Dominated by rich colours, the pieces created for Antara, an exhibition of handcrafted home décor, captivates the viewers.

“Our jungles are full of stories,” says Gond tribal artist Anand Kumar Shyam as he points out to a fat cat filled with tiny dots which he has created for Antara, an exhibition of handcrafted home décor organised by the Crafts Council of India. “These dots are symbolic of Gond identity. We actually make them on trees to enable us to find our way back when we go into the jungle. It was these ‘dot' markings which first caught the eye of J. Swaminathan's team in 1981, sent into Gond jungles to study our art forms. So dazzled was the team by the paintings on the walls of our huts that they called it a living art museum. They asked us to paint on paper which they had brought with them.”

“The paintings are mesmerising, vital, full of an animal intensity and energy and bursting with colours. Trees of life are done in deep purple and blue or in soft pink, green and shaded yellow. Dotted birds larger than life, and frames of sleek dotted tigers and fawns, peacocks, parrots, trees and flowers which are intensely alive…,” says Kalavati, painter and Shyam's wife “ We painted the original piece on the walls of our huts, which some of us still continue to do. We first prepare the wall surface with ‘gobar and mitti'. On this we make murals of whatever we wish to depict, generally the nature around us, with our hands. We prepare our own colours: red from the palash flowers, green from som leaves, yellow and deep red form crushing stone. The brush is made from bamboo sticks,” she explains.

Weaving patterns

According to Anand Kumar Shyam, with the introduction of painting on paper Gond wall art is slowly vanishing. And here's another story: of Manimekalai and hundreds of other women from six Chettinad villages who are part of Visalakshi Ramaswami's M.Rm.Rm Cultural Foundation. Working on their pre-existing traditional skill of rough basket weaving the foundation has trained the marginalised village women to weave very fine Palmyra baskets in brilliant colours. According to Manimekalai, “The fine weaving patterns are copied from Madam's 100-year-old basket collection. We've also been taught to make our own dyes and do everything from cleaning and cutting the ‘olai' to the required size, dyeing them and then weaving anything from round, rectangular shaped boxes and trays to wall hangings, presentation sets, etc. Today she trains rural women in four centres.

Their brilliant orange, shocking pink and red boxes and trays and other accessories are spectacular in their visual impact.

The ‘revival' of Sanjhi crafts story where Mathura's temple crafts have morphed into ethereally delicate wall hangings, captivates viewers at Antara.

Paramparik artisan Mohan Kumar Verma's amazing delicate six ft paper Sanjhi cut out of a tree of life is handwork at its best. Also available are smaller Sanjhi cut outs framed in sheets of glass. These cut outs were originally placed on raised mud platforms over which rangoli powder was sprinkled. Once the paper cut out was carefully removed, the colourful imagery, mostly, stayed of Ras Lila and Krishna's exploits.

Verma executes Sanjhi jhankis on water at the exhibition site everyday. The ‘Kamala' shop, CCI's flagship retail store, presents rare and innovative home decor products at ‘Antara.' Superbly painted organdie and indigo table linen, marble Ganeshas, painted wooden ware, delicate Madhubani art done on board games, trays and runners, stunning Mata Ki Pichedi paintings and tea lights are among the many eye catchers at the CCI stall.

Here's more for craft interior buffs with a contemporary slant. Kalamkari tea-poys and stool, shell craft cutlery with wonderful detailing, dhokra artefacts, bamboo chiks, and brilliantly dyed pathamadai reed mats – all melding the music of Antara with that of handcraft. Antara is on till December 11, at Lalit Kala Akademi, Greams Road.

Keywords: Antaracrafts