A hundred hands on deck

A Hundred Hands, a non-profit collective founded by Mala and Sonia Dhawan, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary
A hundred hands on deck

KOCHI: Highway Haze, a Kochi-based classic rock band, was playing old Bollywood hits at David Hall in Fort Kochi. When ‘Dum Maro Dum’ came on, the crowd began dancing. Among them was a man in a red turban you could not miss. He is Dwaraka, an artist from Rajasthan, and one of the oldest participants of A Hundred Hands, an NGO that helps people who depend on handmade products for their livelihood.

Their popular annual exhibition which was held recently at David Hall had a variety of textiles, handloom materials, jewellery, artworks, and pottery on display. Visitors thronged the stalls, even as the music played in full swing. “Everything looks beautiful. I bought many Christmas gifts like handmade coasters and notebooks. The collective is doing a fantastic job of promoting indigenous art forms and artists.” said social entrepreneur Divya Thomas   

Bengaluru-based sisters Mala and Sonia Dhawan, founders of A Hundred Hands were at the heart of the celebration, smiling brightly. “This is our tenth year. We began with 20 artists and now there are 120,” said Mala.

The artisans have come from all over India—Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Maharashtra. Coincidentally, this year the theme is ‘Harmony’. “We are celebrating harmony because over the years we have gathered people of all age groups, religions and castes to work together,” says Sonia. Each artist has contributed a small piece to make an 8X8 quilt.

The sisters do not take a commission from selling the handicrafts or artworks. “All the money goes to the artisans. There are no middlemen. We want to empower them by helping them build their own brands.”
Mala talks about the birth of A Hundred Hands. The duo began by supporting a women’s farming group called Vanastree, based in Sirsi, Karnataka. “The response was very encouraging. Soon, individual artists and groups came and met us. I realised the need to provide a platform for small artists to showcase their work. That was the catalyst.” remembered Mala.

The founders urgently felt the need to ensure that traditional art and craft is preserved. “We are encouraging the upcoming generation of artists. Most of them prefer to do a degree and join a call centre. We want them to feel proud of their artistic heritage,” said Sonia. For Jaipur-based Mughal miniature artist Mohan Kumar, his 27-year-old son Pavan’s lack of interest towards the art was mainly due to low earnings. “But then his father began to do well due to the exposure he got from this collective. He started making regular trips to China, and Pavan felt encouraged. One day, he took the plunge, and today he is a full-time artist.” Sonia added.

Apart from Kochi, A Hundred Hands holds exhibitions in Bengaluru, Coimbatore and Mumbai
every year. “Many artists earn about 30 per cent of their annual earnings from these exhibitions. They also establish valuable contacts,” she adds.

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The New Indian Express