Artist Sharmila Sen is always on the lookout for tales that she can visualise in colour and depict through traditional craft – on masks and conch shells, table mats and lamps. “I have always been fascinated by the various forms of art and handicraft of rural Bengal. I want to familiarise people with these niche crafts, revive and restore them,” says Kolkata-based Sen.
She has been working towards this aim for more than a decade. Providing glimpses into her efforts is the showcase “Art Beyond Tradition” at India Habitat Centre, Delhi. While Sen has lamps painted by artisans and intricate dhokra products, dominating the display are teak wood masks from Dinajpur (priced Rs 1,200 upwards). Apart from the more familiar deities, including Ganesha, Shiva and Durga, we also see tribal warriors and tribal dancers. “At one time these masks were worn during traditional Gambhira dance but now it’s rare to find them,” says Sen, who commissioned an artisan Sankar Das in Dinajpur. “He is the finest craftsman in wood carving that I have ever seen.”
The more elaborate masks tell mythological stories — if there are episodes from Bhishma’s life in one, in another mask painted with vegetable dyes, Sen has Durga with Shiva and their children, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya and their vahanas. Sen would sketch the episodes and worked closely with Das to design the final product. Another wall is dedicated to Kalighat and Bangla pattachitra paintings (priced Rs 1,700 upwards). “Kalighat pattachitra will soon become extinct, there are hardly any practitioners now. I also have two pattachitra paintings that are more than a century old,” says Sen, who currently works with 13 artisans from five districts in Bengal.
Hoping that the traditional wares reach the mass market, Sen also has decorative hand-painted knickknacks that include plates, jugs, hand fans and spatulas. “I hope to work with artisans from more districts in future,” says Sen, as she turns to a curious buyer to attend to his query. “I like to tell people what they are buying, that’s how more people will become aware. These are heritage.”
The exhibition is at the Atrium, India Habitat Centre, Delhi, till January 15