Bindu Gopal Rao
Ranti village in Bihar is known to be a cluster for Madhubani art. Women in the village have been painting masks as an art outlet since the pandemic began. “Most artists started painting on masks as all fairs and exhibitions had been cancelled due to the lockdown. Since many of them, particularly women, were dependent on art for their livelihood, the masks gave them an opportunity to give an outlet to their creativity and become relevant in times of adversity,” says Madhubani artist Mahalaxmi.
Initially some women’s groups started making masks, but soon a lot of artisans across the country started using masks as a canvas to display local art and craft.
The national association of craftspeople, Dastkari Haat Samiti, has launched a mask catalogue that reveals a collection of varied art forms. The masks include artworks by well-known artists: Madhubani masks by Remant Kumar Mishra, Pattachitra masks by Apindra Swain, Gamcha masks by Rangila Dhaga, Kalamkari masks by Ramji Devraj and Kantha embroidery masks by Rajesh Roy, among others. “The artisans bring heart-warming embellishments to the mundane mask and make every face an ornament,” says Jaya Jaitly, founder of the Dastkari Haat Samiti.
Local artisans and handloom clusters in the North-East states have been getting support from organisations like Antaran Artisan Connect to sell the masks they make. “Artisan Lovitoli from Nagaland initially tried her hand at making masks for herself. She used cotton fabric woven on her traditional loin loom to make strong and durable masks. Likewise, Tarali Das from Assam has used Muga silk, also known as golden fibre, to create beautiful masks. These masks became a hit soon,” says Sharda Gautam, who heads this crafts initiative by Tata Trust.
Some textile brands have been experimenting with naturally dyed fabric to make eco-friendly ‘wellness fabric’. “Based on ayurveda’s principle of Nasya, organic cotton yarn is dyed in 108 herbs, after which these are woven to create the fabric that is used in apparel and masks. The barks of indigo, red sandalwood, aloe vera, neem and tulsi are boiled and combined with pure handloom fabrics to create masks. Our next batch has handloom checks on either side with a middle layer of aloe vera,” says Shaswaty Nair of textile label Shrivatsa. Brands like Ethnicity have been making masks using traditional art forms like Ikat and block print fabric. Bengaluru-based luxury bridal brand Limited Edition has introduced handcrafted masks ‘Veil’. These masks in hues of red, mustard, black and blue use the traditional block prints, known as Ajrak.
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