Kalighat artist Mamani Chitrakar, with her bold strokes and vibrant colours, tells the story of the corona rakshasa who is overpowering people with its deadly fangs. She has drawn a vertical scroll that informs people to maintain hygiene, consult doctors and wear masks. Finally, the rakshasa is in tears because people are careful and it can’t infect them anymore. While this might appear simplistic, the visual rhythm and strong lines of the art form show how this centuries-old style of painting continues its urban engagement through traditional imagery. But it has not been an easy eight months, says Mamani.
“Covid stalled the work of my entire village in Medinipur, West Bengal. We are nearly 300 families who do Kalighat paintings. Usually we travel with our collection to various fairs and festivals across the country. We get commissioned work also, everything came to a standstill because of Covid. We’ve been without work or income for nearly eight months,” she says.
Dastkar Nature Bazaar in Delhi is her first outing, as it opened its stalls for craftspeople from across India. Helmed by Laila Tyabji and her team, the 10-day exhibition that closes on September 28, has been a buoy for artisans who make a living by the skill of their hands.
With nearly 70 groups from different states, ‘Nature 2020’ has a range of crafts on display, from indigo and shibori dyers from Rajasthan and Gujarat to Kota cotton-silk weavers, Telangana tribal jewellers, Mirzapur carpet weavers and gourd shell carvers of Madhya Pradesh. Dastkar’s open-air format allows for free movement of visitors and has taken precaution to sanitise exhibits, participants and spaces. Mukesh, a Tangaliya weaver from Saurashtra, proudly shows his collection of intricately finished fabric. The daana or dots that appear embroidered are woven into the warp, with motifs of peacocks and trees to amplify the pastural life of the community. “My father is a National Award-winner for Tangaliya handloom craft. We had about 10 looms before Covid. We’re down to two looms now. I’ve had to bring down the cost of each material as well, by almost 10 per cent. I’m hoping this fair will give us some money to get back and use it for a new collection. At a previous week-long fair, we made about a lakh. Now, we’re waiting for customers,” he says.
“The biggest challenge was getting craftspeople to come to Delhi. They all desperately needed sales opportunities, but some were scared, and others had logistical problems crossing state borders. So, we offered them the option of sending their goods. We organised volunteers to man their stalls and sell on their behalf,” says Tyabji, who has set up the Dastkar Artisan Support Fund. It has helped them to facilitate food parcels and money for raw materials, and at the Nature Bazaar, this time, allowed for free stalls and travel allowances for artisans.
Aruna, who has brought Lambadi tribal jewellery from Telangana, says, “We have a small farmland back home so that saw us through these eight months. From the government too, we got Rs 5,000 as support, which gave us some money to make jewellery and manage our homes. This is the first fair we have come to and if we get something sold here it’ll sustain us longer.”
“People need to stop buying machine-made imitation craft, from Ganeshas and diyas to machine-embroidered chikan and pseudo Banarsi saris. It puts genuine crafts and craftspeople out of business,” says Tyabji.
While Nature 2020 closes on September 28 at 6.30 pm, Dastkar will be hosting the ‘Festival of Lights’ from October 29 to November 10. For details, visit: dastkar.org.
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