Indore in Madhya Pradesh is land locked with Ujjain, Dhar, Khargone and Dewas districts. All these districts have their own regional specializations also referred to as geographical indications in official parlance. While Ujjain, Dhar and Khargone are known for fabric arts of Batik, Bagh and Maheshwari silk respectively, Dewas and Indore are famous for leather handicrafts.
In rural India, people practice various forms of craft over and above their agrarian preoccupations for livelihoods. Indore district has many craft specializations such as Khajur (date palm) crafts, Batik fabric prints and leather crafts emanating from rural and urban areas both. Among these and many other forms of handicrafts, a unique form of color painting on fiber wooden patterns is practiced in villages of Indore.
Deriving its conceptual origins from traditional wall paintings and practical application from Mehendi and its art of making paisleys, this form of art is locally called the cone crafts. The local nomenclature illustrates the relevance of acrylic color cones- a critical ingredient used to paint wooden or fabric textures with colorful outlines of rural imagination.
This craft form is a unique evolution of an artist’s creative acumen and ability to diversify native home-based paintings into a present-day décor statement. With an ability to creatively blend these traditional methods into contemporary demand and styles, men and women pursue this pursuit with genuine fervor as it is a direct source of creative enrichment and livelihoods.
Patterns in different shapes and sizes are diligently cut from wooden fiber boards. Once the desired structure is obtained it is usually painted with dark colors such as earthy reds, brown or navy blue as the shades used for outlining are usually bright. Floral motifs, birds, trees, paisleys and other henna-like patterns are outlined which stand out on rustic red and earthy brown backdrops. Popular choice for cone designs are stellar bright colors such as yellow, turquoise, green, orange and white in cones of ceramic, acrylic or textile colors.
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Sometimes craftsmen add a dash of glitter or sand so as to obtain variants of the same shade. Peacocks, ganpati, wall hangings, wall clocks, pen stands, coasters and other small compact house décor are some popular products among locals and tourists. Huge wall hangings for Diwali, and other festivals with written messages and Rangolis so embossed with cone painting and plaster of paris make for choicest presents.
Once the basic design crafting with cones is complete, ceramic polish is uniformly applied to lend a glossy look to these vibrant souvenirs. Sequins, pearls and mirrors are used to highlight and beautify these artefacts further. Priced at an affordable range usually varying from Rs 50-100 for a pair of peacocks, Rs 200-300 for a wall hanging these are popular, colorful choices to pick from for handicraft connoisseurs.
How art travels? From Mandana Paintings to Cone Art
A well-known facet about indigenous skill is the cultural and occupational legacy it carries over generations. Traversing through villages one often witnesses the skillful application of mud, dung, chuna and red earth on kuccha huts. A typical combination is that of chuna with blue or green paints.
Special occasions such as weddings and festivals, however, earnestly invite creative patterns and paintings from across age spectrums in the village. The summer induced deserted look of villages transmute into habitations of prosperity depicted with different patterns of wall art, themes of social cohesion and indigenous culture. During this season, almost every household paint their humble and pristine space with cultural stories in white (chuna).
It should be noted that the famous Mandana, Pithora and Warli paintings which find their refuge in the urban living space today, originated from rural peripheries where wall paintings are still an ‘essential method of communication’ portraying kinship ties, their linkages to festivity and evolution. The colorful pointed impressions carved through cones on earthy backgrounds are typical in their designing schemes of Mandana tribal art practiced by the Meenas of Rajasthan, and several others in Madhya Pradesh. Similar traces could also be noted from the famous Rogan art of the Kutch area in Gujarat where depicted patterns are very similar to designs used in cone crafts by artists. The only difference being that Rogan artists use a mix of fabric color with castor oil and paint the color with styluses on fabrics in yellows and reds, quite impromptu. Cone crafts on the other hand are small handicrafts still evolving and foraying into the space of cultural relevance.