Where art is labour: Traditional craftspeople Jambu Singh and Gobindo Haldar on what it takes to keep going

A tradition of beauty Jambu Singh (left) and Gobindo Haldar are keeping the crafts of their families alive

A tradition of beauty Jambu Singh (left) and Gobindo Haldar are keeping the crafts of their families alive   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Meet Jambu Singh and Gobindo Haldar who work hard to keep their traditional craft alive and relevant

Jambu Singh, Bhil art

Bahut kadi mehnath se hum kaam karte hain,” says Jambu Singh, the Bhil artist about the hard work that goes into his art. He will soon be in the city as part of The Handmade Collective exhibition by A Hundred Hands. The 33 year old comes from an Adivasi village on the ‘Rutlam Ujjain’ line, he says. His village — on the border of Gujarat,150 km from Indore in Jhabua Zila— is full of artists including his mother and his sister.

Jambu has been an artist for 18 years and now lives in Bhopal with his young family. “I came here, as my parents had jobs. I like it as I get to see so many different things that I wouldn’t in my village,” he says. The urban life has given him ideas on making his traditional art contemporary. “My art is a combination of the past, present and future,” he laughs. While Bhil art was traditionally done on the walls and ceilings of homes, granaries and wells and repainted and retouched during harvest, festivals and weddings, its scope has expanded, says Jambu. “I have painted on helmets, walls, saris and even t-shirts. I am happy that I can do that and my days are full creating art.”

Jambu, his sister and another artist from his clan recently handled a big project to do up the crèche for the children of the employees of The Institute of Child Health in Chennai. The brief was that it had to excite the children and be colourful and cheerful. The artists created myriad worlds of jungles, marine life and more sedate urban landscapes. Instead of predictable Disney cartoons, the artists brought some beloved animals to life but with a distinct tribal touch; in this case Bhil. “Another big project was in Bengaluru where we painted a 80-90 ft wall!”

While Jambu says he is not averse to experimenting with form, colour and motifs, “I have not forgotten the traditional ways of our art. I still make colours the ancient way from coal, mud, flowers and leaves. In fact, sometimes, I get orders with a request I use natural colours and not modern acrylic ones. Some people still want it done the traditional way. That is in essence my way. That is a tradition where I come from. How can I forget that?”

Jambu brings with him works in different sizes ranging between ₹150 and ₹10,000. They are on canvas and on paper. He also accepts commissions to do walls.

Gobindo Haldar, Sholapith craft

Khoob mehnat er kaaj... Gobindo Haldar also describes the back-breaking work that goes into his craft: making flowers out of sholapith (also referred to as the Indian cork). Those who have admired the traditional decorations at a Durga Puja will know it from the intricate and luminescent white mukut or crown the goddess wears. Sometimes she is covered from head to toe in jewellery made almost entirely of shola. In weddings, the bride and groom wear topor or headgear made of shola. The great thing is it is a natural product, biodegradable and therefore eco-friendly!

Info you can use
  • Both Jambu Singh and Gobindo Haldar will conduct workshops from 6.00 pm onwards on all days. The registration fee is ₹400. The workshops are open to all above 10 years. Call 9845008482 to register
  • This is the third edition of The Handmade Collective by A Hundred Hands in Coimbatore. More than 50 artists from 20 states are expected to take part.
  • On November 29, 30 and December 1 at Whispering Stones (Perks Arch Road) from 10.30 am to 8. 30 pm

“We sow seeds and cultivate the plant. Like paddy. We then transplant the saplings into pools where they grow for four to five months,” explains 38-year-old Gobindo. The head of the plant is above water “exactly like the lotus,” he says. At the right time, Gobindo and other sholapith malakars (as they are known in the region) wade into the pool and harvest them. The plants are gathered, brought home, trimmed and sunned for a fortnight. “Once they are dry, we bundle them and store them in a moisture-free place. That is our raw material for a year. We make flowers, Durga’s jewellery, topor, mukut...decorations for weddings,” Gobindo says. His village is Lakhikantapur, in 24 Parganas, which is three hours away from Kolkata. Gobindo has rented space in the city to store his finished products and samples.

It is a lot of hard work, he repeats. And he gets by with the money he earns from his craft. It is something that his grandfather, father and uncles did and he continues it. “I take part in exhibitions such as this. Most people think the shola flowers are made of paper. I have to explain that they are made from a plant.” Gobindo says he concentrates on making flowers. The decorative work keeps him going through the year. The business is good during the Puja or in the wedding season when he decorates the marriage pavilion and the surroundings. His wife Rupa helps him. “I plan and design and then explain what I want and she executes it,” he says. Sometimes he has to take a loan to travel across the country for exhibitions. Gobindo makes all kinds of flowers with the sholapith. His favourite is versions of the lotus.

Gobindo’s flowers are available for as little as ₹40. The cost of his other creations depend on the size, effort and time that has gone into their making.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:05:46 AM |

Next Story