Local artisans as well as those from other parts of India are hoping to recover from the heavy losses they incurred in 2020
The return of handicraft exhibitions – Bengaluru Dastkar Bazaar, Handmade Collective and Vastrabharana – after last year’s break is likely to revive the businesses of artisans and craftspeople who were hit by the lockdown.
According to the 2011 census, there are seven million artisans in India, but the actual number now is much higher, if not double, say NGOs and organisers of handicraft exhibitions. Their livelihoods were affected by the inability to procure raw materials, the lack of cash reserves and the shut down of markets.
Bojraj Ramkrishna, a tussar silk weaver from Vidarbha who runs a company, said he and his employees were at home for several months in 2020. “We usually make about ₹2 crore every year. Last year, we hardly made ₹5 lakh,” he added.
Kalyan Jana, who makes hand-crafted mats in West Bengal, employs over 200 families. “Last year, I couldn’t hire them. We could neither find raw materials nor places to sell the mats. We usually make ₹25 lakh a year. In 2020, we made less than half of that,” he says.
One of the reasons was the cancellation of handicraft exhibitions as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. At such exhibitions, artists and artisans meet regular wholesale and retail buyers apart from selling to customers. They are a substantial source of income.
Vidushini Prasad, a Bengaluru-based Madhubani artist, makes about ₹4 lakh a year by selling her paintings. About 75% of her income, she says, comes from such exhibitions. “We are relieved that they are being organised this year,” she said.
The 16th edition of Bengaluru Dastkar Bazaar began on February 19 at the Jayamahal Palace Hotel. The 10-day event, organised by Dastkar, an NGO that supports craftspeople, features more than a hundred groups from over 20 States. According to Sheetal Jain, the event’s head of programs and personnel, they make business of approximately ₹2 crore during every exhibition.
“Last year, artisans struggled a lot without raw materials. We got donations of about ₹1 crore. But the market is essential for their livelihoods. Everyone can breathe a little easy now,” she said.
Shift to online
Some of the more tech-savvy craftspeople used the internet to reach out to customers. But Sheetal says it is not easy for everyone to do so. “There are quite a few logistical issues. When you sell online, the photos of your products must look good. But how can small-time sellers hire professional photographers? You should find a way to courier these products. What if a customer wants to return the product? These are some of the obstacles to selling online,” she added.
Vidushini, a member of A Hundred Hands, a non-profit trust for handicraft workers, had a similar opinion. “The online medium was helpful in a way. I used it to connect with other artists last year, teach them how to leverage social media to sell their products and conducted painting workshops through which I made some money. But I hardly made any money through online sales,” she said.
A Hundred Hands had organised The Handmade Collective at the Bangalore International Centre, with the two-day exhibition ending on February 21. It featured over 65 artisan groups, of which more than 40 were from rural areas, according to Mala Dhawan, the founder trustee of A Hundred Hands.
After The Handmade Collective and Bengaluru Dastkar Bazaar, Crafts Council of Karnataka’s exhibition, Vastrabharana, will begin on March 5 at Chitrakala Parishat. Although sarees will be the main attraction of this five-day exhibition, hand-woven dhotis, ghagra cholis, jewellery and other accessories will be on sale too.
Local artistans, like Vidushini, as well as those from other States, like Bojraj and Kalyan, hope the following fortnight will be a fruitful one.
“Bengaluru is a special place,” said Sheetal of Dastkar. “Bengalureans appreciate the value of the work. You don’t see them bargain too much. Which is why a lot of craftspeople like coming here.”
Bengaluru Dastkar Bazaar, February 19 to 28, Jayamahal Palace Hotel
Vastrabharana, March 5 to 9, Chitrakala Parishat
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