SHOPPING BAG EMPTY

THE STORY

Sit back for a moment and send your inner eye to the wooded, peaceful tribal hamlets deep in the interiors of central and eastern India, the home of the adivasis known as the Dhokra Damar people, nomadic craftspeople who created the now world famous Dhokra art, making it a favorite folk style form for collectors, decorators, furnishers and accessorizers alike. How often have we seen the trademark metal-thread objects of Bastar and passed by without really pondering about the incredible imagination, labor and technique that went into their making! Now settled in the mineral rich tribal belts of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and parts of Andhra Pradesh, the practitioners of Dhokra art carry a legacy of beauty and an advanced technology that dates back almost 5000 years to the Indus Valley Civilization, but still unfolding a unique aesthetic, a primitive simplicity, powerful and impressionistic, which is popular even today, much sought after by the craft-loving buyer, nationally and internationally.

What is Dhokra art? It is an ancient method of making metal artifacts (brass) through the lost wax casting technique or cire perdue to create religious figurines, ritual objects, ornaments and kitchenware with intricate surface ornamentation such as pellets, lattices and spirals. Being nomadic in nature, Dhokra artists did not require any fixed place or large tools. They used wax, resin and firewood, clay from riverbeds and a firing hole dug in the ground. Dhokra is an eco-friendly craft since it uses scrap metal.

Dhokra art is inspired by the primordial tribal themes of animals, mythical creatures, human heads, containers, lamps, foliage and natural shapes. Each object is a story of their tribal life and is intimate to each craftsperson’s imagination. Their imaginative translation into objects has transcended eras and histories and given it values in perpetuity.

Tribal and folk jewelry is popular all over the modern world – native American, African and near eastern being some examples, giving a stiff fight to those that are industrially mass produced with no race memory or story to tell. Modern craft bazaars now exhibit varieties of Dhokra for contemporary times, including brass Dhokra jewelry, sometimes mixed with black or red beads – drops of water caught in brass, a sinewy spiral, golden sunflowers, sheaves of grain, a snaking clustered dense vine, a geometric riddle in squares or diamonds or a mischievous ray of sunshine. This jewelry is a pleasant accessory to both traditional and non-traditional wear.

 

THE PROCESS

A local term for Dhokra art is ‘bharai kaam’ or the art of sculpting brass with the lost wax technique. First, a base form of mud and cowdung is developed with the rough final image. Then it is covered with a mixture of beeswax and saras, a natural gum, on which is carved all the finer details of design and decorations. Then it is covered with layers of clay on which the design is imprinted, making a mold for the metal that will be poured into it. The wax melts and drains through ducts when the clay is heated leaving space for the molten metal. The metal fills the mold and takes the same shape as the wax. The outer layer of clay is then chipped off and the object is now polished and finished.

The unique feature of this art form is that no two pieces are identical because each piece is handmade. It is incredibly time consuming and requires great skill and patience.

Dhokra art is a song to human handwork.