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.
A terracotta craftsman working on his patent clay piggy banks. The product range is limited to various sizes of a single design piggy bank and God idols for various festivals.
Potter working on his hand-turned wheel
My sKetcHbooK Cover
How colorful the life is now. This is what came to my mind the very first time those packets of colorful sand were placed in front of me. I went deeper into that thought and instantly it came to my mind what is it that makes my life so blissful. Some sort of a negative feeling has been dissipated from my life. Yes it has. My life now is what I wanted it to be – Self dependent.
Ever since in the workshop with Tahirey, we were given that material (colorful sand) to play and experiment with, I could only think of what I just mentioned.
We had to produce an artwork which talked about one of our own qualities or a part of our life which described or influenced us.
In my artwork, I portrayed me and my younger brother successfully coming out of a complex and dependant life of my house where the decisions for us were taken by the third generation elders instead of our own parents. I tried to show the problems that we faced due to the generation gap between us and our grand parents and how we conquered that and reached our goal of self driven behavior. I have carefully chosen the colors of the sand to demonstrate the state of the humans individually in that particular frame.
As seen in the picture above, I used the yellow, green and blue colors to show mine, my brother’s and my parents’ life and aspirations. Full of greenery and regardless of ‘Stop’ as symbolized by the red which is the word and feeling that comes out of my grandparents life. Always a NO for any smallest of the things
I used various sizes of the character symbolizing cylinders to portray the position of the person in the house. The longest red cylinder signifies my grandfather who always is against our thoughts and ideas – who probably has his own thinking which he expects today’s generation to follow.
The middle-sized blue and yellow cylinders symbolize my parents who although have a higher position than us in the house, have a neutral say in the decisions for us – as suggested by their colors. But the fact is that they support us and know that we need to go ahead in life and face the world.
The other two smallest green cylinders – out of which one is even smaller symbolizing my younger brother, signify the ‘Go’ or willing to move ahead in life mindset. It shows they are away and won’t listen to the NOs and the IFs and BUTs.
I tried to show that how with the constant effort, we succeeded in moving ahead in life leaving behind all the negativeness.
Finally, we headed towards the final movement of the memory lab.
This final movement gave us a platform to choose and present any memory that somewhere pricked us. The only challenge that was incorporated within this movement unlike the others was – a collaborative work. Yes, we had this opportunity to know, explore and work with the art students of the University of Rhode Island where we had to collaborate our ideas and memory and produce work.
Well, for me the most exciting part of the collaboration was the introductory session where all the students from Srishti spoke to all the students from URI individually. The session was chaotic yet boastful at the same time. This was because we had to speak to each student individually for 5-10 minutes and decide the partner with whom we will be working with. The enthralling part of this meet was to connect with one person from the opposite end in just a few minutes.
After talking to them and knowing a bit about them, I decided to work with one of the students there. Both of us then teamed up with my peer and friend here at Srishti and commenced working on the collaboration.
Me and my friend were initially thinking of working with memories and technology. While we chatted and gained a little more knowledge about the type of work that the URI students were doing, we discovered that this memory collaboration was a part of their photography assignment.
Both of us here started brainstorming to come up with a concept that could engulf the memories of all three of us. After having discussions and exchanging a couple of e-mails, we three froze the topic for working on for this movement – childhood memories. The aspect that we chose to work on within childhood memories was ‘fun, sports and games’.
Both of us here at Srishti, had made it a point that if the work was a collaboration, it should look like one. For the same reason, we went about clubbing the memories of the three of us and producing an artwork. Philomena – our URI partner, had decided to work with the memory associated with her childhood toys. Likewise, my peer here derived her inspiration from the winning and participation in sports events at school and state level and my memory was inspired from a small game that me and my cousins had set up as a part of a ‘fun fair’ when I was a kid. My memory inspired me to think of the overall concept of our work – to peep through the memories. Peeping for the reason that whenever we trace back a memory or think about an event of the past, we never have a clear and complete picture about that event instantly. We always think about specific aspects of that memory. I intended to use the form of my memory as peepholes for viewing the memories of the past of my peer’s and Philomena’s.
We froze our idea of installation with the memories in the form of photo frames and digital flip book being peeped through the peep holes.
Well, it was fun to work as a group and create the installation. We managed to get the photographs from Philomena in time which were to be complied as a flip book to set up for the exhibition.
The day of the exhibition arrived. We installed our works exactly the way we had ideated. Well, after the work was installed in the gallery space, I encountered and concluded certain things about our work.
First of all, I liked my idea of peeping through the memories but felt that the structure that we had created could not justify the action of peeping. If at all the holes would have been smaller and lesser (opened), the action of peeping could have been achieved. It would have made the viewer more curious and inquisitive to peep into the memories.
Video of the photographs clicked by Philomena…
Secondly, I was not quite happy with the presentation. I felt that if at all the set up behind the holes could have been rendered a little more old visually, the whole setup could have worked out well. Certain elements like the trophies and the laptop didn’t add the touch and feeling of being old.
Lastly, I felt that if at all we would have got some quality time to discuss our collaboration with the URI students, things must have been better.
As this is the last segment of the memory lab, I discovered quite a few things about working with memories.
I discovered that memory is just a trigger or an inspiration of work. It is never possible to recreate the same memory the way it was.
I genuinely felt the lack and need of research in my works. I now am determined to work further with a prior research towards any kind of work.