‘Various sized showpieces of the deity are in the offing this year. One is a miniature coloured Durga in clay mounted on a thermocol leaf; another is a multicolored thermocol pot carrying a daab (green coconut) atop along with a clay goddess figure on the pot’s surface’
Goddess Durga is all set to transcend on earth to wipe out evil and this time the deity will sport the traditional ‘taana chokh’ (wide godly eyes), signifying a return to the roots as potters in Kumartuli in northern Kolkata give finishing touches to the idols.
Kumartuli, the traditional potters’ quarter, where the life-like idols of Durga and her family are impeccably sculpted using clay and straw and virtually brought to life with paint, sarees and ornaments, is abuzz with activity with the biggest festival-Durga Puja.
Mirroring the devotee’s love for the traditional, this time around the deity will sport ‘taana chokh’ as against the human like eyes which were in vogue last year.
“Last year most of our customers ordered models with human-like eyes but this year it’s the ‘taana chokh’ that is in demand,” said Kakoli Pal, one of the handful female potters.
According to Hindu mythology, goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati, descend to earth each year to visit her parents, occasioning the celebration of Durga Puja.
Durga is believed to stay for five days to eradicate evil - buffalo demon Mahishasura - from the earth before returning to her husband, Lord Shiva, at Kailash on Dashami.
The potters of Kumartuli, who now have moved from obscurity to prominence thanks to their ingenuity, are busy blending tradition with the modern, giving shape to the idols of all sizes from the life-like to the miniature.
“Various sized showpieces of the deity are in the offing this year. One is a miniature coloured Durga in clay mounted on a thermocol leaf; another is a multicolored thermocol pot carrying a daab (green coconut) atop along with a clay goddess figure on the pot’s surface,” said Dipak Dey of Lokenath Shilpalaya.
Priced modestly, the pot-Durgas, supposed to adorn entrances, stand at three feet whereas the leaf-Durgas, meant to be wall-hanging, stretches to a foot-and-a-half, ensuring ease of transportation.
“The foreign tourists find it easy to carry and buy them as mementos. Locally we are doing good business as well with most of our products selling in the Northeastern States,” added Dey.
However, much to the dismay of the potters, the sales of paper-pulp models have declined.
“There is stiff competition from fibre glass idols. While locally the sales of the paper-pulp models have declined, there are some export orders,” said Subal Pal, a potter who exports paper-pulp idols.
Paper-pulp models are at a disadvantage because they can get soggy and lose their form if they come in contact with water.
“The fibre glass idols are stronger in comparison and therefore in greater demand,” lamented Pal.
Similarly, the accessory-makers face their own perils. “The price of the raw materials for the embellishments - like the mukut (crown) and artificial jewellery for the arms and necks of the goddess - have gone up by 25 per cent,” said Biswanath Dey of Sandip Stores, specializing in idol decorations.
“We are running our business at a loss as our customers won’t agree to the hike.”
The decorations use zari (brocade), beads and sequins as raw materials which are sourced from within the city and Mumbai. Seconding the accessory-makers are the idol-painters, for whom the eco-friendly paints are proving a bit too expensive.
Lead-based paints, which are hazardous to both human health and the environment, have been the staple of the Kumartuli artists for decades.
“We use whatever comes in handy. Given our busy schedule, any paint that’s available in sufficient quantity and within the budget is given preference and so far the lead-based paints are the clear winners,” said Babu Pal, the spokesperson of Kumartuli Mritshilpi Sanskriti Samity.
Non-lead-based paints, a recent addition, have had a slow start with the artists.
The price of one eco-friendly paint can is almost twice as much as the lead-based ones. And the suppliers have provided just about five litres of such paint to each artist for free.
“We need around 20 litres to complete one set of idols. That means we have to purchase the remainder with our own funds. It is impossible for us to do so,” rued Pal.
Despite the hurdles, eco-friendly paints definitely signal greener pastures. “We have no objection to using the new variety of paints. Our customers also look forward to such innovations. We have requested the suppliers to reduce the cost, but the government has to stop or limit the manufacture of lead-based paints to have a substantial effect,” said Pal. (IANS)
Printmaking finding new scope to live, re-invent
‘New printmakers in India are using high technology to push their art to budget collectors. Print art is a reproduction practice in which a picture or an image is reporduced using techniques like woodcuts, linocuts, lithography, etching, engraving and tinting’
The decline in the art market in the aftermath of the economic meltdown has given the 15th century artistic tradition of printmaking a reason to survive and re-invent itself.
