It is a visual summary of the pandemic. Saansha Mohla’s poster with five Cheriyal panels explains the story of COVID-19 — precautions to be taken, kind of people it affects, panic buying and hoarding, migrant workers walking back home and dead bodies waiting for a space in burial grounds/crematorium.

Elsewhere, in Chandni Kumari Sharma’s vibrant tote bag, Cheriyal art depicts washing hands and wearing masks as weapons to fight the virus.

Saansha, Chandni and over thirty of their classmates are part of a unique craft project that introduced them to traditional Cheriyal art. Based on product options and material available at home, the group created posters, an organiser with variations, a napkin and sanitiser holder, a photo frame, and a T-shirt sporting Cheriyal art.

Hub of creativity

Conceptualised by professor Lakshmi Reddy of the Lifestyle Accessories and Design department and with technical support by assistant professor KK Babu, the two-week virtual classes helmed by Cheriyal artist Madhu Merugoju saw these youngsters put on creative caps. Sponsored by the Development Commissioner Handicrafts, (DCH), Government of India, the project that kickstarted last year will have three phases — hands-on experience of the material and visual aspect of the craft, making a documentary and a final product design.

Cheriyal artist Madhu Merugoju

Learning directly from the artisans and executing the craft work in their presence at the NIFT campus is a regular phenomena. Sessions on Pembarthi metal craft, Nirmal painting and Dokra metal casting have been organised till now. Laksmi Reddy says, “Since students are confined indoors, this activity will keep their mind and hands occupied creatively and motivated too.” She imparted the theory behind the craft; explaining its historical significance, specific characteristics, visual element, its traditions and use and existence in the society as well as its drawbacks.

Professor Lakshmi Reddy

The professor says, “Understanding these issues will help the youngsters to apply the craft in the present context of COVID-19; when mythological stories were narrated orally and through scroll painting, why not bring the present situation in this art form? Even a layman easily understands messages in figurative images.” Her only instruction to the group was to imagine a situation: If they were to have a poster with visual elements in their apartment complex or colony, how would they design it? Also, be sympathetic to the artisan so that the craft element depicted in it tells stories and also propagates the craft to help the livelihood of artisans.

Focus on Cheriyal

Madhu patiently drew images explaining the nuances of Cheriyal art and the significance of ornamentation. The team also has a special word of appreciation for Madhu’s wife Aruna who was proactive and helped in organising Zoom meetings.

Saansha, who drew dead bodies in a frame in the poster recalls the challenges. “Cheriyal uses a lot of ornamentation and it was tough to illustrate dead people this way. But it was also the hard truth of the pandemic and I wanted people should know about it.”

A native of Bihar, Chandni used her father’s dhoti to paint Cheiryal and create a tote bag. She draws a contrast between Bihar’s Madhubani art and Cheriyal, “Madhubani art has a yellow background and artists paint only Krishna in it. On the other hand, red is the dominant colour in Cheriyal and the figures have more ornamentation.”

Assistant professor KK Babu

There are plans to document this project in the form of a book and following DCH’s approval, the students’ products will be uploaded on the website. “Earlier the artisans used to work with us so we could keep the original works created by him. Since this was a virtual class, we plan to get those works from the artisan (Madhu) and upload it on our website. Those interested to buy can contact him directly.”

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