At 6.45pm, a car enters Raghurajpur village in Odisha’s Puri district. About half-a-dozen men, who were relaxing outside their homes, walked up to the car. “Come, visit our homes," the invitation was spontaneous and heartfelt.
In this heritage crafts village, every home is a workshop and every occupant an artist. It’s election time, but the colours of life have reached far beyond the colours of political affiliation in this hamlet—the epicentre of “pattachitra" paintings for over 800 years.
One of the oldest and rich forms of Indian classical paintings, the artists still use vibrant natural colours. Pattachitra celebrates the Hindu mythology on canvas, especially the lives and times of Krishna and Jagannath. In Sanskrit, patta means cloth, chitra is picture.
“It is off-tourist season and we hardly sell during this time of the year. But due to elections in the state we are getting some buyers now," said Prabhakar Barala, an artist.
Covered with intricate “pattachitra “and tribal motifs, Barala’s house is a canvas in progress and a visual treat for visitors. Ask him to explain and he patiently takes one through each art work. He even gives a live demo of his skills, drawing a portrait of a lady in just a few minutes.
Asked about the expectations and the demands of these creative set of voters, pat comes Barala’s reply: “Give us the market and show our work to the world."
“Only good art is not enough. We need serious branding both within the country and internationally. We need access to bigger markets. The new government, whoever wins, needs to take our intricate work to the masses for our growth and that of the art culture of the state," said Bishnukinker Mohapatra, another artist.
Odisha is in the middle of simultaneous polls both for the state assembly and the Lok Sabha. About 32 million voters are exercising their rights across four phases. While chief minister Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is ruling the state for the past 19 years, Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as a strong opposition. In the 147-member assembly, the BJD has 117 MLAs. The party had won 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. A win in 2019 will give Patnaik his fifth term in office. If it loses ground, it will be seen as the BJD’s dwindling popularity, and confirmation of an emerging BJP, especially in coastal Odisha.
Mohapatra said that in the age of e-commerce, they are still dependant on tourists, but would like the state government to create a platform for their art work. He said when a new government is formed after 23 May, he and his villagers would like to see better engagement by the authorities and a road map for the development of the village. “Despite the fact that the Jagannath Temple, Konark Temple and Puri beach are famous tourist destinations, the state administration has not done enough to promote the art," he added.
While market access and branding remain the key demand from the creative community, Barala said they will benefit only if they state government takes the initiative to help them communicate in English and learn etiquettes that foreigners expect. “Between October and March, tourists come here, but at times, we fail to explain the work and our style of painting. While palm leaf works get a lot of attention simply because of its look and organic value, other art works need a bit of explaining," he said, indicating that their limited knowledge in English has hampered growth.
This not just the story of Raghurajpur. Most artists, sculptors or craft sellers in the state face similar challenges. Artists are of the view that elections come and go, but politicians have never reached out to them or offered any long-term road map for the revival of traditional art or to help the creative community.
“The state has been a centre of rich cultural heritage, but where is the effort to promote it? Sometime back, they announced a scheme for subsidised loans to craftsmen, but banks created a lot of problem for us. Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have branded their states well. Odisha should take similar steps to promote our art,"said Rabi Ojha, a sculptor residing in Bhubaneswar.