In the years following Independence, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the doyen of India’s craft renaissance, travelled the length and breadth of the country, often by bullock cart and sometimes on foot, piecing together India’s first craft map. In the process, she discovered forgotten, unknown and languishing crafts and brought unsung artisans into the limelight.

The Crafts Council of India, founded by Kamaladevi, continues the process, honouring both the memory of its mentor founder and the many outstanding artisans by presenting the Kamala awards annually. The three awardees are chosen through a rigorous process. Also, an award is given to a craft activist for his or her unflagging effort to nurture and develop the cause of the handicraft and artisan.

This year’s three Kamala awardees are stone sculptor Rajendra Mishra, Kondapalli toy maker Nageshwara Rao, and craft activist Anasuya Pawanje. The Shanta Prasad award winner is Devdas D. Shet, a wood carver.

These winners along with nine other Kamala awardees of the past years are in the city with their body of work to participate in an exhibition titled ‘Kamala and more…,’ which opens today.

Each awardee brings his unique strength to the products which are high on quality and craftsmanship. The exhibits present a collage of charm and craft excellence be it Bhagban Subuddhi’s carved wooden leaf which marries realism with abstraction or Kalipada’s innovative masland mats woven with local madur grass and banana fibre, Nageshwara Rao’s vegetable dyed Kondapalli toys, Dr. Ismail Khatri’s Ajrakh stoles and saris or Shilp Guru J. Gurappa Chetty’s incomparable Kalamkari panels.

At ‘Kamala and more,’ one meets artists such as A. Rajashekhar whose yaali forms adorn the corbels of St. George’s chapel at Windsor Castle. He stands amidst his oeuvre of stone Buddha heads, flat deepams and granite lotus leaves which curve at the edges in an incredible demonstration of art imitating life. “It is wonderful to take part in the exhibition along with other Kamala awardees” says Rajashekhar who is training six to seven artisans in stone craft at his studio in Bengaluru.

Gajam Yadagiri brings to Chennai his award winning exhibit -- a telia rumal sari dyed in indigo, yellow, red and black. Says he, “I have also brought specially designed telia rumal yardage, stoles and cotton saris.”

C. V. Raju, whose Padmavathy products literally changed the face of Etikopaka products with the path breaking use of age old wood-based dyes, says, “I am passionate about Etikopaka. I am striving to create awareness about the craft, its and conservation of resources. Exhibitions such as this one spread the message of eco-sensitivity as well as give a fillip to the quality work done by the artisans.”

And finally, there is Shilp Guru J. Gurappa Chetty, a legend in his own right, who with his father the late Lakshmaiah literally revived and restored Kalahasti’s kalamkari craft to its glory. “For this exhibition, I have depicted eight types of marriages mentioned in our epics, a narrative on the life of the Buddha and vignettes of village life in Andhra Pradesh.”

The ‘Kamala and more…’ exhibition is on at Lalit Kala Akademi, 4, Greams Road, from today till April 22.

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At WorkSeptember 24, 2010

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