Friday Review

Rocking the dhokra

A work in rock dhokra.

A work in rock dhokra.

Heard of rock dhokra? If not, then head to India International Centre’s Annexe Art Gallery to view this unique improvisation of dhokra derived by integrating brass and stone. In the solitude of Panchgani, a hill station in Maharashtra, Devrai Art Village (DAV) has been engaged with this form of dhokra for seven years. Led by Mandakini Mathur and artist Suresh Pungati, they have been able to get both traditional artists and people from other professions turn to rock dhokra for livelihood.

In their first show in Delhi, the NGO DAV has brought 50 pieces of art work — 20 murals and 30 sculptures — to the gallery. At the show are exquisite works in rock dhokra, which is the USP and a patent of DAV. Beautifully crafted sculptures like “Frog Party” with two frogs eating and drinking seated on a branch, “Musician couple” with a lady holding their baby and her husband with a music instrument, a baby in womb demand attention in the show. “We don’t cast in wax but in natural stuff which includes dried fruits, flowers, bamboo, and anything that we get from nature. We can add wax if we want to. And all these things do wonders to the texture of the work. On bamboo, we have created patterns with dried grass,” says Mandakini, who has brought along four artists. From apprentices, they worked their way up to master craftsmen. “Vinay Vachami was going to be recruited by naxalites in Gadchiroli but now he is a master craftsman,” mentions Mandakini, adding that now a lot of parents call up asking them to take their children on board.

Right now the NGO has nine master craftsmen and 12 apprentices living in the art village drawing monthly salaries. “About 60 per cent of the artists who have worked with us so far have been first generation artists and not someone whose families were practising it for years. They are farmers and landless labourers. In fact, in Gadchiroli, the art form is completely finished except two-three families. We get artists from Chhattisgarh, where dhokra is still practised,” says Mandakini. Her partner at the village, artist Suresh helped identify talent in the surrounding regions and bring them to the village. “The idea was to create a safe space for artists and give them a livelihood and market. Apprentices undergo a training here for two years. The training imparts skill and lays emphasis on acquiring aesthetics sensibilities. I also teach them communication skills so that they get confidence.”

Dancing girl — rare artefact discovered from the site of Mohenjo-daro now displayed in National Museum is an example of this craft tradition. But the centuries-old craft tradition of Dhokra, Mandakini feels, has now stopped growing. Repetition in the name of preservation hasn’t helped its cause. “A living culture has to grow and evolve with times. It needs new design ideas otherwise how would traditional artists create a market for themselves today. Rock dhokra is a work in this direction. We might give them ideas but execution is theirs. And it has given them a new identity. A work which they couldn’t dream of selling at Rs.1000 now fetches them 10,000-20,000.” A tourist hub that Panchgani is, the village registers sales through its store and participation in exhibitions across India.

Seeing their growth, Maharashtra government has approached them to set up a branch in another area. “The government also does these workshops of 10 days which is not of much help. We have been very clear about the fact that any workshop we do isn’t going to be less than six months. All these years we were trying to collaborate with the government but now that they have approached us, we are going to do it.”

(The exhibition is on at Annexe Art Gallery, IIC, Lodi Estate, till August 25)


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Printable version | Aug 17, 2022 10:06:40 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/rocking-the-dhokra/article7561255.ece