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Craft conversations

Thursday, November 29, 2018

There is a mind-boggling variety of cultural production in each geographic region of India, says Nandita Palchoudhuri to Ronita Torcato

Nandita Palchoudhuri, Trustee of the Academy of Fine Arts,  a non-government cultural institution established in 1933 in Kolkata, head of the Crafts Council West Bengal,  and a social entrepreneur who curates and consults internationally in the field of Indian Folk Art/ Craft and performance practices, will present a Bengal crafts show starting today at Srila Chatterjee's Baro in Lower Parel.  Over the weekend, Baro will display an assemblage of crafts indigenous to West Bengal created by craftsmen from across the state. These include Madhumangal Malakar, a master craftsman from North Bengal who specialises in ritual sculpture using sholapith, a waterweed; Akshay Bhaskar, a woodcarver from Natungram, who is responsible for the  owls, stylised Durga images and tribal forms on display; Nepalchandra Sutradhar, master artisan and dancer from Purulia, who leads a dance ensemble in traditional Chau performances, and is also an expert mask and papier-mache image builder;  Ashish Malakar, a National Award winning Shola sculptor, who creates intricate mythological installations and is engaged in experiments with the Shola material to create large sculpted panels used as wall cladding. The crafts on display at Baro include kantha embroidery (running stitch) kutti (muslin jamdani children’s clothes) sculpted metal and stone jewelry, and gamchha fashions. There will also be several 'live' demos by the artisans.

Palchoudhuri designs exhibitions, installations, educational workshops, seminars and lecture-demonstrations using Indian folk techniques and traditional practices with a view to regenerating the crafts and providing a sustainable livelihood  to highly skilled but often unemployed artisans.

What do you think of the casual bandying about of the words ‘curator/curate’? Would you say these terms are misused and re-contextualised?

‘Curator’ is such a wide term that it is invariably used to cover a large gamut of activities and therefore leads to its re-contextualisation with each extension. When I started to do my work, there was no precedence for it, and a bunch of British art gurus gave me this tag. I know what I do and don’t concern myself with how I am labelled.

How many years have you spent curating and researching?

Initially, as a part of the Crafts Council and then independently since 2000.

Curators are also cultural producers and exhibition-organisers. Does this then mean a curator creates knowledge? If so, to what end?

I base my work on the premise that craft is meant to be functional, however while society has mutated several times to take new forms, the crafts have remained largely static. This creates a gap between the products created and what contemporary markets demand. The artisan no more produces for the immediate community but for a consumer he does not understand. My intervention aims to repurpose crafts using traditional skills and in collaboration with the artisan, to close this gap. In this capacity, my involvement when dealing with a new craft has almost always been turnkey.

Do you see yourself as socially engaged?

Certainly. I am primarily interested in the craftsperson and his/her livelihood. The craft is the means by which I try to approach it.

What socio-political, historical and creative issues interest you?

Co-existence of difference in India. Hindu, Muslim and other communities complementing each other in the production of crafts for decades. The ability to innovate with next to no resources, at the rural level. The mind-boggling variety and individuality of cultural production in each geographic region of India.

What do you think of current exhibitions in India?

I like that there are many more exhibitions than ever before in India, and that they could all trigger new conversations. I am disappointed that we have not yet been able to devise an Indian or regional language of presenting our work but most often copy paste the Western idiom.

What improvements would you make to the lives of craftspersons?

I would aim to make people like myself redundant and create an enabling environment where the artisans are able to take their own decisions and independently negotiate the markets.

When November 30 - December 2, 11:00 am - 7:00 pm (entry free)

Where BARO, 12, Sun Mill, Lower Parel

Contact +91 22 40344888

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