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Straight from India’s heartland

It takes Gopabandhu Panika almost a month to make one Kotpad saree. The weaver, residing in Kotpad village of Odisha, follows the traditional, labour-intensive process. He extracts natural hues from the roots of the Indian madder tree, and manually dyes the cotton yarn. The result is an exquisite Kotpad handloom fabric that has also received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag.

Showcasing design

This week, Panika will showcase these sarees and a live demo of the process at a mega exhibition titled, Junoon: What Village India Can Make And Do For The World. The five-day event, opening to public on March 31, will be held at Grand Hyatt, Kalina. It marks the 10th anniversary of Jiyo!, an indigenous brand by the Asian Heritage Foundation that creates livelihoods for India’s rural folk with design-led initiatives.

On display will be 600 products made by rural and tribal artisans from parts of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – the six states that are part of India’s Red Corridor. “These states are home to some of the most economically vulnerable communities but they’re highly skilled,” says Rajeev Sethi, the principal scenographer of the Jaya He Art Programme at T2 International Airport Mumbai and founder-trustee of the Asian Heritage Foundation. “The idea is to make the urban audience aware of their craft, which is driven by years of practice and holds value in the global market too.”

Priced between ₹1,000 and ₹1,75,000, the products include Ikat stoles and sarees, Madhubani and Kalamkari paintings, terracotta incense burners, lamps made from bamboo fish traps, home décor items and jewellery from fine strands of sikki grass found in Bihar and Odisha and brass sculptures made using the Dhokra art of metal casting. Pickles, jams and jellies made using produce such as mahua from Jharkhand will also be on display.

Meeting of two worlds

The project employed 3,000 artisans, while also roping in 20 urban designers from fields of architecture, fashion, art and jewellery to share insights into contemporary product designs with the artisans in the villages. Malvika Vaswani, a Mumbai-based industrial designer and material researcher, who conducted workshops with women in Odisha, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, says, “I was impressed with their skill and confidence derived from years of practising their craft. Through this experience, I was also exposed to sustainable raw materials like sabai and sikki grass.”

The fiesta will be packed with workshops and panel discussions that deep-dive into the current crafts scene in India. The speakers include fashion designer Anita Dongre, actor-filmmakers Nandita Das and Konkona Sen, and food historian Dr Pushpesh Pant. The line-up also includes a performance of Tholu Bommalata, a shadow puppetry tradition of Andhra Pradesh. Rajen Majhi, a bamboo craftsman from Jharkhand who is part of the event, says, “The awareness created through such an exhibition helps motivate unemployed youth in the villages to hone their skills in traditional crafts, and in turn, helps preserve them.”

Junoon: What Village India Can Make And Do For The World from March 31-April 4, noon to 9 p.m. at Grand Hyatt, Kalina; Entry is free

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