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Artisans face the camera to build craft appreciation

Shailaja Tripathi | Updated on February 16, 2021

In focus: Patang, a digital platform, seeks to help Varanasi artisans find an alternative means of sustenance with the help of an online audience   -  IMAGE: PATANG, VARANASI

Varanasi’s craftspersons record short videos to share their unique skills with the world and revive their pandemic-hit livelihood

* Patang has identified 45 craft traditions from in and around Varanasi for the project

* Through the videos the artisans reveal their personal journey and the story of their craft

* Yogender Singh, who is continuing his family’s tradition of crafting wooden toys in Varanasi, believes that the internet can boost his business

***

For Saiyyad Majid Ali it was a memorable experience, something he had never done before. As Ali sat in front of a camera, demonstrating the intricacies of zardozi embroidery, he found his confidence and hope soaring. And that’s what Patang (a word for kite in Hindi), an online platform, seeks to achieve. Initiated by Green Barbet, an organisation for art and culture in South Asia, in collaboration with Alice Boner Institute (ABI), the Varanasi-based artistic space for research and cultural exchange, Patang wants the fame of local artisans to rise far beyond their hometown on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh. It is supported and funded by the Goethe-Institut e.V, the German cultural and educational organisation.

Over the past few weeks, artisans such as Ali have sat at the in-house studio of the ABI to allow the world a glimpse into their craft practice. In Ali’s family, the Zardozi embroidery craft has been passed down generations. Like his forefathers, Ali is a zardozi badge-maker who supplies to Amravati University, Banaras Hindu University and Vir Bahadur Singh Purvanchal University.

“Who knows small people like us? Who knows what we do? We are hidden away. Perhaps these videos can give us exposure and make people aware about our work. It could then get us more work,” says Ali, who understood the importance of online visibility during the pandemic-induced lockdown and other disruptions, which cut off visitors to the city and, in turn, orders for its craftspersons.

The videos can be accessed on YouTube and the ABI’s Facebook .

Let it roll: Over the past weeks, artisans have given the world a glimpse into their craft from the in-house studio of the ABI   -  PATANG, VARANASI

 

“After the pandemic struck, everything moved online in the arts in a big way; but a lot of craftsmen couldn’t do that. These craftsmen are not tech savvy and there is no support. The Uttar Pradesh government had launched an e-platform — One District One Platform (ODOP) — for artisans but there is no technical support or training. So they are quite lost in terms of seeking a livelihood through this,” says Harsha Vinay, director of Green Barbet.

ODOP helps artisans connect with online platforms such as Amazon to sell their products.

Guided by local researchers, historians and facilitators like Nirman — a non-profit organisation working in the field of education and the arts — Pataṅg has identified 45 craft traditions from in and around Varanasi for the project. About 12 craft techniques including undercut stone carving, basket weaving, wooden lacquer toys and zardozi embroidery have been covered so far. Patang plans to rope in the area’s performing art traditions, too, in the future.

Yogender Singh, who is continuing his family’s tradition of crafting wooden toys in Varanasi, believes the internet can boost his business. “This is the first time I have shared my story through a video and hope it helps the industry. We are suffering because of cheap Chinese imitations and the unavailability of the koraiya wood used for the toys, due to the changed policies of the government. Only when people know the intricacies of the craft will they appreciate it. I also feel that we will benefit immensely if we are put in touch with exporters online,” he says.

As Vinay explains, through the 10-20-minute videos the artisans reveal their personal journey and the story of their craft. “Through Patang, we attempt to help artisans reach an online audience (as an alternative means of sustenance) and provide technical support.”

The challenge lay in getting the self-effacing artisans to become comfortable in front of the camera and in the formal surroundings to talk about their work. The project also seeks “to make them focus on their craft practice and not so much on politics or what the government has not done for them”, Vinay adds.

For Patang, the main purpose is to emphasise the role of art and crafts in education. This, in turn, is expected to lead to fruitful collaborations. “We are open to collaborations with schools or universities, within and outside India, who are interested in exploring craft practices through videos or workshops. One such collaboration underway is an online course conducted by the Royal College of Drawing, London, where Patang material will be shared, to understand form and composition through craft,” says Vinay.

He concludes, “I believe kites are a symbol of hope; while making kites you see that all parts need a supportive wooden frame or structure — which is what this initiative hopes to be.”

Shailaja Tripathi is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist

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Published on February 16, 2021
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