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Art of the matter

An interactive camp on papier-mâché hopes to bridge the gap between the conformist and the modern


THE BANE of art has always been the fact that artists have eked out their livelihood and passion in utter penury. Too often in India, time has ravaged the skills of homespun artists and artisans as they are passed on from generation to generation. With an aim to encourage artists working with papier-mâché and help in an exchange of ideas between them and contemporary artists, the Shilparamam Crafts Village and the regional centre of the Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai is holding an interactive camp till Wednesday.

Siddharth Ghosh, the regional secretary of the Akademi says, "Traditional artistes, especially those working with papier-mâché, are getting increasingly marginalised. Artistes of different genres should meet on a common platform. This camp we hope will be a catalyst."

Traditional papier-mâché (pronounced pop-ee-yay ma-shay) is a natural corollary to paper making. An art form that originated in France, paper used to be chewed to get the pulped look. Papier-mâché is used in large variety to make dolls, masks, puppets and decorations. The material is cheap, varied and easily obtained but the processing is time consuming and labour intensive.

Abhijit Gupta, the convenor of the workshop and an artist and expert on folk and tribal arts and crafts of West Bengal says, "Each artist will make one 3-dimensional figurine during the course of the workshop. Together the participants will make a totem pole, made of pulp in conjunction with other material that will be exhibited at Shilparamam. In a creative field exchange is vital. The artists will discuss their ideas and some will display slides. The workshop also encourages the creation of popular themes. The traditional artist is more anchored to religious themes because that is what sells."

For the artistes who are drawn largely from the four southern states this is a chance to explore other areas. Ravikumar, from Tadepalli has worked with papier-mâché for nearly 12 years. A lawyer by education, he revels in creating gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon and sells his creations through Lepakshi. He says, "Traditional figurines are in demand during navarathri but there is little demand for secular objects. This workshop will help create markets in other states."

R. Ravi and K. Dakshinamurthy, both from Tirupati, have worked with papier-mâché since childhood. They reap a benefit of 40 per cent during festivals such as Vinyaka Chathurthi.

Says R. Ravi, "Production is throughout the year just for this one day. We source our products through the tourism department." Their demands and dreams are simple. "We wish the government will extend loan facilities. And if training centres are set up it will address poverty and help keep the art alive."

While the participants and the convenor sound enthusiastic about the outcome of the workshop, a more detailed formatting of the camp would have helped exchange more ideas. The work of these artists is open for public viewing.

Papier-mâché is environment friendly and distinctive for its fine work. One hopes the totem will symbolise a new beginning.

DEEPA ALEXANDER

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