Indian Traditional Art - Earthworks Artisan Empowerment Initiative
Updated: Feb 19
Ever since the launch of Earthworks Innovative in 2017, we have made it our mission to introduce new products every 6 months to mark milestones of our progress. One of the subject that is very dear to me is ART, as an artist I can empathize with difficulties that come along with marketing and (or) retailing an art work. As an entrepreneur I combined both my passions and launched Earthworks Artisan Empowerment Initiative. It all started when I visited an exhibition hosted by CCI – Craft Council of India in Chennai in Jan 2018. It was both an exhilarating and saddening experience for me. I was excited to learn about the origins of the artists and their art forms and how passionate, humble and dedicated they are to their profession. It broke my heart to hear about all their limitations, starting with the financial difficulties whose primary causes are art dealers (middle men) and plagiarism, this was domino effect which led to the younger generation not wanting to deal with multiple barriers and were moving on to other professions, leading to fewer artists in this field.
India is still decorated for one of the most colorful & a flavorful nation in this new age owing to its art and culture, and I believe that entrepreneurs must incorporate initiatives within our capacity to enhance the outreach of Indian artistic wealth. So we at Earthworks offered our fabrics to these artisans, asked them to treat it as their canvas so we can make beautiful bags that art lovers can carry for the world to see. Several Indian traditional (hand-painting) art forms like Gond, Pattachithra, Santhal, Devra, Pathwari, Sanjhi , Mandavare and many more are 1000s of years old. These Art was used to articulate mythology, folk lore & religious connotations; it was our way of storytelling. The skill & knowledge is passed on from one generation to another, there is no formal or mainstream (affordable) art schools which offer education in these traditional techniques.
“Indian traditional artisans are victims of digital imitations of their work”
These art forms are in dire need of conservation in this digital age. Even when these artists try to reach a wider audience by uploading their work online, it is immediately copied by textile designers or digital artists without offering them any credit. I even witnessed several folks taking pictures of their work at exhibitions and walking away without acknowledging the artists.
Many art forms are at risk as the younger generation is hesitating to pursue this profession as the income for these artisans and their communities have reduced drastically as a result of technological advancement.
“Young hands that were meant to create art are now bruised from carrying bricks at construction sites”
Although there are several government institutions, NGOs and individuals who are trying to help our artisans, we still have a long way to go. This is why saving our traditional arts forms has become one of our primary missions. We work with several communities across India including Patachithra (Orrisa) , Santhal (West Bengal) , Gond (Madhya Pradesh) and many more (soon to be launched).
“ART must not be confined to a wall for the privileged few; it must travel for the world to see”
One of the other aspects that limits the reach of traditional art forms globally to a wide audience is the fine art industry, which is unapproachable to common people. Some of these artisans are supported by top names in the Indian art community who help them showcase their work abroad, but most of them are again victims in this exposure deal, as these agents take a huge commission on sales. The only other medium they have is the government initiatives like exhibitions and festivals where they can display and sell their art work. Here again, their art is for the fortunate few to access.
Earthworks Hand-painted Bags - The Process
We at Earthworks offer our high-quality durable bags to these artists for them to express their artistic freedom. We spend a lot of time building a relationship with these artists to understand their background, their limitations, their strengths, and their hopes and dreams. This initiative is beyond just pushing art through our bags. The artists who are not comfortable with painting on canvas, but rather walls - we connect them to interior designers & architects. The artists who prefer painting on wooden products, we try to get commissioned work on wooden coaster, jewelry boxes and other collectibles. We pave a path for their mission. The hand-painted bags initiative, we offer them either canvas panels or fully stitched bags and they have their full artistic freedom to create art with guidance of subject/colour scheme. We also offer them art supplies when required and give them a copy of images of their art to add to their portfolio. We are fully transparent about our process and encourage our customers to even connect with them directly for opportunities of expansion. We are currently focusing on GOND art & Patachithra art.
Dating back to over 1400 years, the Gond tribe who are predominantly from Madhya Pradesh, but can also be found in pockets of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha, the Gond community expressed their close connection with spirit of nature through paintings on walls & caves as a form of worship. Their paintings are also a means to record and pass on historical knowledge and teachings. Recreating the forms of nature as paintings is a form of worship of their sacred essence. The Gond paintings use vibrant colors like orange, yellow, blue and red, and are created with articulately drawn lines and dots as the method to bring it to life. We at Earthworks enable these artisans to continue their artistic expression by offering our bags as their canvas. We work with several Artists from Madhya Pradesh and Artist Gariba Singh Tekam undertakes most of our projects as he trains young artists from his community. Each art is done with love & dedication; it takes almost 3 or 4 days to complete one bag.
Patta (cloth) Chithra (story telling) is a traditional performative art from eastern India, predominantly from the Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal and parts of Bihar and Jharkhand. Patachithra paintings from these regions differ based on traditions, art medium & techniques. These vibrant paintings have mythological narratives and folktales inscribed in it. We work alongside ORMAS ( Orrisa government agency who help empower artisans) who help us achieve our goals. Patachithra mostly has strong religious element to their art form, but we encourage them to highlight nature elements to remind us about the importance of nature conservation. We try to bring the background elements of their art to the foreground
Our Support System
We are blessed to have several clients who understand this initiative and help us sustain it by commissioning art from these communities. They give us the time & creative freedom as well as funds to ensure several youth from these communities are inspired to learn their traditional art form. One of our strongest supporters is a wildlife rescue and conversation NGO who use these hand-painted bags as a fund raising product, making whole initiative fully sustainable.
Art highlighting nature conservation – made on Eco-friendly durable product – auctioned out; retaining the integrity of the art form – to raise funds for nature conservation – making a full circle of giving back to the planet.
What we need
The 2020 pandemic affected almost everyone, artists even more so. Our artisans had no means to sell their work and our clients could no longer commission work due their own limitations in funds. We still kept the project alive by commissioning hand-painted bags not only to help them financially, but to also for their emotional and mental well-being.
We are looking for long term projects (bulk quantity) to help sustain the livelihood of these communities; as these artists usually sell their art in events & exhibitions has reduced their income drastically post lock downs.
Since our bags were mainly auctioned as works of art, we didn’t connect with retailers. We hope to connect with folks with similar passion towards art conservation to help us get these bags out there, we would love to connect with boutiques, festival/event organisers, and outlets that promote and sell handicrafts. And of course as an individual you could buy our hand-painted bags at https://www.earthworksinnovative.in/handpaintedbags