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Crafted for a new generation

Business Standard
by Geetanjali Krishna

In October last year, a potter and a group of students fashioned a ten-foot terracotta sculpture decorated with striking Warli motifs. A culmination of a skill-sharing workshop that they’d had with  the students created their own renditions of this ancient folk art, infusing it with new energy. But what made the sculpture truly piquant was that it was of a  The Warli-embellished bottle of Coke represents what the organisers, the  hope to accomplish — the revival of Indian folk art and craft forms through contemporary ways. Coke used this sculpture in their advertising which I’d seen, so when I learnt that Happy Hands was organising another workshop – this time with a Madhubani artist – I was keen to see what would come out of it.

“The idea of bringing people my age closer to Indian crafts came to me one day when I was getting really bored in my MBA class on  in Pune,” said , one of the spunky young women who started Happy Hands about two years ago. “I believed that if more students in urban settings actually tried their hands at these crafts, they’d appreciate them better,” she added. Also, she’d observed that the lack of market access and poor exposure to fresh ideas were causing creative stagnation amongst traditional artisans. “My friends and I’ve stopped shopping at Dilli Haat since it has the same old craftspeople selling the same old things!” she said. That is why two years ago, Gandhi, with journalist friend Suneera and designer Sanchita started Happy Hands.

Their first concern was to enable craftspeople across the country to make products more interesting to modern consumers. Gandhi travelled to craft clusters across the country, looking for craftspeople open to innovating traditional skills. “We now sell many of their products online through our website, and are soon going to open a store where people can learn a little about the crafts they buy,” she said. They also sell through regular exhibitions across the country. “We’d like to provide the craftspeople who work with us as many commercial avenues as we can,” Gandhi explained.

Their focus then shifted to training students. “We felt training workshops could enable students to understand the aesthetics and intricacy of crafts better,” she said. So, the Madhubani workshop held last week at the National Institute of Fashion Technology Delhi saw established artist  teaching the NIFT students the basics of the Madhubani art. They created a 6×4 foot scroll (foldable into a booklet) entitled Capital’D to commemorate 100 years of Delhi as a capital city. It was divided into smaller squares, each embellished with the borders that Madhubani paintings are known for. Inside each square was a student’s representation of an icon symbolic of the capital. One square contained an autorickshaw, another featured India Gate while a third immortalised a traffic jam. “I helped the students draw these icons, so that they’d be in keeping with the Madhubani style,” explained Heera Kanth, the artist conducting the workshop.

“It was challenging,” she said, showing me her piquant folk rendition of a CNG autorickshaw, “I’ve never sketched such designs before!” “I’m sure this experience will show in my new creative efforts,” she added. As I watched the students lounging on the sunny terrace, painting shoulder-to-shoulder with Heera Kanth, I felt as though I were witnessing the birth of something too familiar to be new. Was an age-old art tradition getting contemporised or modern artistic sensibilities getting influenced by older techniques? The boundaries were rather blurred on the scroll — all I could see were a dozen happy hands.

Read the original article here.

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