Dokra gods give way to key chains

Generational artisans, in city for a workshop, talk of a changing craft and lost divinities

Published: 19th February 2017 10:11 PM  |   Last Updated: 20th February 2017 03:13 AM   |  A+A-

Turtles, horses and the Nandi are regular motifs at the Dokra camps

By Express News Service

BENGALURU: Dating back to the Mohenjodaro civilisation, the lost wax technique of Dokra art is still the only source of income for many families in the eastern India. The Open House that was organised by Artlabs at Smilee Garden, Huskur Road, on Sunday set the 4,000-year-old art and its generational artisans from Bastar against the contemporary context.
Named after the Dokra tribes of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, the handmade curio sets draw influences from the cultures and lifestyles of its people. An artiste Madan Netam says, “We make figurines of Devi, elephants, horses and Nandi bulls. During the festivals, we see tribal people drinking wine and playing drums. They go on their own merry ways. We draw inspirations from that.”

Several years ago, they must have seen a woman drummer in the clan, says Sandhya K Sirsi, co-Founder of ArtLabs, pointing out to a curio of a woman playing the drums. She adds, “Spiral shapes are also common and that fascinated me the most. As an artist, I also work with spirals.”
During one of the camps in Karkala near Udupi in 2009 or 2010, Sandhya and Madhavaraj V Sirsi, founders of ArtLabs, came across the Dokra arts and spoke to the artistes about their work. Madhavaraj says, “They were the most responsive of all the artists we spoke to. That was the main reason why we explored their art. Also, they are open to learning and sharing their knowledge. So, we wanted them to come and hold camps here.”

Decades of Pursuit
Artistes at the Open House have been working on this art form for over  12 years. Sushil Netam, Chinduram Baghel, Madan Netam and Upesh Netam are distant cousins who have been earning their livelihood with this tribal art. Sushil says, “We learnt  the art by observing our fathers and helping them with it since we were kids.” Chinduram adds, “This is our only source of income... We do not do much schooling.”
These can be made in any sizes and one piece takes atleast a week to complete.“The prices are decided on the detailing in the work and the amount of raw materials used,” says Chinduram. “A small piece would cost about Rs 500.”

Divine Exit
As the demands have changed, so have the  influences. Madan Netam adds, “To make it more contemporary and keep up to the demands of the changing times, we make some utility items such as pen holders, candle stands, key chains and bottle opener.”
Crafting Dokra arts can be dangerous. Madan points to injuries sustained while doing finishing work on some pieces and says, “You need to wear chappals all the time. The firing process can also be quite risky... While pouring the liquid metal, it sometimes may splash on you.” Upesh adds, “It is difficult. Sometimes, the final product does not come out well.”
Even women play a vital role. Madan says, “In our villages, women also make moulds and help with designing. The later stages are done by men.” About four and five people in every artisan family in the Bastar district are into this business, says Madan, adding, “The government is also providing training in this. I train about ten children.”

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