Yesterday, I went and visited a large arts and crafts mela. There were 140+ stalls of craftsmen from 20+ states of India and their work in cloth, wood, metal, terracotta, stone, leather, folk art etc. was being showcased and sold. Yesterday was a Sunday and the mela grounds were very crowded. Also, all my recent reading of Dharampalji’s works has probably undone some circuits in my mind and rewired some new ones.
Let me try to tell you what I noticed:
- The car parking covered a larger area than the mela. These car owners, well-off people with money to spend, were the target customers.
- The stalls were mostly being run by English-speaking people. So, it was English-speaking customers interfacing with English-speaking intermediaries.
- The craftsmen, where seen, were more like animals in a zoo, something to be seen and marvelled at. For example, a potter was running a pottery workshop for children.
- The crafts on display, cut off from their roots and their utility, were only nice decorative things that money could buy. For example, Kerala mural art that decorates temple walls was drawn on canvas to decorate living rooms.
- It felt that the craftsmen had no option but to please these people with money and in the process their traditional art and its lineage was cheapened.
- Another phenomenon seemed to be college-educated, alternative type people who were selling cool things like recycled material, organic food etc.
The feeling I came away with was of deep sadness that our craftsmen and their beautiful work has also been recycled, sanitized, and become neatly packaged into a form that can attract the wavering attention of our modern moneyed class. What do you think?