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Art house beats

Last month, the government conferred the State Handicrafts Awards 2017-18 on five artisans, including two women, from different districts. These awardees, the youngest being 31 years, are specialised in wood carvings, terracotta, bamboo works and textile designing. However, none of them ever had any formal training in their respective fields but achieved the feat through hard work. Over the years, most of them have perfected their art forms through practice and patience. The struggle for them had been immense. But these artistes rarely complain for they want to contribute to the revival and preservation of traditional arts and crafts, even without any help from the government. The recent award — which comprised a certificate, a memento and Rs 50,000 in cash — came too late to the veteran artistes who deserved more.
Sunday Shillong speaks to the awardees to know more about their handicrafts and the challenges in chasing their passion.

Inside his humble workshop in Laban

Kretis S Rynjah,
East Khasi Hills

Kretis Rynjah is 67 years old and is making traditional souvenirs from bamboo and wood since 1983. Rynjah took to wood carving after he decided to change his career. “I used to be an electrician and radio mechanic but it was not enough. So I decided to try my luck in handicrafts, which had market value as well as appreciation,” says the veteran artisan at his residence in Madan Laban.
The comfortable Assam-type structure is strewn with wooden and cane handicrafts most of which are made by Rynjah, his wife Maureen Tham and other family members. The front part of the house has been recently renovated and the polished wood gives the house an identity. Rynjah says the wood work was done by him.
The artisan’s workshop is under the house. He leads the way to the low-roofed, darker part of the house where Rynjah’s creations and achievements lie piled up in three small rooms. The front portion is used for stocking raw materials like wooden planks, bamboo, grass, pine cones, cane and roots. All these materials come from Nongstoin and other parts of West Khasi Hills.
The machines for piecing planks and bamboos and smoothening them are also kept in the first room. The first machine was bought in 1997 with the fund that Rynjah received from the Khadi and Village Industries Board.
Rynjah says starting his career afresh was not an easy decision and that he never had any formal training in wood carvings or carpentry made the struggle harder. “Initially emporiums would reject my handicrafts saying the finishing was not good. So I tried harder to bring perfection. Finally, I achieved it,” he says and directs towards the lined up souvenirs on top of a steel trunk.
The miniatures, comprising thatched houses, monoliths, traditional musical instruments and khoh (cane basket), are proof of the award-winning artisan’s years of hard work and dedication.
Rynjah supplies the handicrafts to government outlets and emporiums. He also makes souvenirs for weddings. Five hundred souvenirs take a week to be completed with four persons at work. Rynjah gets help from one of his sons and relatives.
Recollecting his days of struggle, Rynjah says interactions with artistes and buyers at various exhibitions outside Meghalaya helped him in innovating and creating better products.
Rynjah, who was the first Khasi artisan to sell handicrafts in Guwahati, says he has permanent buyers in Assam and Sikkim and he does not supply to other states anymore. “I do not run after money. I do the work even at this age because I enjoy it,” he adds. Earlier, he would send his handicrafts to as far as Mumbai.
The senior artisan also trains youngsters whom the government sends and gets a stipend of Rs 1,500 for that.
Tham, who is a retired government employee, is equally creative and makes bouquets and tiara for weddings. In fact, the living room of the couple is decorated with items made by the duo. “Even our seven children are creative in their own ways,” say the couple with a hint of pride in their voice.

~ NM

Young artist’s feat

Ram Kynjin,
West Jaintia Hills

It is indeed laudable that Ram Kynjin, a resident of Panaliar in Jowai, has achieved such impeccability in his artwork at an age of 31. The recognition from the government is the only way to appreciate and encourage the young talent.
Kynjin started making wood carvings in 2007 when he was in school. Without any formal training, the youngster improved himself through sheer hard work and patience.
The scenes which Kynjin carves on pieces of wood are quintessentially Khasi. They depict the beauty of the hills, the greenery, the daily life in villages and tradition. Kynjin says the work is intricate and needs a lot of time and patience.
Kynjin started working at the District Commerce and Industries Centre in 2015. He also trains two persons at home.
The artist says though he is dedicated to his work there are challenges to earn a “decent living”. He does not have money for buying machines.
“The cash award of Rs 50,000 that I received recently is the only fund so far. And the stipend I get every three months is there,” says Kynjin. The award that he got recently was for making a Pnar dress that was displayed in last year’s Behdienkhlam festival in Jowai.

