA, Vu has already booked a few sessions with travellers this year, mainly with artists and designers from New York -- a few fashion designers, an interior designer and a knitting artist. "People who want to participate in VAWAA already have a love for what they are doing or trained in what they are doing so they have experience. The VAWAA platform is selective and because people invest in the trip, they have a real desire to learn about other cultures which I really like."
Back in New York, fresh from her remote year travels, Geetika is looking ahead to the future of VAWAA. "Beyond expanding the network of artists and countries, I also want to make this a platform the artists themselves can use. As I met with each artist, they have expressed interest in collaborating with each other as an international network of artists. If the Uruguayan musician wants to collaborate with the writer in Vietnam, then yes, I want to make that happen."
With a new platform like VAWAA, adventure travellers, sabbatical-seekers, artists and designers craving to explore the world while sharing ideas with like-minded people can hop a plane to Kyoto to learn calligraphy, Bangalore to learn bamboo bicycle making or like Juliet, to Slovenia to learn contemporary ceramics. Whether it's the desire to make something with your hands, to learn a new skill, take part in an artistic process from start to finish, or to express your individuality, all it takes is just a few clicks to kick-start your creative journey.
Photo Credit: Geetika Agrawal, Juliet Imbert, Vu Thao.
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