shared culture

From Kashmir to Telangana, environmental degradation is destroying Indian craft traditions

An exhibition at the Piramal Museum of Art in Mumbai examines the deep connection between the two.

How has environmental degradation accelerated the decline of India’s crafts traditions? What role has the muting of emotions such as dedication, pride and ownership played in the process? That’s what the two young curators of an exhibition currently underway in Mumbai are attempting to answer.

“It seemed to us that not only was there a connection between nature and culture at the material level, but there is a deep connection in their emotive aspect too,” said Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil and Vaishnavi Ramanathan, who have curated From Nature to Culture: Crafts of India, which will run at the Piramal Museum of Art in Lower Parel until the end of August.

In an email interview with Scroll.in, the curators said that while consider the arts and crafts of India, it is difficult to view nature and culture independently because culture depends on nature for its form, philosophy and existence. Emotions and relationships between different people such as craftsmen and patrons, form the bedrock of the crafts of India, they contend.

(Photo credit: Piramal Museum of Art).
(Photo credit: Piramal Museum of Art).

United in peril

The exhibits in From Nature to Culture come from seven rare Indian craft traditions, each of which is typical to one of five landscapes – mountainous, pastoral, riverine, coastal and desert. From Rajasthan, there’s namda, the art of carpet weaving of Persian origin. There are also split-ply Rajasthani camel ornaments made using a braiding technique called split-ply.

From arid Kutch, roghan is a tradition of hand-painted fabrics. Bihar is represented by manjusha, a folk-painting style not dissimilar to the popular Madhubani. The Assamese floodplains are the home of sitalpati, the humble “cool mat”. The show also includes cherial, a form of religious scroll painting from Telangana. Kerala signs in with coir work, which includes the mattresses, ropes and mats that many Indians use daily.

Though all these come from disparate geographical and cultural contexts, these crafts all face the threat of extinction.

Evocative by design

At From Nature to Culture, each craft is represented by several exhibits and three main plaques. These plaques give visitors a succinct overview of the landscape, the craft tradition and most importantly, their interrelationship. Additionally, there are anthropological and economic pointers that help arrive at a more complete understanding of the subject.

Even bang in the middle of the glass-and-chrome corporate park in which the Piramal Museum of Art is located, the elemental exhibition design evokes a rural Indian landscape. Viewers learn how sitalpati production is suffering due to a raw material shortage caused by deforestation and how the cherial artists cannot make their traditional dolls because of the lack of light wood.

“An important aspect of the exhibition is the honesty and truth with which craftsmen approach and use materials and how there is an alignment between the design of an object and its utility,” said Gohil and Ramanathan. “Hence we decided to use the corporate space within which we function in such a way that they would evoke the five landscapes without masking the basic corporate structure. This strategy also helped us resist making craft an exotic and tourist item for the urban consumer.”

(Photo credit: Piramal Museum of Art).
(Photo credit: Piramal Museum of Art).

Beyond displays

As is the case with so many contemporary museums around the world, this exhibition tries to do more than just assemble artefacts. In July, the Piramal Art Foundation organised a residency in Thane to which craftsmen and contemporary artists working with craft were invited to work for three weeks. This interaction helped the craftsmen think about how they could develop their practices.

Several organisations working with crafts have expressed interest in working with some of the craftsmen whose works are part of the show. Support from the government and non-governmental organisations are vital to the survival and revival of crafts such as these.

In addition, a panel discussion on “Locating Folk Art in the World of Art, Design and Commerce” was hosted at the exhibition venue to understand the possibilities around the project.

In September, the curators will organise a crafts bazaar to help craftsmen reach a larger audience. During the bazaar, craftsmen will hold workshops for those interested in learning these crafts.

In the end, the exhibition hopes to that visitors will adopt ideas that will encourage the crafts to thrive. Among the pointers: Purchase the craft directly from the makers; do not bargain excessively with craftsmen; buy crafts made from eco-friendly materials; and recognise the socio-cultural and spiritual value of a craft in addition to its aesthetics.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.