~ Alistair Kharwanlang

‘Need govt help’

Clement Sangma,
North Garo Hills

Clement Sangma has been making wooden idols since 1961. No one in his family was an artiste but Sangma took to wood carving as he had a flair for it. “I would make carvings and gradually learned the nuances of the work. There was no help or training,” says the septuagenarian craftsman.
Sangma, who is from Mendal, makes different idols of all sizes. If a customer brings a photograph, that helps him to carve out the idols. Most of the orders come from within the state. Earlier, he would get orders from Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of the North East.
The veteran craftsman has several trainees under him in Resubelpara. His children also help him in his work. There are four young craftsmen in his workshop. His wooden idols have been exhibited in many cities, including Kolkata, Trivandrum and Delhi.
Even at 70, Sangma works hard and says he does not find it difficult to do what he likes to do. The idols are handmade and no machine is used at any stage. But his dedication earns him only Rs 8,000-10,000 a month.
Talking about help from the government, Sangma says there is nothing much coming from the authorities. “If the government helps us then it will be good. We had raised this point on the day of the award ceremony but nothing will happen,” he says. The despair in his voice is clear.
~ NM

Exclusive designs

Daisy Christine G
Momin, West Garo Hills

Daisy Momin is a terracotta artiste and an “organic” fashion designer. The Tura-based artist got recognition outside the state long before the Meghalaya government appreciated her contribution to art and culture.
While creativity was in her genes, Momin developed an interest in terracotta in her early thirties. The 60-year-old says she had gone to a village in Kalaichak, about 60km from Tura, in search of pots for bonsai trees. “Nowhere in Tura or any nearby area were bonsai pots sold. So I travelled to the village and I saw a Bengali potter making pitchers and pots,” she recollects.
The potter’s work piqued her interest and she decided to learn the art of pottery. She started working with clay by making simple things but gradually experimented with other articles of use and beauty.
The clay jewellery that Momin makes can easily be called designer collection with every piece having a unique design. With her imagination, the artist tries various ways to keep her creations exclusive.
Besides, Momin makes ashtrays, traditional souvenirs and showpieces. “Clay work is also part of our tradition. Our ancestors used to make clay articles. In Siju, you can still find potters. I am only trying to revive Garo arts and crafts,” she says.
When it comes to fashion designing, Momin is equally innovative. She uses natural dye made from lac, onion peels, barks of wild trees and other natural sources to make designer clothes from natural fibre.
“I got a national award for fashion designing in 1998. When the jury members saw my work, they said I had some formal training but I never went to any designing school. There was a touch of terracotta in my creation,” said the senior artiste.
But how did she know so much about natural dye? “This story is also long. Do you have time,” enquires Momin as she prepares to tell the story. In 2000, a woman researcher from Cambodia met Momin in Tura and interviewed her. The two were introduced by officials of ICAR. Later, the researcher asked IFAD to send samples of natural dye from Garo Hills. At that time, no one was using natural dye. “So the lady suggested my name and the director of IFAD came to me with the request. But I told him that I had no idea about it. Even the old people could not tell me anything about it though use of natural dye was also there among our ancestors. The official returned and informed the Cambodian lady but the latter said, ‘I will not take no for an answer from Daisy’,” says Momin, who is from Chandmary.
“Meanwhile, my mother suggested something and I followed that. I was compelled to make the natural dye and sent the sample that was appreciated,” she adds.
Momin’s designs were also featured in Femina magazine. Talking about her family, she says her mother was good at weaving, knitting and crocheting and her father was a renowned Garo poet.
In 2016, Federation of Indian Chamber and Commerce recognised her works and awarded her for contributing to the revival of Garo traditional art and culture.
At present, Momin trains four women in various handicrafts like paper mache and South African crafts. She does not sell her products to any retailer or sends them outside the state despite requests from metropolitan cities. “The exclusivity will be lost if I start selling in bulk. So whoever is interested can come to my house. I also participate in exhibitions where people can buy my jewellery and dresses.”
Momin’s designer dresses start from Rs 3,000 and can go up to Rs 12,000.
The artiste says she is trying to train as many enthusiastic youths so that the traditional art forms do not die. “Only a few people show interest as working with clay is messy. But I am trying my level best,” she adds.

~ NM
Photos by Frankie M Marak

Master of crafts

Albina Jyrwa,
SW Khasi Hills
Albina Jyrwa started making handicrafts at a tender age and “mastered” the craft by the age of 15. Her mother Biolin was not only her teacher but her inspiration too.
Jyrwa, now 42 and mother of four, is a master craftswoman who makes boxes, winnowing fans, fruit and vegetable baskets and trays, among several other things, with bamboo and cane. She works alone and is not part of any self help group.
“I thought of selling my articles in Mawkyrwat and Shillong but I could not meet the demand. I sell only when there are exhibitions. I attended many exhibitions in Mawkyrwat and Shillong and I have been to Chennai and Guwahati too,” says the artisan.
“Some of my friends from Guwahati and Jaipur wanted to buy my products and they had asked me to bring the finished products to Shillong but till now I couldn’t,” she adds.
Before an exhibition, Jyrwa spends two to three months doing handicrafts throughout the day. She says her income every month is nothing less than Rs 6,000 and “with hard work I can earn more”.
Jyrwa is one of the registered trainers under the Commerce and Industries Department and has trained at least 10 persons so far. For training, she gets an honorarium of Rs 18,000 per annum.
“Now after getting the award I will get a chance of imparting training for three months. I will get around Rs 20,000. I will also get a house for doing handicrafts from the department,” she informs. However, the biggest challenge for her, like most of the artisans in the state, is lack of fund to buy raw materials.
~ Kynsai L Sangriang

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