At the beginning of the lockdown some craftspeople started creating artworks depicting the Covid-19 crisis. This was heartening for many of us invested in art and culture as it gave us hope and the reassurance that there was still something beautiful in this world. But weeks after the lockdown, what is their state? Now they are left with barely any material to produce more work and are facing the looming question of what they can do with their handmade work that takes so much money and effort to create. As we enter the fourth lockdown in India, different crafts communities are facing their own set of hurdles. For some, the troubles have only intensified.
Government support for the art and culture sector is scarce in India. While some of the art institutions have offered grants, support programmes and started initiatives to help the artist community, the crafts community lies somewhat unaddressed. The various avenues of income for craftspeople used to be Government support via setting up fairs and providing rent-free spaces in Dilli Haath, Sooraj Mela and other bazaars. Another was to participate in markets setup by NGOs in Tier 1 cities in exhibition stalls. They are often approached by museums to set up stalls or have a batch of work sent on consignment basis to museum shops. Further, they would send works to state sponsored and private stores across the country who would then put it for sale.. All of the above have stopped since the lockdown has been enforced.
Kalyan Joshi from the Phad community of artists in Rajasthan says they are also missing out on additional sources of income. Apart from creating art for fairs and museums, they would paint walls of the house during marriages. This would give them a guaranteed income within the community. All such bookings have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19. Kalyan is sceptical about the number of people who would have the money to spare for this later. Another loss in income is the season of Navrati or Durga Pooja when they would paint the temples in their locality. He laments, “We have some essential goods to last us as we buy the entire stock of grains, pulses for a year, but the means to create their art are running out. Even if we create more artworks, what about the ones we have made and are lying unsold? ”
Similarly, Mitihila artists are struggling on their own. Some young artists in the community are taking this time to experiment. While this is a good sign, they are constantly battling lack of income. Shakuntala Devi, age 55 from Jitwarpur, has been practicing Madhubani for the last 15 years. “Everyone’s business is shut, we can’t go anywhere, there is no peace of mind, what should we do/say? Would anything change by our words? We can only have faith in God,” says Devi.
Her story resonates with the state of craftspeople across India. Sai Kiran from Cherial in Telangana highlights that the seven families who continue this tradition of painting are facing the same issue of no income. The two months of lockdown have been stressful, as their usual sources of income have stopped completely. The situation is dire as their savings are running out. “The lockdown was announced without any information, so we couldn’t buy any material or prepare for this. Some of my family members were out on government projects painting the stations and only managed to get back after two months.” says Sai Kiran. Their family has started making masks and painting Cherial motifs on them. However, the delivery is still a struggle. “Some orders get delivered, some go missing via post and the long delivery time also deters customers.” he says. Masks have given the family some source of income and online classes is something he tried with an organisation even taking both these into consideration, they have made 10,000 INR in over 2 months. This is barely enough for them to survive.
Tourism drives a large part of the crafts sector and sustains craft communities. This has been completely cut off, with their peak season of sales during major fairs being cancelled. With stores not placing their usual orders, they don’t know what steps to take next. They are anxiously waiting for the government to provide any relief measures or support. There are some great peer based initiatives to support the urban artist community. However, not all craftspeople are tech savvy or use social media. So what can we as lay people do for the craftspeople who are torchbearers of culture and have given us so much joy through their beautiful creations?
So what can we as lay people do for the craftspeople who are torchbearers of culture and have given us so much joy through their beautiful creations? For starters we can start buying masks they have been creating, here are 5 websites to start with:
Itokri : https://www.itokri.com/collections/itokri-partner-dastkar
Kala Chaupal : https://shopchaupal.myshopify.com/
Nor Black Nor White : https://norblacknorwhite.com/collections/all/Masks (Donating masks to Goonj for every purchased and 20% sales go to Dharavi Art Room)
Save the Loom : http://www.savetheloom.org/pay/ (They are not only making masks but innovating)
World Art Community : https://worldartcommunity.com/search-item.php?searchVal=masks&categorySearchVal=ALL ( Some masks are made by associations who work with craftspeople, though I wouldn’t go for everything else on their site)
Support craftspeople by buying their original artworks from Ekibeki Association : https://picbabun.com/ekibekiassociation
Learn more about crafts associations and shops, here on : https://www.dastkarihaat.org/shops.php
If you cannot spend right now, go follow these associations on social media and show them some love. Every bit counts.