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Padma Shri Anita Reddy Recalls How A Knock On Her Door Opened Prospects For Kalamkari Artists

  • IWB Post
  •  July 30, 2017


Some stories touch you deeply, and sometimes they leave an impact that just keeps coming back to you.

When I read the story of Dwaraka, a platform that promotes Kalamkari artisans in Karnataka, Andra Pradesh, and other parts of the country where it’s growing its branches, that’s kind of how I felt. It all began when one fine day there was a knock at Padma Shri Anita Reddy’s door.

They all think I’m a beggar and refuse to give me a shelter.” It was the voice of a Kalamkari artist. After Anita and her father Dwaraknath Reddy offered him food, he told them the story about the fall in the number of Kalamkari artisans in the country.img_5 (1)

The treasure of our country needed help. And that’s when Anita and her father started their trust called Dwaraka.

The initiative that started back in 1999, when the duo decided to do something for the community.

Me: How did Dwaraka open doors for the artisans?

Anita: I’d gone from house to house, village to village and we identified about 300 artisans. There would’ve been 30 artists, and the rest were the ones who helped in the process of Kalamkari. And to that, we added 150 Dwaraka women who had never worked at the level these artists were working; they were only beginning to develop their skills. That was the original scenario. Today, there are over a couple thousand people who come under the list of Kalamkari artists.img_1 (1)

It means that at a time, the economic or the social parameters were not good enough. We were able to open doors for the artists by creating products that were relevant to the scene that time, or maintained the quality. That multiplied and went really far, which is what we are grateful for.

But things take twists and turns, and people often have to keep up with the rat race to survive, so many moved forward and started their own businesses. We are happy with wherever the artists go as long as their businesses strive. They have done well for themselves, so yeah, we’ve opened up doors to a market for sure. That was the initial objective of Dwaraka, to get them their dues.img_2

The social, cultural development is something that I believe is happening strongly with the Dwaraka women, and we want to catapult it into the entire area.

Me: Describe the sustainable model of work Dwaraka designs for the community.

Anita: The sustainability includes socio, cultural, economic empowerment; however, we try to stabilize the economic front, first. The model is 99.9% gender oriented, keeping in mind that women really are the artisans who finish the work, therefore marking their presence as better artists.img_4

I always act like I’m going to drop dead. And so, if I am going to drop dead today, we have given the ownership to the community members themselves. Dwaraka is the foundation that will run the academy of learning and resource based center. We have to learn and then we have to teach.

Me: How do you achieve the fair trade for the artists?

Anita: Fair trade is determined by the people themselves. They have been taught to understand all aspects of pricing which includes the material, the time and energy that goes into it. They even determine their labor themselves.img_1 (1)

As artists, they will always have the work and connect, and understand the concept of pricing.

Me: Tell us about the artists who decorate their homes.

Anita: As a rule, our artists chose not to move from textile, except in some temples, where some walls took the kalamkari artwork. Sometimes, they beautify their work tables with their art. They get to decide if they want to keep it, or what should happen with it. It’s a fabulous idea that I will throw open to them.

Me: Did you get a chance to learn the art of Kalamkari yourself?

Anita: Haha. We have sat together at the time of the sketching, I observe them, and I know all the processes. I’ve played with them in the river waters. We’ve had great fun with them. Though, to learn the entire art, I may have to be reborn.img_3

Though if you gave me a pen and a paper, I would be able to draw the same coconut tree and even the river! Look, now you’ve stimulated me to take it up. I guess I will think about it.

Me: What part of the process do you enjoy the most?

Anita: Well, in all honesty, all of it. The entire process is so laborious and difficult. It is beautiful to watch. It’s just like making wine in the vineyard. By the way, all of this is a very male-dominated job that our women do themselves. Though, we avoid doing it on the river now for various reasons. There is water pollution, drying of the river among other things.img_3 (1)

Me: How eco-friendly is the entire process?

Anita: It’s very eco-friendly as far as we concerned. Unfortunately, now chemicals have been brought in by the artisans themselves. They use synthetic dyes, too, to get the paint to last longer. In fact, we have started an awareness campaign and are standing for it at Dwaraka because we are committed to making it a completely eco-friendly system.

The struggle is that we are in the real world. For example, you can find the Kalamkari print in the Chinese prints. They take the original work and reprint it. The problem is that it is a fraction of the price, so the survival is very challenging, but we know there are many people who want to work towards an eco-friendly world.img_6 (1)

Our artisans are much better prepared to genuinely talk and fight for the planet.

Me: How do you think the fashion industry get connected with the talented artisans of our country?

Anita: I do believe we have gone so far, and it’s thrilling that the women artisans understand that people want what they want. We have a design group among the artists who get inputs from clients and learn from experience. All of this comes together, and we believe that we’ve been very sincere and genuine about our work.

We had very big fashion designers like Rohit Bal who came and connected with us. We have a lot of Fashion Design students who visit us to work with the artisans.

Though I believe the world should be a canvas, there needs to be monetary security. The fashion industry is something we really need to connect with, and it has a huge potential for our artisans.

Me: How have you reconnected with nature since you started working with them?

Anita: Yes. These were my roots. I’d like to take you back to my own village when I was much younger. I have always been drawn by the clouds, the skies, the rivers, and the trees.img_4 (1)

Me: What adventures have you had with your father on-duty?

Anita: My father took it upon himself to bring all his children together. At the age of five, I went to the boarding school. So, whenever we went out, he would make it a point to stop at a rock, where we would climb, eat our food in the shade, and then move along.img_2

He loves photography, so we would never pass a field of women without noticing the color of their clothes, the songs they were humming to while working in the paddy fields. It has always been an adventure working with him.

When the children came home, he would put us all in a lorry, and take us to the hills, to experience a lorry drive.

Me: One artisan that became a close friend?

Anita: There are one too many! In my life, of course, I am connected to my school and college friends but I don’t really have a social circle. My social circle is the people I work with. All my friends are there in the community. I have hundreds of friends. In Dwaraka, I’ve talked about one Kanchana, but they are many in number.

Me: Your advice to social entrepreneurs on how to begin?

Anita: I would talk to anyone who wants to work with the poor. If you have the passion for changing the scenario for them, wish a better life of dignity for them. Look at the situation in front of you. Look at it as, “hey you have a strength, I have this, let’s bring it together.” That’s where the wealth lies.

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