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Artists come together to fight adversity

Shailaja Tripathi | Updated on June 26, 2020 Published on June 26, 2020

Spread the skill: Artisans are learning to conduct online art classes and produce masks with traditional motifs to sustain themselves during the lockdown   -  IMAGES CREDIT: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Artists and artisans find ways to keep their creativity, and income, flowing in a world preoccupied with life-and-death matters

* Thousands of traditional artists and artisans have seen their livelihood slipping from them during the pandemic

* Through multiple training sessions, the artists were familiarised with the online platform

Madhubani artist Pratima Bharti was apprehensive about conducting an online workshop, but only until she actually did it. Not only was it a breeze for her, it also hadn’t occurred to her that an online class could be a source of income, until young entrepreneur Yosha Gupta got her onboard. Hong Kong-based Gupta owns Memeraki, a brand of hand-painted bags featuring Indian folk art. During the lockdown, Memeraki organised online workshops with artists from different parts of India. Bharti was part of seven workshops and earned ₹5,000-7,000 per session. “I was nervous but the team handled everything. It was a new experience for me, which gave me knowledge and also some earnings. I am looking forward to more such workshops,” says Bharti, who hails from Darbhanga in Bihar but is stuck in Delhi due to the lockdown.

Thousands of traditional artists and artisans have seen their livelihood slipping from them during the pandemic and the lockdown imposed to contain it. In the absence of government support, many in the community are realising that solutions to ease their distress must come from among them. Gupta understands that. Over a month and a half, Memeraki conducted 35 workshops in which artists taught a range of painting styles such as Madhubani, Gond, Pattachitra, Assamese Scroll, Kerala mural, Pichwai and more. At ₹750-800 per session, nearly 250 participants attended from India, Hong Kong, the US, the UK, Sweden and other countries, generating a revenue of about ₹2 lakh.

Through multiple training sessions, the artists were familiarised with the online platform. The Memeraki team assisted them in planning the two-hour workshop and breaking down the sketching process into easy-to-follow steps. They were also asked to record a video of the process for use as a standby if their network — usually patchy in the small towns and villages where they live — failed during the live workshop. “We then marketed the workshop through our social media channels and other event booking platforms,” Gupta says.

To create an immersive experience for the participants, music from the region was played and they were familiarised with the legacy of the art form.

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Masks, a good defence against Covid-19, have also come to the aid of some artisans in distress. Gurugram-based NGO Kala Chaupal Trust has, since early April, been collaborating with artisans across India to design masks embellished with folk art. More than 200 of these ‘Culture Masks’ have been sold so far through e-commerce channels.

It all began with a few artisans coming together to tackle a need for rations, says Leenika Jacob, managing trustee of the NGO. “We work through direct and indirect forms of design incubations, mentoring and guiding to create the masks.”

Besides crafts organisations such as the Khamir Foundation in Gujarat for textiles and Rogan art, Kal aur Katha in Odisha, Nabha Foundation in Punjab and Biponi in Jharkhand, the trust is working directly with Cheriyal, Pattachitra and Mata Ni Pachedi artisans. “We mentor them on craft heritage design, how to take photographs, packaging and logistics; but, eventually, it’s their own spirit of survival that is driving this journey,” Jacob says.

Masks have also come to the rescue of MithilaAsmita, a platform for the promotion of Madhubani art. As founder Ihitashri Shandilya explains, “I recorded a video, giving instructions on how to stitch an effective mask and shared it on my WhatsApp Madhubani artists’ group. Cotton is abundant in Bihar. I just wanted these women to make masks for themselves and be safe. Later we scaled it up a bit to donate masks to front-line workers.” Soon, it was time to expand on a commercial scale.

“I created a cluster of tailors in Delhi, a self-help group, and embarked on a collaboration. The existing hand-painted cotton stocks were repurposed and stitched into masks.”

They have sold more than 250 Madhubani masks and 10,000 plain masks, benefiting around 300 artisans and tailors. The cultural entrepreneur is now scouting for orders for painted silk and cotton masks. “I am aiming at generating ₹5,000-8,000 income per month for every artisan household in the network,” she says.

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At the other end of the spectrum, lack of contemporary art sales has hit young artists particularly hard. To lend them a helping hand, Delhi-based artists Purvai Rai and Ayesha Singh started the #ArtChainIndia initiative on Instagram in May. Artists can share images of their work, mention the title and medium, and use the hashtag #ArtChainIndia. The works will each be priced between ₹500 and ₹10,000; and when an artist’s earnings touch ₹50,000, he/she must spend ₹10,000 to buy a fellow artist’s work. This chain of goodwill was inspired by the Artists Support Pledge movement initiated by the England-based artist Matthew Burrows.

On day 20, over 120 works had been sold, worth ₹9 lakh, says Pranati Kapur, management and communications head at Art Chain India.

By June 12, 4,282 artworks were up on the site. “The initial initiative was to help artists with monetary support,” says Kapur. “As we start doing interactive work, such as the recent launch of the Review Chain [one-on-one reviews with industry specialists], we will personally be in contact with the artists and practitioners.”

Much before the pandemic set in, Kolkata-based Gallery Experimenter was contemplating a grant to support artists and their work. The lockdown gave an added impetus to set up the Generator Cooperative Art Production Fund, which financially supports artists working on various projects.

Prateek Raja, who co-founded Gallery Experimenter with Priyanka Raja in 2009, says they have received 50 applications from all over the world, and the first set of grantees would be announced soon for work spanning travel research, sculpture production, and art books.

In Bengaluru, Shenoy Art Foundation came up with ‘Punashchetana’, an initiative to ensure artists can continue creating during the pandemic. The foundation, instituted by artist Gurudas Shenoy and Amrita Shenoy in the name of well-known artist GS Shenoy to support upcoming artists, has extended financial assistance to not only its 11 previous awardees but also five more deserving artists. Each will receive an honorarium of ₹12,000 to buy art material. Their creations will be displayed through an online exhibition in July, and the artists will hold the sole rights to their work.

As the world grapples with a virus and its deadly ways, art has proved a salve for the soul.

Shailaja Tripathi is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist

Published on June 26, 2020
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