On visiting the terracotta craft cluster based in Marasandra village which is almost 15 kilometers from the NES Quarters Yelahanka, I for the first time confronted the artisans who have spent their entire lives working in clay. I was eyeing the entire village on foot and observed that every second house was involved in terracotta work. All of them worked hard to make clay idols of deities and other human figures which had a particular season of sale (mostly during festivals). Most of them also worked on wheels where clay was thrown on to be molded into a pot.
I and two of my friends spent half a day with an aged potter who was working towards the fulfillment of an order of 600 plantation pots. The first thing that caught my attention the moment I saw him working was his physical form which was involved in the rigorous backbreaking work. Never had I seen a potter’s wheel which was hand drawn and never had I witnessed a 75 year old laboriously standing, throwing, applying momentum to the wheel and molding. The site was compassionate for the plight of the artisan. I with the help of my Kannadiga friend, tried to start a conversation with him making sure that his work is not caused any trouble. Our conversation started with momentary dialogues until the artisan was convinced and comfortable about the reason for our visit to his workplace. I was content to have the potter smiling and laughing with us by the end of our stay there. My conversations with the other potters and artisans in town also lead to the possibilities and reasons for the intervention that I intend to have.
I questioned mainly about the range of products produced by the artisans, their target audience or market and the quantity of items created within 11 hours of laborious work every day (6a.m. to 5 p.m.). On my enquiry, I discovered that the products were mainly produced to fulfill orders placed by dealers from the cities (mainly Bangalore). The range of products was mostly limited to one or two types of plantation pots, piggy banks, coal stoves and God idols. Out of these, God idols were mainly sold during festival seasons like Diwali, Dusshera and Navratri.
On questioning them about the non-innovation of products, they simply answered that the new products are not sold enough. The amount of time that is spent on doing the intricate and different style of work does not pay off because of less or no sale. One of the artisans, was greatly hopeless about the market for terracotta products. His opinion about the people who intended to intervene in this work was negative due to his past experiences. He felt that people come and go but never come back. He demanded long term development and was unhappy with short term earnings.
I felt that my role as a designer can only be justified not by producing good designs using the crafts but in reality marketing the products and opening huge market opportunities and creating demands for the craftsmen. The terracotta pots have also got a competition against the cement pots. It is important to expose the advantages of the natural materials used in the handicraft industry which renders them more eco-friendly and non-toxic as compared to the other products.
There are definitely a few artisans who have started developing contemporary products as a result of intervention but still, there exist a major percentage of craftsmen whose crafts are now endangered. Most of them have also started getting involved in other businesses like farming and construction. They work in terracotta only when they receive orders and during festivals.
The visit and conversations with these craftsmen have burdened me with a larger responsibility and a greater role as a person who can create work and better opportunities for them. I do not wish to let their confidence down and make them believe that anybody who comes just comes and goes away and never comes back. Indeed I am a little scared right now but at the same time I know that the first step will lead to the next.