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Roghan art on display at Kolkata exhibition
by Ajitha Menon

     Kolkata: Not many may know today there are only six living practitioners of the intricate 'Roghan' fabric painting tradition in the world, all of them belonging to the Khatri family of Nirona Village in Gujarat's Kutch district. Abdul Gafoor Khatri, one of the six, is currently in Kolkata to exhibit his paintings at Artisana Gallery. Khatri family has been Roghan painters for seven generations, but Gafoor admits that the tradition might now be on its last leg. But this dying craft is unique in its execution. Roghan painting is done on fabric with paints, castor oil and a thin metal rod of six inches. The paintings, which trace their origin to Persia , are done by the artists using the metal rod from which the paint mixed in castor oil swirls down on the fabric under the deft guidance of the painter, bringing alive brilliant motifs in myriad hues. The castor oil is heated over two days and is then mixed with colour stones. This turns into a rubber like mixture is called 'Roghan', explains Gafoor while adding that the painting on the fabric appears like fine embroidery or prints but a close look or feel will make it obvious that the motif has been painted. 'Tree of Life', a Roghan traditional motif is hugely popular. It costs between Rs.1,500 to Rs.1,50,000, depending on the size and intricacies of the design. It is normally done on cotton and silk fabric. Gafoor says that Roghan paintings are not usually sold in the markets are they are too expensive for the crafts or handicrafts segment. They are sold as art, mostly to foreigners, who visit the workshops in Kutch . Roghan paintings on scarves, Odhnis, sarees, table clothes and other fabrics, find good number of buyers. "However, the work is tedious and laborious and youngsters are not patient enough to take up Roghan painting," says Gafoor. For Kolkatans like Archana Sharma, the process of Roghan painting was a revelation. It was surprising to see the way Gafoor was painting on a cloth; putting colours on his palm and painting with a thin metal rod in another hand, said Archana and added that it is a wonderful piece of work, a unique craft, people should learn this and try and preserve this for posterity.

     Also on display at 'Tribal Treasures' exhibition is embroidery from one of smallest tribal communities in world, the Todas, an ancient people, living in the Nilgiri Hills. With a population of only about 2,000, this vanishing tribe is striving to protect its culture and crafts. Toda embroidery is done in varied designs on cloth and its almost square-like depictions is unique. Todas embroider wallets, cell phone pouches, bed sheets, stoles etc and every design is a masterpiece. Priya, a Toda embroiderer, offers a challenge. She claims that every Toda embroidered work is one of its kind. It cannot be duplicated. The community is dependent on selling its crafts work to tourists. The Tamil Nadu government has set up several stores to sell Toda products and sponsors exhibitions of Toda craft across the country and the world. Rubi Pal Chowdhury, the secretary general of the 'Crafts of West Bengal', which is hosting this show, says its essential to create awareness amongst the people about India 's spell-binding rich crafts heritage and ensure preservation of dying traditional arts like Roghan and Toda Embroidery. Besides the Rogan paintings and the Toda Embroidery, Mech weaves from Jalpaiguri and Santaali Kantha and organic tribal jewelry from Santinikiten in West Bengal , paintings from Koraput, Dokra from Mayurbhanj, jewellery from Dhenkanal, Orissa and paintings from Jharkhand are also on display at the exhibition. The exhibition kicked off on February 16 and would last till February 23 (Monday).
-Feb 22, 2009

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