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A cradle for crafts

The living room of architect Dulal Mukherjee’s Ballygunge Park residence offers a peek into what for the past six years has become a mission for him and his daughter Malini Mandal. Scattered about the room are terracotta urns, ceramic knick-knacks, kantha wall-hangings and rugs — all made at their farmhouse in Badu in North 24-Parganas.

Mukherjee had acquired the two-acre property in the 1990s and set about rebuilding it. “When I got it, there were only a few fruit trees. I built a cottage and planted flowers and vegetables,” he recalls. In 1999, he settled a potter with his wheel on the property. “When Malini was studying in Delhi, I had picked up a Ganesha idol from there made by a craftsman in Chhattisgarh. I felt very sad that we are not doing anything about the rich tradition of art in Bengal,” he says.

Thus to the potter’s wheel was soon added a loom, a dokra furnace and more. At present Mukherjee and his daughter have 10 artisans working with them — weavers from Santipur, dokra artists from Bankura, potters from Hooghly and girls and women from the village of Badu who specialise in kantha work and jute embroidery.

“My father felt there was a stagnation in the design of the artwork here, which is why they were losing value. Plus, artisans here are not given the dignity of an artist. They are uneducated and poorly paid. He wanted to change that and so he decided to set up the colony for artisans,” explains Malini, who is also an architect. In 2006, Malini joined her father and Mrittika Foundation was born.

If father got the artisans going, daughter made sure their creations found a market. “Till I joined, my father had not sold a single piece! He would pay the artisans but never sell what they made. My first job was to get Mrittika registered as a trust. That same year we had our first exhibition-cum-sale at Rotary Sadan. The handicrafts were launched under the label Leela, which was my grandmother’s name. The response was so good....” recalls Malini.

Both father and daughter specialise in stylisation. “Our work is based on minimum design intervention. We give the artisans the design and they work on it. We also provide them with the platform to reach out to a wider cross-section of people,” says Malini.

Mrittika has had seven exhibitions till now, across Calcutta and Bangalore. Their most recent showing of lifestyle products was at a two-day exhibition at ICCR in March. The father-daughter pair can be reached at mrittikafoundation@gmail.com.

Poulomi Banerjee