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At the Crossroads of Art and Craft

by Riya Raj

This had been a rainy and rather tedious July in Hyderabad. Going outdoors, especially for an outing or simply for recreation, was not on the cards for most of us. So, when I heard about Dhi Artspace’s current exhibition, I jumped at the chance. On 9th July, the second day of the show, I took a cab amidst light showers and traffic to reach the Dhi Artspace gallery where the show Crafting the Crossroad was being held from 8th July to 21st August.

The curatorial note, like the quiet candour of the space, welcomed onlookers like myself as I stepped into the incandescent halls of the gallery this rainy July. The artworks were solitarily placed with minimal but well-aligned lighting that helped the viewer transit from one display to another (Fig. 1). I took some time pondering over the theme that brought such diverse artists together – the symbiosis of art and craft. As I lingered around the wall that had in emboldened letters presented a note from the curator Somedutta Mallik, I began to ponder and perhaps arrive at the same crossroads it suggested: art-craft, innovation-tradition and individual-collective practices. But it would be interesting to see one taking inspiration from the other. The works on display had been inspired by and intermingled art with craft.

Fig. 1 Installation view | Image courtesy of Dhi Artspace

Rajarshi Sengupta’s works on Kalamkari were the first pieces I saw as the walk-through commenced. Rich in historical and cultural motifs, his works were a tribute to the origin, history and making of the craft itself. Besides portraying people and traditions, ethnic motifs and history, such as European colonialism or Mughal history, were painted in the intricacies of this craft technique (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Catalogue Mountain | Rajarshi Sengupta | Fermented black dye, catechu and pomegranate skin on treated handwoven cotton | 49 x 66.5 inches (with mounting) | 2020-21 | Image courtesy of Dhi Artspace

On the east side of the wall were framed displays of the various folding and structure of surgical masks (Fig. 3). To my amusement, the curves and edges were beautifully captured, given that they were made of thin bamboo sticks. Fish nets of slender girth made using the same material were also displayed. Later, I learned about artist Mousumi Karmakar’s journey and discovery of this material as the best medium to express and shape her art: fragile and stern at the same time. With this, I walked forth to see the next displays carrying forward the same theme of line and grid. The chiaroscuro in Shruti Mahajan’s ‘Day and Night’ made paper resemble fabric the first time I saw it (Fig. 4). The close-up revealed paper straightened into linear patterns, black shades or the lack thereof, bifurcating it into an aptly titled landscape of black and white. Yet another display was a motley of various fabrics stitched together, lines and dots, light and dark, resembling an aerial view of the landscape.

Fig. 3 Untitled | Mousumi Karmakar | Bamboo sticks woven with palm tree fibre | (L -R) 12.6x14.5 inches, 11.7x13.5 inches, 13.5x13.5 inches, 13.5 x 13.5 inches (set of 4) | 2021 | Image courtesy of Dhi Artspace

Fig. 4 Day and night (Notes on Weaving) | Shruti Mahajan | Collage made by ballpen drawing on butter paper pasted on mount board | 30 x 32.7 inches (with frames) | 2021 | Image courtesy of Shruti Mahajan and Dhi Artspace

Susanna Bauer’s work was ensconced between two dimly lit walls (Fig. 5). My chappals crushed a bed of dry leaves, crunching underneath, as I squinted my eyes to look at minute crochet work on a single leaf. I wondered at the thought process and labour that must have gone into preserving the remnants of this hollow leaf, made whole by the crochet, the veins of the leaf still intact (Fig. 6). It moved me greatly to imagine why the artist must have chosen something as mundane and ephemeral as an autumn leaf to preserve it. The need for the preservation of limited natural resources came to mind. The work felt so delicate and thoughtful, raising awareness and appreciation for the flora and fauna that sustain the ecology.

Fig. 5 Installation of Susanna Bauer’s work | Image courtesy of Dhi Artspace

Fig. 6 Moon.52 | Susanna Bauer | Magnolia leaf, cotton thread | 12 x 8.6 inches (with frame) | 2022 | Image courtesy of Susanna Bauer and Dhi Artspace

The monochrome of the artworks I had seen until now was abruptly disrupted by Chathuri Nissansala’s work. On display were bedecked relics of religious and cultural sites – maimed, broken and discarded (Fig. 7). I could not help but be in the artist’s shoes, transposed to Sri Lanka, the native country of the artist, to the sites of destruction and dereliction from where these objects were gathered. Beads and baubles were minutely draped around them with the sole intent of bestowing healing.

Fig. 7 St. Sebastian statue, Wattala and Negombo | Chathuri Nissansala | Mixed media including plaster of paris, porcelain glass and & beads, cloth and tea filter paper | 4.5 inches (H) | 2020 | Image courtesy of Susanna Bauer and Dhi Artspace

As the walk-through came to an end, some people dispersed in other directions to discover more stories in the exhibits or to take pictures. As for me, I hovered a little longer around some of the pieces. I had always been fascinated by museums and the archaic, but to see un-historical objects carry history and insinuate memory, loss, and pain was a new phenomenon for me.

I wonder who crafts the crossroads. I wonder to whom the intersections belong. Where else do cultures and histories merge and have a discourse, if not in the pregnant form of art?

(All images are courtesy of the respective artists and Dhi Artspace)


Riya Raj is a postgraduate in English from the University of Hyderabad (2019). Besides teaching English literature, she enjoys writing about art and cultural affairs of contemporary times. In her writing, she addresses several gender-based issues and ethnopolitical concerns.

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