Entrepreneur Nisha Vikram talks about using public spaces for showcasing traditional art

CraftCanvas, an enterprise based out of Ahmedabad, started by Chennaiite Nisha Vikram has been transforming the Ahmedabad cityscape into one large canvas with public installations of traditional crafts. Picture age-old motifs, hand-painted on large walls in an urban space with beautiful colours. Warli here. Mata Ni Pachedi there… Nisha says, “Art helps transform an ordinary space into something extraordinary and thought-provoking. Cities such as New York and Sacramento are famous for their street / public art installations. They have a public fund for the same and they boast of generating huge livelihood opportunities for their artists.” She decided to work on this public craft installation in order to showcase local craft as well as to motivate artisans. “How many of us know the various arts and crafts in our country? We don’t know much because of lack of exposure. This project showcases how we can use a public space to create awareness about dying crafts.”

The Haat at Vastrapur in Ahmedabad, Nisha explains, is an exhibition venue for craftspeople all through the year. “Various national- and State-level craft organisations such as Dastkar and Craftroots organise their annual exhibition in Ahmedabad at this venue. Spread over a large area with around 80 stalls, a food court and an amphitheatre, this space was bereft of any information about crafts. With ample wall space, there was a lot of scope for installations,” she adds. The government department concerned floated a tender. “Since we are a young organisation, we fell short of a couple of years in operation to take up this project. We partnered with a local organisation, Craftroots to execute this project,” she explains.

At the exhibition that followed the completion of the work, CraftCanvas experienced first-hand, the curiosity it generated.

“A number of people clicked photographs with these paintings as the backdrop. Imagine the impact that these photos would have on social networking sites! At the exhibition, the craft workshops were full, and the artisans got a lot of positive feedback. Local schools brought the children to show them the art form and they got to try their hands at it. In an environment where customers haggle with the artisan to the last rupee, this experience helps in raising self-esteem. Such appreciation and acknowledgement goes a long way in motivating the artisan,” Nisha muses.

While Craftroots took care of the permissions, CraftCanvas focussed on the installations, from design to execution. “We worked mostly in the evenings and night to avoid interference,” she adds. The project, which began this August, is being completed in phases. We completed the first phase last week.” Three families of craftspeople worked on this project (with about five members from each family).

Collective effort

“Craft is a collective effort in these families, so while the women fill in the colours, the men (master craftsmen) make the sketches,” Nisha explains. And the result is breathtaking indeed. “The scale adds to the whole feel and every time I step into the space, I hear people talking about it,” the proud entrepreneur says.

Ask her if she plans on more such initiatives and pat comes the reply: “Absolutely! However, installations in public areas are an initiative that needs to be taken by the local government authorities. Our artisan-designer team can only execute the projects.”