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The founders of Collective Craft, Shweta Mohapatra and Sibanand Bhol, share the story of Patachitra art from Odisha and their efforts to promote it through contemporary design products.
Patachitra refers to the traditional, cloth-based scroll paintings, from the state of Odisha in Eastern India. In Sanskrit, ‘patta’ literally means cloth and ‘chitra’ means picture. The origins of the craft date back to the 5th century BC, from the fragmented evidences of cave paintings in Khandagari, Udaigiri, and Sitabhinji in Odisha, and in Chitralakshana—the earliest known Indian treatise on painting. Traditionally Patachitra was used to depict religious themes, drawing from Hindu mythology, especially the folklore of Lord Jagannath and the Vaishnava cult.
The artisans or practitioners of the craft are called chitrakars. The craft has grown in and around the famed Jagannath Temple complex in Puri, where chitrakars and other artisan groups flourished under the Temple’s patronage. Even today chitrakars keep their date with the deity and paint temple chariots and murals inside the temple on festive occasions like the Rath Yatra. In 2000, following a two-year research and documentation project by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), the artisan village of Raghurajpur in Puri district was accorded the status of a heritage crafts village where visitors can observe chitrakars at work. A large number of practicing artisans also live and work in and around the capital city of Bhubaneswar. While many from the original chitrakar families have moved away from their traditional vocation, young artisans from other communities have now adopted the craft.
The narrative in every Patachitra painting is composed within multiple frames. The principal theme usually occupies a large, central frame in the painting while the remaining narrative is composed in smaller frames around it. The borders of the frames contain elaborate patterns, with floral and animal motifs. Patachitra is highly stylised with very well defined postures and colours that are associated with each character of the narrative, for instance, Lord Krishna is always in blue. A chitrakar can identify a character from just the moustache, beard, or simply the eyes. Flora and fauna also follow a well defined style. The leaf of every species is drawn differently and the level of detail continues all the way to how branches are arranged, and the depiction of flowers and fruits. Repetition and patterns are important in the entire artwork and there is often a simple order and organisation to the entire composition.
The cotton cloth for a painting is prepared by coating it with a mixture of chalk and gum made from tamarind seeds, followed by rubbing with stones and drying.
Artisans draw directly on to the cloth with brushes made of hair from domestic animals. Traditionally, the palette was limited to white, red, yellow, blue, green, and black. Colours were created from mineral, vegetable, and other natural sources, such as white from conch shells, blue from indigo, and black from lamp black. This method of creating colours is now considered tedious by many younger practitioners, who prefer to use ready-made paint and new media such as paper and silk. Finished paintings are given a protective coating of varnish, giving them a distinctive glossy look.
The chitrakar starts with broad outlines and then fills in one colour at a time. The process begins with white and ends with black outlines, the thinnest and finest lines in the painting. Jewellery and adornments are added at the end, after which the painting receives a coat of natural lacquer. When a group of chitrakars work on a single painting, each one of them fills in a single colour before passing on the artwork to the next artisan. The master artisan usually begins the painting by defining the characters in white and the youngest apprentices painstakingly fill in the borders and patterns.
The founders of Collective Craft identified the opportunity to employ traditional skills in contemporary space design, interiors and architecture, communication design, graphic design and animation, and product design, with a focus on traditional crafts of Odisha. The presence of a large community of artisans in Odisha, who are trained to work collectively in groups, in a common shared style to complete large assignments, facilitated their crafts-inspired approach to contemporary design. Through its work, Collective Craft strives to generate greater work opportunities for artisans by intervention and innovation in design, technical processes, and easier access to markets. The group works as a collaborative that draws inspiration from the individual and collective skills of all its members. Collective Craft’s work has a contemporary aesthetic but draws inspiration from traditional design expressions.
All images courtesy Collective Craft, except:
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