Published: 17th August 2018
How Sibanand Bhol's Collective Art is keeping Odisha's artisans from extinction
Artisans in Odisha have a safe haven in Collective Craft which engages them with contemporary projects and treats them with the dignity they deserve
Krishi Bhavan, the building which was supposed to house the Department of Agriculture and which will now also be a public place of sorts, has been in the news recently as the Chief Minister of Odisha recently visited the 80,000 sq ft site in Bhubaneswar to review the progress. This building also happens to be the first architectural project of a substantial scale for Collective Craft — a studio which engages artisans and craftsman in current projects, both for products and architecture. More than 30 artisans have been working on the building for more than six months — toiling over large installations, stone carvings, wrought ironwork, pattachitra painting, bell metal chandeliers and much more. I, for one, cannot wait to see the building!
Collective Craft is also working in Vijayawada with an NGO and the Municipal Corporation there to help them integrate the work of stone carvers in landscapes and public spaces
Started back in 2006 by Sibanand Bhol, Collective Craft has spent years researching and steering clear of mere home decor and instead, dived deep into home utility products. Boxes, coasters and more, they're all made by young artisans, who are perhaps at that juncture in their life where they are contemplating whether to give up the craft and move on to greener pastures. "We aim at giving these traditional artisans exposure to contemporary architecture and design so that they feel their work still matters in today's world and they stick to it," says Bhol, who is an alumnus of School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.
The most respected work for artisans to do in Odisha is to carve gods and goddesses, but they now understand they need to work on other things too
Sibanand Bhol, Founder, Collective Craft
Their studio, which Bhol prefers to call "a co-working space", is a 3,000 sq ft space in Naranpur, Cuttack District. In this space, all artisans work in collaboration and under a system which is like an organised sector. Bank accounts, freedom to choose the work they would like to take up and when, is all a part of the deal for any craftsman working at Collective Craft. And it is this that makes this initiative different. "Most people treat craftsmen like labourers, but here, it is important that we maintain an environment that gives them the freedom to choose," he shares.
Artisans are used to working by themselves, it was the conditioning of Collective Craft that made them open to working in groups, critical appraisal and sharing ideas
One of his aims with Collective Craft has also been to counter the naysayers who dismissed the model they work in, as unfeasible. Though Bhol did face challenges, wherein for the first eight years the initiative wasn't able to break even and he had to work as a consultant architect, the last three years have been successful. "We are committed to the artisans and craftsman we work with. If we as a group had failed, it would also mean that the work artisans do and their way of life was not sustainable in the present world. It was too important to let go, so we kept at it," says Bhol.
By hand: A pattachitra work done by the craftsman at Collective Craft
He has also helped these traditional artisans adapt to newer methods, like carving on stone as opposed to soapstone (which is a softer stone which makes carving details a little easier), working on small stones instead of the long 3-4 feet stones they are used to carving in and much more. And hence, they are where they are today!
Telling tales: Story of the Dashavatara of Vishnu
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