Quarantined Art: Survival at stake

Indigent artisans, who have been facing problems and their businesses, are suffering the most during the ongoing coronavirus clampdown, writes Nibedita Saha

In India, art and craft is one of the unorganised sectors, which provides livelihood to a large section of the country. Every Indian state reflects rich cultural diversity through its unique art and craft.

In view to the recent situation, where the nation is observing total lockdown, it is the indigent artisans, who have been facing problems and their businesses are suffering the most.

Gajam Govardhana, a craftsperson from Andhra Pradesh talks about how this Coronavirus outbreak has become a threat to the various aspects of an artist’s life and his craft. He said that the artisans are passing through a very difficult phase, which may lead to bankruptcy as they have no business, no raw materials, piled up stocks, no buyers, no mobility from their homes and no social or business activity.

Looking at the unexpected present scenario, the Padmashri recipient and a National award winner in Ikat weaving wants to provide artists money and material to sustain in the profession as the financial support is much needed for their survival and to procure raw material in terms of surviving the business from the clutches of middlemen.

Govardhana further said, “The government shall think about the alternatives for the survival of artisans. One of the demands which appear to be genuine is that the banks/financial institutions should provide finance by mortgaging the piled up stocks lying with them.

Where the country is under lockdown in every means, the concern over piled-up stocks becomes important and the falling business and money create an alarming situation for the artists to survive.

A miniature pottery artist, Om Prakash Galav is worried by the way this epidemic has affected handicrafts as there is no source of sales for handicrafts products due to the drastic slowdown in the market. He explained the hardship of the artists due to lockdown as most of them facing financial problems, specially those who have taken loans from the bank.

Galav, who made Limca Records by building a 10-feet-tall Coca-Cola bottle out of terracotta sees the current situation difficult to maintain continuity in the art industry. He said, “There is no relief from the government yet, it is sad because at this time neither the handicrafts are able to work fully nor are they able to sell. Since the artisans are unable to participate in exhibitions, they are unable to make the designs that they have or to create as per the demands of customers.” 

Since the central government announced lockdown and called off all sorts of exhibitions and festivals across the country, it created a blocked source of income and the uncertainty of work opportunities, which left the artists with no other alternative source of income.

For Gariba Singh Tekam, who hails from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, this nationwide lockdown has disrupted the rhythm of life. The artist is not able to execute his ideas due to the lack of resources. He said, “Our art is being restricted to a small scale as we are not able to expand and educate others about our art.”

The gond artist said that an artist needs time and freedom of movement to work efficiently and the ongoing pandemic is breaking that cycle of work. Gariba hasn’t procured colours in recent times which is much needed for his art said, “There is no option than following the rules laid by the government. In terms of business, all we can do is strategise and make plans for the future.”

The 43-year-old Gariba is concerned about the increasing economic and financial difficulties because of the falling demands of art and craft. “Whatever we have earned, we are surviving on that. I am not able to materialise my thoughts into work as people working under me are in lockdown. And the raw materials cannot be arranged,” he added.

A Padmashree recipient from Rajasthan, Kalyan Joshi, a phad painting artist talk about the hurdles and survival in the time of Corona said that art and craft have come to standstill due to recent pandemic. “I have four artists and all are in lockdown with any equipment at home,” said Joshi. Since there is no production and sale, the financial crisis makes the artist worry for himself and his artisans’. Whereas isolation is helping in improving the art, artists believe that once the pandemic is over, they will have better buyers and it might actually upgrade the business financially.

Though the existential threat is looming over the art world, the artists haven’t lost all the hopes. They are trying to utilise the quarantined time to bring more creativity and innovation in their art and craft and looking forward to bring life to their ideas once this pandemic ends.

A National award winner, Mahamaya Sikdar from West Bengal says there is a brighter side to this isolation and lockdown as she is using this alone time to polish her artwork.

Sikdar, who excels in Kantha embroidery, is making the quarantine an innovative period as she doesn’t have deadline pressure. “I can be more creative and innovative, which will help me to bring more business and recover losses post lockdown,” said the artist.

Like others, the lockdown has also affected Sikdar’s work and she is going through many problems at work front. “I am unable to sell, export and deliver the finished products as the workers are not coming to work,” she added. 

With the unavailability to participate in exhibitions or festivals for an indefinite time, COVID 19 has cost a huge financial crisis to the artists. Working in the recession is not easy if someone wants to work, they face difficulty procuring raw materials and if anyone has the raw material, they struggle to store the goods.

Majid Ahmad Mir, a Pashmina weaver from Srinagar, Kashmir is waiting for the lockdown to end as it has become very difficult to survive. As Mir’s work mostly done at home and majorly sell in winters, the artists are facing problem with getting the raw materials.

The National award winner in Pashmina weaving has no business for right now. The artist hopes that the situation gets normal at earliest and is uncertain about the future as he sees no sign of ending to this pandemic soon. He said, “Right now we are fine, but can’t be so sure about the future. God willing things will be fine in some time, otherwise, it is really difficult for an artisan to survive.”

All the artists had to go back to their home city after the central government imposed nationwide lockdown across all the cities. They were in the national capital for various workshops organised by India Craft Week (ICW), which is scheduled for November 5 to 8, 2020.