Intro to Indian Art
India has always celebrated its diversity in various areas such as cuisines, languages, and cultures. This celebration is also extended to the world of arts and crafts, where India is one of the most significant contributors. The country is a treasure trove for artists due to the abundance of diversity offered to range from a plethora of unique flora and fauna, religions, geographical locations, customs, and a wide variety of cultures. Despite these reasons, the development of art in India can be attributed to the flourishing of two major religions-Hinduism and Buddhism; during the later centuries, Islamic art's integration took Indian art to even greater heights.
Presenting the Beauty of Bronze from Bengal
Brass has played a significant role in India's artistic history, and every part of India has contributed to this type of art. The most famous types of brass work still being practiced are Bidriware, Pembharti Metal crafts, Dhokra, and Kamrupi. The Dhokra is one of the oldest art forms to defy changing times, technology, and competitive products to be commercially thriving. Although this art form has been practiced for over 5000 years since the days of the glorious Indus Civilization, it’s only survived in West Bengal thanks to the mastery of the traditional metalsmiths. This ancient craft has been perfected by the metalsmiths of the Dhokra Damar tribes belonging to West Bengal, a state located in Eastern India. With each passing time, the handicraft has garnered more fame, more demand, and the handicrafts are being sold in the international markets. Apart from West Bengal, this art practice has now spread to the various neighboring states such as Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh, with the touch bearers once again being the tribal native populace of these regions. With such lustrous finish, unique sculptures, and the sheer brilliance of the artists, no wonder Dokra handicrafts are in demand worldwide!
What makes Dokra so unique?
The Dhokra artist sculpts beautiful figurines from non-ferrous metal alloys such as bronze and copper using a lost-wax casting technique. Although the final art pieces are beautiful, it is a labour-intensive process, and the artists require close to a month or two to produce one figurine. The artists are inspired by nature and have thus cast figures noted for their simplicity, enchanting features, aggressive forms, and the folk finish making this art one of the most sought after right now.
The Technique behind the art
As Dokra uses the lost wax casting, two procedures are generally followed in this art: solid casting and hollow casting technique. The former is predominantly observed in the Southern Indian states, and the former is practiced more often in the Central and Eastern states. This is where Dokra is unique as it follows the hollow casting technique. The difference between the two styles is that solid casting uses a solid piece of wax to create a base, whereas the hollow casting technique uses a clay core. This technique was often used in ancient times, making this art form more unique.
The artisan's first task is to use a clay core that is slightly smaller than the desired artifact. This is then followed by covering the clay core with a layer of wax created from various materials such as pure beeswax, resin from Damara Orientalis tree, and nut oil. The next stage is crucial as the artist will then shape the wax, carving the finer details of the desired shape. This procedure leads in creating the mold for the selected artifact.
During the final stages, the wax will be drained off and this is then followed by pouring the molten metal into the cavities via multiple channels and is left aside to take the shape of the clay mold. Once the metal is completely cooled and dried, the mold will be broken into three equal parts revealing the final metal artifact. Herein lays the beauty of the Dokra art as no two pieces look the same. A more fantastic feature, these artifacts do not have a single joint!
In the last stages, the artist begins to apply a patina to the objects. This is done to improve the quality of the artifact's surface by creating colour through the use of various chemicals. A final coat of wax is applied to make the product more lustrous to preserve the patina.
Going to the next level
Even though Dokra art originated in West Bengal, the art's popularity has found new homes in various Indian states such as Orissa, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and even to far off places like Rajasthan due to the migration of the tribal people. The Dokra artists are usually inspired by their beauty and mainly make figurines of both humans and animals. The most legendary Dokra artifact is the Dancing Girl of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Since the tribal artists have only been exposed to the phenomenon of their daily lives their art usually focuses on producing artifacts such as measuring bowls, religious deities and other products that are generally used for everyday life. However, with changing times and greater exposure, the artists can produce various products such as jewelry boxes, tableware and other such products.
A diminishing art
Despite its newfound revival, this beautiful artwork is slowly declining. This decline is coupled with various factors like the rising cost of raw materials and falling demand. These factors have resulted in artisans lacking interest, encouragement and inspiration leading to deficient artifact production. Despite casting beautiful figurines in the past, the artists have failed to learn newer designs and have not adapted to modernization leading to a decline. Although there is demand from international markets, primitive technology and a shortage of modern technology Dokra art is facing a near extinction.
What can we do?
Governments should create a demand for Dokra Art by aggressive marketing through various trade fairs and social media and should host documentaries. The art has been slowly reviving thanks to the superhuman efforts of Mr. Sushil Sakhuja, who has more than twenty years of experience in the art. Along with this mentor, he has passed his knowledge to several families by training them in the art. A renowned artist in Dokra Art, he was awarded several national awards and has been internationally acclaimed due to his efforts to exhibit his art internationally.
Despite massive industrialization and mechanization, the genius of Dokra Art is still thriving. This feature highlights the close association art has in every individual's heart, and this continues to fascinate people of all walks of life. With growing tourism and international exposure, the curiosity of this art will lead to greater demand.