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Old skills, new styles

The Dastkari Haat Samiti exhibition is a must-see for craft lovers



Bahadur Chitrakar works on `Kalighat' paintings in traditional earth colours — Photos: A. Roy Chowdhury

ONE HAS heard of the rich craft heritage perhaps umpteen times from umpteen people. But when you actually see the diversity in crafts it stuns you. Walk into the FAPCII hall (Red hills, near Lakdi-ka-pul) showcasing crafts of Dastkari Haat Samiti and you find that people staring at them while the happy craftsmen explain their wares.

Craft is in sync with today's lifestyle. Craftsmen have realised the necessity of innovation. So they have adapted the traditional skills to make functional objects with an artistic touch.

The terracotta artisan Buddhi Ram Prajapati reproduces the hurricane lantern as a modern electric lamp. He fashions a hookah in clay. There are vases with `Warli' paintings. The plain earthen tea/coffee cups are ideal for homes.

Fashioning objects

A simple coconut tree is used to fashion many items like bowls, drinking glasses, spoons and ladles, candle stands, key chains and so on by craftsmen from Karnataka.

Tribal metal workers from Orissa (which is akin to Bastar) convert their small figurines into door handles, towel and rack handles. Blocks used for printing by craftsmen in Uttar Pradesh are now made into boxes and ashtrays (with some having metal inlay).

The exhibition features the Ajarakh prints (a 4000-year-old tradition) of Gujarat. "The print is visible on the reverse side as well. We use vegetable dyes. The colours used are mostly indigo, red and black," explains Dr. Ismail Mohammad Khatri. Anybody with a designing talent can use the small motifs and cowrie shells (as buttons) from one of the stalls from Gujarat in an imaginative way.

New dimension

Sneh Gangal, a miniature artist, has given a new dimension to miniatures. She uses this painting tradition (Rajasthani) in mirrors. "One has to keep up to date with market trends. So while the style is old, it is done in a new colour scheme. While the motifs lend a decorative touch to one part of the mirror, the other half is for viewing. Besides the traditional motifs like women Sneh paints pictures of gods like Krishna (as a child) and Venkateswara in the wash technique.

These are some of the things to look for. There are other items like chicks, mats (for curtains), bamboo baskets and frames (used around round mirrors), Kashmiri papier-mache boxes, loads of bead jewellery, colourful cushions, fabrics, ceramics, kalighat (the artist Bahadur Chitrakar has worked on the craft map of West Bengal) and Madhubani paintings ...

Take your pick and extend a helping hand to craftsmen from different parts of the country. And in the process you would have priceless treasures adorning your homes. Your home could be a haven for crafts too. The exhibition is on till September 12.

Pioneering effort

Jaya Jaitly, (she has been consultant with Gurjari and set up Delhi haat), the force behind Dastkari Haat Samiti (which includes families of craftsmen, institutions), has been re-educating the people in the country about crafts and through the Delhi haat and exhibitions providing a platform to craftsmen.

Through Dastkari Haat Samiti, she has been arranging training for craftsmen. Forthcoming ventures include children's books (where stories written by Jaya Jaitly and others are illustrated. Penguin has evinced interest in this publication) and hand-painted ceramic tiles and an album based on the sounds of the artisan. "The effort is to recognise and keep our culture alive," summarises Jaya Jaitly.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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