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28 June 2008

SIGHTED SITE : Artisana, Kolkata

TUCKED AWAY in one of southern Kolkata's inner lanes is a pleasant surprise: Artisana, a 1,000-square-foot showroom stocking some of the most exquisite Bengali crafts I've ever seen. Located on the first floor of a nondescript building off Gokhale Road, there is nothing fancy about its architecture, but never mind: the items on display far outweigh the store design. Vibrantly colored jute bags and table mats hang on rods next to equally colorful terracotta sculptures and leather coin boxes. Fabrics abound, from hand-embroidered kantha (patched cloth) sarees and bedsheets to silk stoles and linen scarves. Delicately drawn fabric scroll paintings, rolled up in a huge bowl, look like diplomas ready to be acquired. In one room, silver filigree jewelry and dokra (cast metal) wares sit side by side. I wonder how they manage to polish the metals: they all gleam!

And then there are masks. There's quite a variety displayed on the walls, mostly wooden and papier-mâché effigies of divinities used by the Chhou dancers of Purulia, West Bengal. In fact, most of the masks on sale have been used in actual festival performances, making their utilitarian value more attractive. The four-foot golden mask of the goddess Durga, displayed on a corner of the showroom, is the largest Chhou mask I've ever seen. I wanted to buy the scarlet papier-mâché mask of the fiery goddess Kali with a crown made of shola (an herbacious plant endemic to West Bengal), but it seemed too fragile to possibly stand my future sojourns.

Artisana is managed by the Crafts Council of West Bengal, a non-profit organization promoting the revival and preservation of the arts and crafts of eastern India. The showroom opened in July 2003 and is run by friendly, knowledgeable volunteers. On my visit, two senior female staffers beguiled me with their graceful Bengali manners and eloquence. They invited me to attend the upcoming Orissa Festival in their store on 4-10 July, even showing me a draft of the marketing poster. Charmed, I must attend that festival.

13 Chowringhee Terrace, 1st Floor (off Gokhale Road)
Kolkata 700 020, India
Telephone +91 33 2223 9422

Related site: Crafts Council of West Bengal


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