Monday September 16, 2019

How Sedeibereni craftsmen in Odisha are keeping the lost Dhokra art alive

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By Prateek Kumar

In a small hamlet named Sedeibereni lives Dhanasur Behra, who has dedicated his life to conserve the dying art of Dhokra (Crafting metal statuette with the aid of wax). He and his family work at a meager wage of about $50 a month to create beautifully crafted and imaginative pieces of metal depicting the cultural and multilingual diversities of India.

Like Behra there are a few other craftsmen who are struggling everyday to conserve this 200 year old legacy.

Settled near the temple of Saptasajya in Odisha, Sadeibereni is a forgotten land which is admired for its ancient art forms.  The village and their oblivious art is the only source of their income which is now disappearing from the spectacle.

Sedeibereni craftsmen mould simple yet obscure designs of little elephants, show pieces and idols of Ganesh and Lakshmi which they sell for a modest price of $50-60 per kilogram. Ironically, their work of art is sold at almost $200-250 in the cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

Molding idols and dreams

These sculptures and idols which weigh about one or two kilograms are created through hand spinning the wax wires around the mold, after which they are rubbed on the buffing machine for a polished look.  A single sculpture takes 15 days for its completion and is sold for three thousand to Indian customers and six to seven thousand to foreigners. “Sometimes it takes several months for us to sell a single piece as there is no tourism in this part of Odisha. We are a family of seven and earns three thousand a month which makes our lives really hard” says Babita, Dhanasur’s wife and co-worker.

Even after facing such hardships, Sadeibereni craftsmen find content in their work. For them the survival of the art matters more than the money.

“Once I went to London along with few others from our village to teach this discarded style of making sculptures. But still we live like a stranger in our own land and no one praises us. We are still fighting for bread and butter” Dhanasur says.

Each piece is different from the other. Unlike the classical tradition of metal casting the Dhokra craftsman gives free bridle to his thoughts that led the mixture of metals from scraps to make objects of Utilitarian and ritualistic purpose for several communities.

Government’s support

The village which is a home for more than hundred skilled craftsmen, exports these carvings to metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Jaipur etc. “The state government has been very supportive in the endeavor to promote this artwork, they even provide them financial support whenever required along with medical and shelter facilities under Indira Awaas Yojana ” says Birendra, a dealer.

Next Story

Art Undersea: Cuban Artist Sketches Under Sea Among Fish and Coral Reefs

For Cuba's Sandor Gonzalez, there is no better place to sketch than several meters below the surface of the sea

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Art, Undersea, Cuban
Cuban artist Sandor Gonzalez paints underwater in Punta Perdiz. He experimented until he found a way of sketching with charcoal or oil paints which unlike pastels or watercolor would not dissolve. VOA

Some artists like to go on a countryside retreat to foster their creative process.

For Cuba’s Sandor Gonzalez, there is no better place to sketch than several meters below the surface of the sea, surrounded by iridescent Caribbean fish and fantastical coral forms.

The 42-year-old first won renown at home and abroad for his predominantly black-and-white, haunting images of imaginary cityscapes, inspired by a trip to Europe and reflecting the aggressiveness of modern, urban life.

Then six years ago, he went scuba diving in Cuba and found his inspiration in the complete opposite: the tranquility found below water where all forms are natural and not manmade, all sounds are muffled and the light ripples softly.

Art, Undersea, Cuban
Cuban artist Sandor Gonzalez speaks to the media after painting underwater in Punta Perdiz, June 18, 2019. VOA

While Gonzalez had heard of a biologist painting underwater in Spain, he decided to experiment for himself until he found a way of sketching with charcoal or oil paints which unlike pastels or watercolor would not dissolve.

The Cuban learnt to then soak the canvasses for at least an hour and rinse them to get rid of the salt and any organic matter, before hanging them out to dry.

“This started off as a hobby, as a passion,” he told Reuters at Punta Perdiz, his favorite dive spot, sheltered in the Bay of Pigs, where in 1961 U.S.-backed Cuban exiles landed in a failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro.

“But now I really need to come here, immerse myself and create below water because there is a peace there that you simply cannot find on dry land.”

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To do so, he gets fully kitted out in scuba diving gear including an oxygen tank and yellow flippers, and swims out 60 meters (197 feet) to his easel fixed in the seabed around 6 meters (20 feet) below the surface.

With him, he carries his canvas, and other equipment like a spatula for the oil paints weighed down with some lead to avoid it floating to the surface if he lets go.

The artist said he does not plan beforehand, instead allowing inspiration to strike as he enters a meditative state in the crystalline water. But inevitably his submarine work is more about nature than the cityscape series he continues to develop on land.

Being reliant on a tank limits the time underwater, but Gonzalez is quick and for this interview sketched in 30 minutes a flying whale, dragging a house behind it in a sky dotted with clouds. Palm trees grow off the creature’s back.

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Cuban artist Sandor Gonzalez paints underwater in Punta Perdiz, Cuba, June 18, 2019. VOA

“I really did not expect to see somebody under water, painting!” exclaimed Canadian tourist Mike Festeryga, who saw Gonzalez while diving along the seabed.

The state-run dive center at Punta Perdiz, on Cuba’s southern coast, some 172 km (107 miles) from Havana, said his work was an extra draw for tourists.

“For tourists, it’s really a novelty,” said Hector Hernandez, who has been working as a dive instructor in the area for more than 28 years.

Gonzalez, who makes a living selling work at his studio in Havana for a median price of $1,000 per canvas, exhibits some of his submarine work in the Punta Perdiz dive center.

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He is now hoping to get state permission to sell the work and develop the area as a center for underwater art.

“I would like for a department of submarine painting to be created,” he said. “I don’t think anything like that exists yet anywhere in the world.” (VOA)