For Pappu Sahu, converting old brass ware into pretty dhokra artefacts is a way of life

Orissa's dhokra ware makes even the most mundane tribal object resonate with loveliness. In shades of beaten gold, in stylised motifs and amidst a crisscross of jaali and ancient forms, household objects become aesthetic expressions in the hands of tribal metal artisans.

Stunning piece of art

Take a simple rice measure or a coin box, a necklace made of huge ‘ghungroos' or an elongated wind instrument. Each becomes a stunning piece of art, gracefully shaped, etched with ancient symbols and beautifully finished. There is more dhokra ware on view at the Incredible Crafts of India Exhibition such as lamps, jewel boxes, peacocks, elephants and horses as well as tribal women reading – obviously a sign of changing times! What makes each piece special is its tribal resonance evident in the motifs, shapes and usage, which reflect a lifestyle inspirited by mythology and myth.

Artisan Pappu Sahu, who is present at the venue, says, “This collection is made by the inhabitants of my basti, many of whom are involved in metal work. We collect old broken pieces of brass such as buckets and vessels from the households. We melt them to make fresh items of everyday use. We begin by making a clay mould which is a replica of the object we want to make. Over this, we pour the molten brass. Once the brass has settled over the mould and while it is still warm, we do the etching with an iron needle.”

How did he learn the intricacies of the craft? Pappu smiles shyly. “By watching my father and others at work. The delicate jaali work, a distinctive feature of dhokra craft, is made by pouring molten metal over a clear tray. While the molten brass is still warm, an iron needle is used to make thin brass wires which are then bent to create any shape which the artisan has in mind. Once the wires are bent and joined to form the required shape, the jaali item is put in a wood fire.”

Says Sahu, “From the collecting of old brass to fetching firewood, from pressing the mould to etching and doing decorative work on the brass surface, I do everything by hand.”

Apart from the dhokra collection, the exhibition also has on display Rais Raza's attractive khadi striped and flecked kurtas and shirts, Kamlesh's Phad miniature paintings, Ganpat Lal Verma's lac bangles and much else. The presence of craftspersons adds an personal touch to the products. The exhibition is on till April 19 at Sri Sankara Hall, 281 TTK Road, Alwarpet.

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