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These Subaltern Artists are Breathing Fresh Life into the Landscape of Entrepreneurship Social entrepreneurs, art enthusiasts and other stakeholders need to find ways of integrating traditional culture into development as a force for inclusive socio-economic development

By Baishali Mukherjee

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A report published by the Government of India Ministry of Minority Affairs, in September 2015, states - India is known for its traditions and culture. Minority communities in India are known for their traditional skills, arts and crafts. But due to forces of competitive market and globalization, and also due to deteriorating socioeconomic condition of master craftsmen/artisan, these skills are not being pursued by the young generation. The government of India is of firm conviction that these arts/crafts are needed to be preserved. There is a need to augment traditional arts and entrepreneurial skill which are the backbone of the cottage and small-scale industry and establish better market linkages, enhance branding and ensure access to credit.

To address this, Ministry of Minority Affairs launched USTTAD or Upgrading the Skills and Training in Traditional Arts/Crafts for Development from 2014-15 onwards during 12th Five Year Plan.

Government Schemes are Not Enough

When it comes to traditional art or cultural heritage, a lot remains to be done to preserve and promote the rich inventory. It is time for the country to realise that only government schemes are not enough to achieve this. Social entrepreneurs, art enthusiasts and other stakeholders need to find ways of integrating traditional culture into development as a force for inclusive socio-economic development.

While big change is yet to be perceived, baby steps are taken from different parts of the country by the artisan community to write a new narrative.

The Journey from Carrying Dead Bodies to Being an Acclaimed Global Artist

Nobody knew Golam Fakir, residing in a faraway village in Nadia, six years back, as an artist. Belonging to a marginalized community, not formally educated, Golam used to carry dead bodies from morgues to Police Stations. Golam's is a fascinating story of identity transformation! From a non-entity who was despised by many in the neighbourhood, to a celebrity artist in a span of six years! From international professional circuit to film songs, he has gone a long way to become a case study all by himself.

The art-preneur has performed all over India and has travelled to UK, Switzerland, France, Tunisia, Scotland and China. Golam who used to earn around INR 200/- to INR 300/- per month now earns close to INR 40,000 to 50000. He has contacts with event management teams and is often seen flying abroad for shows, symposiums or seminars.

"I never thought of anything beyond my two meals a few years back, and now I have the opportunity to travel across the globe and perform on stage with great musicians, and performers, and represent my country in front of the global audience," narrated Golam who is presently promoting the art-form more purposefully by imparting training and workshops in his village and also in India and abroad.

Painting the Path to Empowerment

Born at Naya, of Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal, Swarna Chitrakar belongs to a family of Patuas. Like any other member of her village, Swarna started painting early in her childhood and underwent initial training from her late father Amar Chitrakar and later from the celebrated Patua, Dukhushyam Chitrakar. The Patuas are scroll painters of a traditional art form called Patachitra from Bengal where the painters sing the story as they unfurl their scrolls. Earlier the artists mostly painted because they were passionate about the art form without it being commercially viable, and were often beleaguered with severe penury.

Swarna's story was no different. Her parents marry her off early adding to her misery. Unable to bear the abuse and disgrace, young Swarna came back to her native village and started reviving her skills at a Patachitra artist. That was the beginning of a new life and Swarna never looked back. Her talent and grit for success have open new vistas making her a celebrated artist travelling the length and breadth of the country and abroad.

Art pieces by Swarna have made their place in distinguished galleries of the world and also as decor pieces for art collectors'. She is now a global citizen and is often seen at the art exhibitions or cultural exchange programs in France, Germany, London or China. "I have participated at all the important art festivals in France, Germany, Australia, USA, Sweden, China, London. Art collectors and appreciators visit my village regularly to buy my paintings or learn the techniques of Patachitra painting," enthused Swarna who has been invited by universities all over the world to share her success story as a woman entrepreneur and artist.

Today Swarna is a role model for her village. She has motivated many of her fellow village women to pursue their careers in Patachitra. Like a true leader, she is guiding the young artists of her village in running collective business enterprises based on Patachitra art and diversified products made from it.

Art for Livelihood

Lovely Bibi's story as an entrepreneur is replete with inspiration. A victim of child marriage, Lovely had a tough life. However, her fate had further perils in store. One day her husband was diagnosed with insanity and subsequently was laid off from a small government job. Eventually, the pension stopped and the entire family was in abject poverty. Lovely had only one option left - making her mere hobby, her livelihood!

Lovely decided to tide over the crisis by taking art-based entrepreneurship. Birbhum of West Bengal being a hub of Kantha-weaving, Lovely was a skilled Kantha weaver since childhood.

She polished and perfected her basic skills and joined and completed Rural Craft Hub (RCH) training. Eventually, she also participated in capacity building programs in her village and also in Kolkata. Once confident, Lovely participated in Women Social Entrepreneurship Development Programmes in Kolkata which improved her understanding and aptitude as an entrepreneur. It was in 2012 that the fighter woman from Nanoor launched her initiative, Lovely's Creations.

Today Lovely has tasted her share of success. From saree, dress materials, lifestyle products, to jewellery, home decor items, furnishing - Lovely sports a huge repertoire of products. Her customers include art aficionados from America, France Germany.

"It was sheer hard work at first. The business took time to gather steam. I had to constantly keep myself updated on the latest design techniques and market trends. Creating market linkage was a sheer challenge as I lacked in communication skills. However, I had no option but to do everything possible to make my venture work and I think I finally have done it," asserted a spirited Lovely Bibi who now enjoys robust market-linkages with more than 10 shops in her area and also in Kolkata and other Indian cities.

Statistics show growth in the returns from art is much higher than returns from any other asset. It has also been able to weather the recession that seems to have hit other sectors hard worldwide. What remains to be seen is whether the winds of change brought about by these artists can generate a whirlwind of transformation for Indian traditional art sector.

Baishali Mukherjee

Former Freelancer

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