New printmakers in India are using high technology to push their art to budget collectors. Print art is a reproduction practice in which a picture or an image is reporduced using techniques like woodcuts, linocuts, lithography, etching, engraving and tinting.
It came to India in the 16th century when Jesuit priests in Goa imported a printing press from Portugal to print a Christian booklet, Doctrina Christa. Kolkata later became the hub of pictorial literature.
“In order to sell prints, you need to target a low-budget buyer - someone who has thousands of rupees but not lakhs to invest in art. You need to look at young professionals and corporate houses which buy entire editions of prints for corporate gifts during festivals,” says well-known multi-media narrative artist, printmaker and writer Paula Sengupta.
Sengupta has written the first volume of the history and evolution of print-making in India, “The Printed Picture: Four Centuries of Indian Printmaking”. The book, in two volumes, has been published by the Delhi Art Gallery and has more than 400 prints dating from the 17th century.
It was released this week at an exhibition, The Printed Picture, showcasing 250 prints in chronological order from the 17th century.
Prints have always been relegated to the margins in the Indian art because buyers consider it below par the original. Prints, on an average, cost half that of the original work but this is the only way archival and high-end expensive art has reached mass collectors.
“The markets for prints had developed in the west much earlier. It is a niche area because the marketing strategy is different. There are dedicated print galleries for collectors of prints. It is a growing trend in the west,” Sengupta said.
The decline in the market has however proved beneficial for prints - bringing about a resurgence of the genre and creating a market. In the last two months, the country has seen a sudden spurt in print exhibitions, Sengupta said.
Artists are redefining the printmaking techniques to remain tuned in to the widening spread of new media art in India.
“Two things are happening: One, a lot of artists are pushing the limit of traditional printmaking by combining it with other mediums. The second, artists are using more cutting-edge computer-generated digital processes for their prints,” said Sengupta, who holds a doctorate in printmaking.
She works with textiles as her primary medium and uses wood blocks and the serigraph printing processes to create visual essays about themes like the partition of Bengal, demography, migration, gender and other social issues.
“The means of reproducing the image has changed with television and the Internet. It is faster and technologically refined. The idea of creating a limited edition print is obsolete - the whole concept of printmaking has changed,” printmaker Subba Ghosh of the Indian Printmakers’ Guild said. Ghosh has contributed to The Printed Picture.
Nowadays, with limited money, collectors like prints because they are cheaper, Ghosh said. “Many artists are trying to use printmaking as a source of sustenance because it is cost-effective,” Ghosh said.
According to noted critic Pranabaranjan Ray, the contemporary post-modernists, unlike the early post-modernists of the American pop art, have tolled the bell for printmaking’s claim to be a distinct art.
“The post-modernist breaking down of barriers of mediums and the growing propensity of artists to freely mix and use mediums has led to the removal of inhibitions in modern printmaking,” Ray observes in the book, explaining the transformation of the genre during 1990-2000.
Printmaker Subba Ghosh says stray efforts have been made in the last four decades to breathe fresh into contemporary printmaking.
“It was around 1968 that printmaker Jagmohan Chopra and a few other artists formed Group 8. It was a collective of printmakers who felt that the quest for the original was irretrievable, and that it probably did not matter any more because the source was not the object but was itself an instance of industrial revolution,” Ghosh says.
In 1984 a group in Shantiniketan formed the Realists. Spurred by Marxism, the group practised a genre of printmaking inspired by the Chinese and Russian style of social realism.
The Garhi Studios established by the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1976 to give space to practising artists developed into a vibrant printmaking centre in the 1990s.
The printmakers who practised in Garhi came together to form the Indian Printmakers’ Guild to meet the challenges facing the medium from other genres of art.
Several artists like Vijay Bagodi and Anupam Sud have over the last two decades given up all other mediums to devote their careers to printmaking. (IANS)