How The Artist Project is supporting rural artisans during the pandemic

Chennai-based The Artist Project holds affordable auctions of artwork on Instagram to help rural artisans

Published - August 05, 2020 06:02 pm IST - Chennai

On an Instagram post by The Artist Project, featuring a circular acrylic painting of seagulls, a bidding war has ensued in the comments. “4000” comments one user, “4500” says another. “5000” says the third, outbidding the others. In the next three days of posting that painting, it is sold to the highest bidder.

Since June, many such paintings have been auctioned from this Instagram account, for this is how Chennai-based architect Abhinaya Rangarajan, founder of the not-for-profit, is raising funds for rural artisans.

“The Artist Project was started as an initiative where we work with rural artisans who do not have the access or means to put their work online. Their work may even sell internationally, but it is often the middlemen who earn the most. So we reach out to them, give their work more visibility online, and get them orders so they have a steady source of revenue,” explains Abhinaya.

The account had not been very active since mid-2018, until the pandemic hit. “We started receiving requests from the artists we work with, asking us if we could help sell their products,” she adds.

Abhinaya says they currently have 10-15 artists in their roster, from across the country: Puducherry, interior parts of Andhra Pradesh, a couple of villages near Jaipur, in the Kutch region and in West Bengal. “Some of them are a lot more active than the rest, and once they manage to sustain their business without our help, we let them be and take on another artist on board.”

With the pandemic, says Abhinaya, the hardest hit artists “are those that run small businesses, who sell out of push-carts or tiny stores. They depend on the workshops provided to them by the Government, and rely completely on footfall”.

One such artist on board with them is Puducherry-based Muthulakshmi, who does crochet. At 35, Muthulakshmi, who had been trained by a French national in her hometown, started Gokulam Crafts, and now works out of a Government workshop. Through its various auctions so far, The Artist Project raised close to ₹22,000 for Muthulakshmi and her family.

“Apart from the auctions, we also promote our artists’ works on our account. They are priced between ₹300 and a maximum of ₹3,000. We realised that fundraising through auctions would be more immediate and effective for now,” she says.

For the auctions, many up-and-coming artists have volunteered their work, from Goa-based photographer and painter, Richa Kashlekar to Hyderabad-based Malvika Jey, and Abhinaya herself. “We put up a post of the painting with its details and opening bid, and invite people to bid in the comments for three days,” she explains the process. Sometimes, bidding happens privately. “We then DM to check if it is a legitimate bid.”

This week, pottery by Gopal Lal from Kotjevar, Jaipur has been featured. Gopal, who runs a fourth-generation institution that crafts Jaipur-style blue earthenware, has coached and upskilled most of his village. His handpainted animal motif plates are now up for sale.

Works featured on The Artist Project ship throughout South India. Contact or visit @theartistprojectindia on Instagram.

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