During the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian folk artists are finding new ways to connect with art enthusiasts across the world. A bridge in this endeavour is MeMeraki, an art start-up known for its artistic handpainted bags.
Founded by Yosha Gupta in 2017, MeMeraki is inspired by the Greek word ‘Meraki’, meaning ‘to do something with so much heart and soul that you leave a part of your soul in your work’. Says Yosha, “It beautifully represents our artists. The ‘Me’ in MeMeraki is for our patrons and the eternal knot in the logo represents ‘Interconnectedness’ in many cultures, and thus represents connecting our patrons to our artists and their work.”
Learning from masters
The online folk art workshops (www.memeraki.com) are a boon for aficionados, facilitating their learning from the masters. So far, 10 such classes have been held with participants from USA, UK, Australia, France, Hong Kong and India learning from artists such as: Pratima Bharti (Madhubani), Rajendra Sharma (Miniature art), Apindra Swain (Pattachitra), Sai Kiran (Cheriyal Scroll), Venkat Raman Singh Shyam (Gond), Kalyan Joshi (Phad painting), Krishna Tashi Palmo (Thangka art), Manoranjan Chitrakar (Patua) and Subhash Bhil (Bhil art).
Yosha Gupta with a handpainted bag
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“The feedback from participants has been amazing,” says Yosha. “The time zone doesn’t work for some in California and yet they stay up from 12:30 am to 2:30 am (their time) to participate. One enthusiast from Ambala calls it the most productive two hours of her lockdown life.”
The fees is ₹750 per participant for a two-hour session with 10 participants per class. “Sometimes the internet connectivity in villages/cities where artists live is not very good. We spend a lot of time working through details of what can be taught in a two-hour class,” she says adding they also explain artists how to use Zoom and show their work while teaching.
Introducing the art
The sessions introduce the artist, explain the art form and narrate stories associated with it; traditional music from the region where the art is, is also played to give participants ‘a truly immersive experience’.
On the idea to curate these online classes, she informs, “During lockdown, our revenues have totally plummeted as people aren’t buying much and importantly delivery services aren’t operational. During discussions with some of our artists, we realised things are even worse for them.”
During a folk art session
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With a growing interest in online content activities and videos of artists painting posted on their social media pages, she realised the potential. “This is definitely the first-of-its kind of classes where artists from smaller towns and villages like Raghurajpur are also able to teach art to anyone across the world. At this point, we are sending the revenue from these classes to artists as the reason to start was to help them during this tough period.”
Yosha lives in Hong Kong and travels to India every three-months and her team is based in Gurugram. She connects with artists through WhatsApp and works on co-creating new design ideas and colour palettes.
Hailing from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, art — performing arts, fine arts and folk arts — has been a big part of Yosha’s life. Observing her mother, an amateur artist, helped her develop a huge appreciation for it. Her clothes, jewellery, bags and the furniture in her home are all hand-painted by Indian folk artists. In fact, she made heads turn with her Gucci hand bag hand-painted by Madhubani artist Ranjeet Jha. “Everyone just loved it and enquired where they could get bags like mine. It was obvious there was a market for it and the rest then followed,” she says on her start-up.
There was also an interest to nurture a dying art and let the world experience art and discover the artists. “Folk art has been practised for generations in families and these artists are masters of their craft. Folk art used to be a beautiful experience incorporating music, dance and storytelling along with the art. Sadly these arts are now dying for the lack awareness about them among people,” she says, adding “artists are heroes of their brand; hence our effort is to shine the spotlight on them.”
Hand-painted wooden clutch
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In September 2019, Yosha and a photographer friend visited Raghurajpur in Orissa, Kishangarh and Jaipur in Rajasthan. Their social media pages showcased videos of the dances and music from the village, giving people a glimpse of what their lives are and raising awareness on their work.
How do artists benefit from her start-up? “We make fair payments. Recognition of their work — most designers never reveal the artisans they work with. In our case, the whole premise and mission of our brand is to showcase artists in different ways — our products being one of them. Also, the artists are able to reach an audience across the globe while sitting at home and a chance to travel internationally,” she points out.
(More information on the online classes is available on at www.memeraki.com)