By Srejonee Research Team.
From the heart of West Bengal, India comes an art so eternal so wonderful- it is cast in the absoluteness of metal. Dokra or Dhokra Art – An ancient method of making metal artefacts, it’s origin goes back 5000 years in history of Indian subcontinent. What’s shocking however, is that this tribal art form done by the traditional metalsmiths of Bengal – the “Dokra Damar” tribe, has survived the test of time and are still using this age-old technic today. The knowledge of making Dokra is passed from generation to generation. Here’s a look at the journey of this metal art from the heartlands of Bengal to the rest of the world.
What is Dokra or Dhokra Art:
Dhokra art is essentially a stunning metal figurine fashioned from bronze and copper based alloys (known as Brass or Bell Metal) using a ‘lost wax casting’ known as ‘cire perdue’ in French. There are several processes involved in the making of Dhokra art and hence, a single piece could take up to a month or two to be created.
The Process in brief:
First off, a core, slightly smaller than the desired artefact, is created using clay. It is left to dry in the sun and then given a coat of wax that is the desired thickness of the artefact. The wax layer is then coated in a thin layer of clay and all of the design intricacies are carved onto this clay layer. After this clay layer dries, numerous clay layers are subsequently added and dried till the mould is hard and thick enough. It is then heated in order for the wax layer to melt.
Once the wax has been drained off, the molten metal is poured into the cavity through multiple channels and left to take the shape of the clay mould. When the metal has cooled off and dried, the clay mould is broken off into two or three equal pieces and the metal artefact is revealed. Because the mould is broken, no two Dhokra Art pieces can ever look the same. What’s more, these Dokra Arts don’t have a single joint in them!
The final step in the process is applying patina to the metal object. This process enhances the surface by creating colour through the application of various chemicals. A final coat of wax is applied to enhance and preserve the patina.
Journey of Dhokra Art:
While Dhokra art originated in West Bengal, over time the tribes moved to Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh as well as far places like Kerala and Rajasthan. Hence, the art has now spread all over India.
Most Dhokra artefacts are Gods or human or animal figurines. In fact, one of the earliest known lost wax casting artefacts is the legendary dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro.
The tribes are also known for making measuring bowls, religious deities and lamps, though the themes are quite limited given the fact that the metalsmiths do not have much exposure beyond their own private lives. That said, the technique that was once upon a time only used for creating articles for the tribesmen’s personal use has now evolved and is used to make jewellery boxes, tableware and more for the urban populace.
Image Credit: Internet
Decline of Dhokra art
It is unfortunate that this beautiful artwork is facing an obvious decline. The steady increase in the cost of raw material makes the end products way too expensive to attract enough buyers. As a result, artisans have been showing less interest in producing such master works. Lack of demand forces these tribal artisans to migrate as Agri-labourer or work force in urban cities, leaving behind this century old art form at risk of extinction.
Though local Government is trying their best but lack of inspiration, encouragement from common people and knowledge of new designs as well as the inability to adapt to modernization have also contributed to the decline of this artwork.
While there is still a moderate demand for these sculptures in the international markets, cities like Milan, Paris and London, the primitive techniques and lack of access to modern technology causes huge delay in production.
Srejonee is committed to preserve and promote this ancient art-form which is facing all kinds of odds, as we believe it’s an integral part of our cultural heritage.
From identifying talented artisans from the hinterlands of Bankura, Birbhum, Purulia districts to provide them support in term of business, finance, new product ideas and modernization of techniques.
Affluent Urban Indians can play a major role in this fight by adopting a taste for indigenous artefacts and art forms to decorate their homes, offices public places with Indian Handicrafts which will be huge service to our rich cultural heritage and preserve it for the future generations.