Women from Sambhuvanipalem village paint in silence as the wintry morning sun slices through trees to fall on their works of art. Dipping the brushes in a coffee concoction, they follow the directions of artist Prathyusha Koduru to make simple patterns and figures of Saura art to compose intricate narratives in light sepia to dark brown. At the end of the day’s session, the women hold out a collection of cloth bags with coffee-tinted Saura paintings, an art practiced by the Saura community — one of the oldest tribes in India residing in the Southern part of Odisha.
The just-concluded workshop at the Eastern Ghats Biodiversity Centre (EGBC) near PM Palem, brought together 10 women from Van Sanrakshan Samiti (VSS) and Eco Development Committee (EDC) of Sambhuvanipalem, who were trained in various art forms by different artists. The initiative was an effort of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department to train the women in capacity building with an aim to open a workshop and souvenir store within the Eastern Ghats Biodiversity Centre that showcases art and crafts from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The products done by the villagers during the workshop are currently on display at the EGBC.
“The 10-day workshop was planned to kick-start the project where we train women from the VSS and EDC in various forms of art works and sell their products at souvenir stores at the EGBC as well as Indira Gandhi Zoological Centre. We are now reaching out to the Van Sanrakshan Samiti of places like Jodugullapalem and Dabbanda to reactivate the accounts of the members through such initiatives of skill development,” says Anant Shankar, Visakhapatnam District Forest Officer, who was instrumental in setting up the Eastern Ghats Biodiversity Centre that opened recently.
During the workshop, the women were trained to make about 20 products involving various art forms which included natural dye art, coffee painting, dokra art, paper mache and bamboo craft. Their works include paper mache masks of elephant, bird and tiger, Saura paintings on tote bags, pottery mugs paired with Araku coffee, Dokra figurines inspired by Andhra tribal women and marine-themed tote bags painted with natural dyes
“The focus of the workshop was on three key areas: reviving indigenous practices, conducting Nature workshops for awareness (wildlife conservation) and empowering women with sustainable livelihoods connected with Nature conservation,” says Tripti Shukla, a Delhi-based independent wildlife researcher, who hosted the workshop and is currently working on the project Vanwasi-Aadiwasi.
“For the past few years, I’ve been capturing the art and craftsmanship of tribal communities, where every creation draws inspiration from Nature. The idea behind the workshop is to also spread awareness about wildlife conservation. For instance, we have conservation postcards done with coffee painting on the pangolin, a shy, solitary, nocturnal creature, believed to be the world’s most trafficked animal,” says Tripti. These crafts are done from readily available materials like coconut shells, natural colors, paper and bamboo.
According to Jameelya Akula who runs the sustainable enterprise Sankalpa Art Village, who also conducted the natural dye workshop for the women, there are many natural dyes that are grown in the forest. “We showed them how to identify natural dye plant species and shared experiences about dyeing cloth with natural colours,” says Jameelya.
Participants were trained in the methods of dyeing like tie and dye, bandhani with natural colours from manjistha, jaffra seeds, coffee, turmeric which are available in the forest.
National award-winning artist Niranjan Moharana from Odisha was also a part of the workshop and trained the participants in making paper mache masks. Demonstrating the process, Niranjan says: “It involves covering the moulds with newspaper which forms the base structure. It is then coated with a paste of tamarind seeds, which acts as an adhesive when mixed with water proportionately. This process is repeated a couple of times and the final layer is covered with brown paper and let to dry.” The motifs are then painted over it. Niranjan says the demand for paper mache works has picked up and has become a popular choice for home décor.
All the works are currently exhibited at the counter, which is being modeled into a souvenir store. “We plan to open the counter at EGBC by January 15. This apart, the nursery at the Eastern Ghats Biodiversity Centre has been receiving good demand for plants and saplings. We are also currently working on a project of making plant pots and vermi-compost from elephant and cow dung,” says Anant Shankar. Additionally, the AP Forest Department is looking for CSR funding to create a Nature-themed library and cafe and a science centre showcasing working models within the EGBC. “It will take an additional ₹1.5 to 2 crore to establish these and we are looking for CSR funding to complete these projects,” he added.
The art works will be on display at EGBC from 11am to 4pm. These will be put up for sale once the souvenir store is ready next month