By: Barkha Kumari
A new project is merging the best of two craft forms into one. Witness them at an exhibition this week
Manas Ghorai is a handicrafts entrepreneur from West Bengal, specialising in metal jewellery. Asha Ram, an artisan from Uttar Pradesh, is known for making wooden combs with Mughal motifs so intricate that they double up as décor pieces. And the two have collaborated for the upcoming expo – The Handmade Collective in the city, and the result is – a line of neckpieces made from Ram’s signature combs. Fusion craft such as this and more will be the highlight of this annual exhibition by A Hundred Hands, an organisation that promotes handmade art. It’s part of their latest initiative – MEtoWE to encourage collaboration between artists, artisans, and groups working in the handicrafts sector.
Here’s what to expect at the five-day event, and there’s more from the Mughal times. Men can pick up kurtas with buttons painted in miniature Mughal art. It’s the handiwork of award-winning painter Mohan Kumar Prajapati from Rajasthan. Then Samoolam group from Bihar and Mughal block maker Mohammad Tahir from Uttar Pradesh will unveil jewellery made from tiny wooden blocks than beads. Denim is another buzzword at the expo. You will find bum bags made from back pockets of used denims, and lined with lambani embroidery. Then there are denim jootis, and blouses made out of recycled denims. Gamcha handoom sarees embellished with denim scraps and kantha work are also up for grabs. Going forward on the fashion front, city’s Susan John and weavers of Chitrika from Andhra Pradesh have married handbags and handloom into one. With the evenings getting nippier, you can look for neck warmers and scarves that carry the famous ajrakh block prints of Bhuj, Gujarat. Saree aficionados have a reason to smile, as the artisan clan has painted everything from poems to Pattachitra stories on the six yards.
Indigo-dyed woolen durries is another fusion wonder. It has been done by Bagru artisans of Rajasthan, known for hand-blocked dupattas and sarees, and Mirzapur-based durrie weaver Abdul Kalam. Quilted bags for hot water bottles have also got an upgrade with patchwork, and are a good winter buy.
The MEtoWE project was announced at A Hundred Hands’ exhibition in Mumbai this January, and its member artisans have been calling, WhatsApping, and meeting each other ever since to see their crafty confluences through successfully. “It hasn’t been an easy project to pull off,” begins Mala Dhawan, co-founder of A Hundred Hands. “These artisans (50 of them) stay across the length and breadth of the country, north to south, east to west, in cities and villages. While a few managed to travel from Andhra Pradesh to Karnataka for meetings, most others have done everything from fine-tuning to reviewing their product idea over phone, email or WhatsApp.
Language has been another challenge in communication. Not to forget the phone network issues in remote corners,” she adds.
But that’s made the journey worthwhile. Dhawan tells us that MEtoWE is not a one-off thing. It is a three-year project and her team wants to eventually build a portfolio of 80-90 innovative fusion crafts. She tells us about their aim, “We want artisans to innovate together, support each other, and grow sustainably as a community. Take the case of a traditional craftsperson. He might be excellent at his work, but may not necessarily have the insights of what interests a modern, more contemporary audience. So if he connects with a semi-urban to urban artisan, he or she will get fresh perspective and ideas.”
But due care is taken that neither of the craftform loses its identity in the process of amalgation. The idea is to put together the best traits of the two forms, and explore a new market. And, eventually, push the boundaries of each form, and skills of its keeper.
Vanmala Jain of Mumbai-based Kuprkabi Foundation is making ceramicware to go along with basket trays, crafted by Kadam-Haat group from Kolkata. She shares her take-away, “Collaboration is a brilliant idea. It is a learning process for both the parties. Unless you fuse and combine, a craft won’t move forward. Fusion has become the talk of the day and is in tune with the world.”
Dhawan’s team is looking forward to the big day. “It’s been an experiment and we are open to constructive criticism. We are hoping designers and corporate houses will come forward to support us, to volunteer and fund, so that we can make our artisan community robust.”
The exhibition will be held at United Theological College, Benson Town, 11am to 8pm, November 30-December 4. Entry: Rs 49 Call: 9845008482
TIMES OF INDIA Nov – 2016
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