Art with a cause on everyday coasters
Art with a cause on everyday coasters

Aditi Maithreya paints on cork coasters  to tell stories of women artistes in classical instrumental music 

A woman clad in a blue silk sari and wearing jasmine flowers sits majestically with a mridangam on her lap.

CHENNAI: A woman clad in a blue silk sari and wearing jasmine flowers sits majestically with a mridangam on her lap. Another, draped in maroon, strikes the jal tarang that’s lined up around her. There’s one woman with a nadaswaram too. Even as the mainstream narrative of classical music has the men wielding the instruments, here’s Aditi Maithreya offering a counter — through her Off Beat but In Tune series. Painted on cork coasters using acrylic colours, the art series seeks to tell the stories of women artistes in the field of classical instrumental music in India.

Sometime around the end of May, Aditi stumbled upon a woman effortlessly playing Shankar Mahadevan’s Breathless on her jal tarang. The video got her thinking. “While I have come across women violinists and vainikas, I don’t remember seeing many women instrumentalists playing wind and percussion instruments in the music concerts I have attended. This pandemic gave me the time to unearth a few artistes who had made it big in these fields.

From the late legendary nadaswaram vidwan MS Ponnuthayi to kanjira artiste Latha Ramachar — I found articles of celebrated women artistes (adept in playing percussion and wind instruments) who’d made a name not just in the domestic music scene but represented the country internationally too,” she narrates. What came across as interesting to the Aditi was their individual journeys. “It wasn’t limited to music classes and long practice hours but much more.

It was also about making a name in a field that seldom saw many women venture into. It was about breaking stereotypes and mastering an art. Their stories are truly inspiring,” she says. The series is about journeys of women who play ghatam, nadaswaram, and kanjira. Every post has interesting trivia about the instrument. For instance, the body of the mridangam is said to be made of goat or cattle skin. Aditi, who is against animal cruelty, was surprised to find an eco-friendly synthetic mridangam developed by a musicologist in 2015; so she managed to pack in this information too.

Art with a cause on everyday coasters
Art with a cause on everyday coasters

“I wanted the posts to be informative and rekindle people’s interest in reading up on women musicians. I’ve also included stories about multi-generational instrumentmakers. The information for the full series is, however, from secondary sources,” she says. It took a month for Aditi to complete the series that began in June. It during this time that the artist realised that working on cork was a tedious process, especially when the designs had minute detailing. “Redrawing and erasing can lead to dents and flaking. But the paint sits well. Water gets absorbed easily and colours look vibrant,” she explains.

Will there be a part two to this series? “I came across some fantastic women who play the tabla, morsing and thavil, during my research. There have been men, especially fathers, who encouraged some of these women to take up instruments at an early age and were their first gurus. It’s (learning about them) an ongoing process where the learning can never be complete.

So I suppose I’ll just wait and see where the journey takes me.” Aditi’s considering launching these designs for sale soon. Meanwhile, as part of Madras week (last week of August), she introduced a few fridge magnets, notebooks, and t-shirts with designs themed around Madras under her brand The Phoenix Company. For details, visit Instagram page: Aditi Maithreya

The New Indian Express