Ordinary objects or works of art? ‘Srijan’ exhibition explores indigenous crafts…

A variety of fascinating local crafts were on display at ‘Srijan—Space Making Craft Practices of India’ at the recent Serendipity Arts Festival 2022, in Goa
Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left) and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)Gomantak Times

There’s always confusion about whether one should address craftwork as an object of art or not. Sometimes, it is assumed that a particular craft is commonly made by artisans, and thus, there is no exclusive factor for it, like art. But, is it really the case?

The exhibition titled, ‘Srijan—Space Making Craft Practices of India’ which was part of the recent Serendipity Arts Festival, held at Azad Maidan, Panjim, and curated by Anjana Somany, gave a different perspective to these crafts which are part of our vernacular building practices.

The exhibition gave an insight into the building practices of different parts of India, right from Arunachal Pradesh to Kerala to Kashmir and Tamil nadu. It also included Goan Shell windows, which was on display.

Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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ORDINARY YET EXTRAORDINARY

The exhibition created awareness about the indigenous knowledge of the local communities, innovation and how they use every day materials to make utilitarian objects, which are no less than a piece of art.

It also looked at the indigenous practices through a new lens of collaboration between practitioners who are keeping this tradition alive and design thinkers who can give a modern context by imagining craft practices.

The highlight of this exhibition, which immediately caught the attention of the audience, was the experimental installation titled, ‘Kanaja, the Story of Three Granaries’, by Made In Earth Collective.

Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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It stated, “Along the Kaveri river, farmers, coracle weavers, shepherds, priests, Soliga and Bedagampana indigenous communities of the Male Mahadeshwara Hills, researchers, ecologists and aunts from the villages have helped us uncover materials and techniques that seem ordinary in their landscapes. Together with them, each Kanaja is handcrafted into an object of imagination. Each of them explores materials that simply return to the soil and survive only through songs and stories.”

Kanaja means granary or treasure in Kannada, and on display were three kanaja, made from three distinct eco-friendly materials.

A ‘Kaadu Kanaja’
A ‘Kaadu Kanaja’Picture courtesy: Arti Das
Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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The installation comprised Naadu, Naaru and Kaadu Kanjas, which were put together in collaboration with organisations working in the ecological space and with the indigenous communities of Karnataka.

The Naadu Kanaja – a circular form is made from recycled wood-free cotton paper, tamarind seed powder, fenugreek, cellulose glue, mulberry bark handmade paper, woven bamboo, woven cane, linseed oil, metal with traditional recipes from homes in Kollegal, Malavalli and Mandya and in collaboration with Bluecat Paper, Bangalore.

Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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‘Gaia—Pillars of Light’
‘Gaia—Pillars of Light’Picture courtesy: Arti Das

The other object is a Naaru Kanaja —a fibrous lantern that will make you wonder what material it is made of! It is nothing but a luffa, or sponge gourd, which has been weaved continuously like a quilt. This project, made by the Belagola farming community in collaboration with the Belava Foundation, looks stunning and makes you realise the creative minds of these communities.

The third object is the Kaadu Kanaja which looks like a cocoon and is made by weaving together the wattles of the lantana plant, an invasive species that has threatened to overtake indigenous undergrowth. This species has also overtaken the native plant species in wildlife reserves in different parts of the country.

Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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Goan shell window on display at the exhibition
Goan shell window on display at the exhibitionPicture courtesy: Arti Das

The object which is made from it has been inspired by the idea of a trap. It involves Soliga and Bedagampana indigenous communities of the Male Mahadeshwars Hills in collaboration with ATREE, Bangalore.

Another object made from the invasive lantana is the ‘Gaia—Pillars of Light’ which are made from banana fibre paper and lantana. It has been crafted by Jenny Pinto and the Oorja team in collaboration with tribal artisans of the Real Elephant Collective, Gudalur.

Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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Pinto believes that through the use of lantana in objects, the spread of this species can be contained.

The exhibition space of Srijan, had many such objects which are made from everyday material by everyday people. Each piece is extraordinary and reveals the hard work and commitment of the communities and the designers who have come together to re-tell the story of Indian craft.

Anthropomorphic totems made from the cane plant, designed at the Wicker Story Studio and made by senior cane artisan-weavers (left)  and 'Naadu Kanaja' (right)
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