These are the times when the world realises how much we need art.
In the urban parts, it’s relatively easier to spend time behind closed doors, learning new skills, singing songs, gardening, spending time with the family. But people living in villages aren’t as privileged.
Life in Madhubani is different. Orders have stopped flowing, markets and haats are closed. Mostly artists aren’t creating anything new for the market, but for themselves. Art is once again (like it always was) a prayer for hundreds of these women, but unfortunately, no more aiding them to earn their sustenance.
The artists are eagerly waiting for markets to reopen, orders to come in again and phones to start ringing, so that they can dream again for a better life.
Being an agrarian society, the artisans’ families do have the habit of stocking grains and growing their own vegetables which can sustain them for the next few weeks in these difficult times. And they hope and pray that things will improve by then.
However, the lack of awareness about the highly contagious disease and a huge influx of migrant labourers coming back from urban parts of India and gulf countries puts the native villagers and artisans lives at huge risks. While it’s next to impossible for organisations like MITHILAsmita to send any relief materials to these villages at the moment, due to logistical challenges, it can definitely aid by running an awareness campaign to protect the communities. MITHILAsmita thus decided to teach the women artists the basic skill of sewing their own masks so that the spread of the disease could be contained.
Inspired by all the open-source mask designs available online and all global news headlines talking about mask crises faced by patients and frontline workers around the world, MITHILAsmita created videos in multiple languages including Maithili, the language of many of these rural artists and even migrant labourers.
Homemade cotton masks could be the best weapon to save the Madhubani women artists and their families in these difficult times.
A small competition launched by MITHILAsmita to create the most beautiful mask among fellow artists has not just encouraged the rural families to create simple cotton fabric masks but also to paint them with their traditional art.
Cotton is medically recommended for the surgical masks and it’s in abundance in this part of India. Now that’s how MITHILAsmita decided to create an impact. The Maithili video tutorial is now being circulated among the villagers to teach them to save their own lives and possibly contribute to frontline workers in this area.
The crisis hasn’t just taught them, again, how to be self-reliant in terms of sustainability, by growing their own crops and vegetables, but also to be creative in times of crisis. Art has become a healer these women and their children in these times of isolation too.
As Sangeeta Devi, a Madhubani artist told me over a call, “Didi, as soon as I saw your video, I started creating a mask for myself and even painted it to make it look attractive for the competition. I created a few for my children too! And I didn’t forget to circulate the video among sisters from all the surrounding villages.”
As the proverb goes, give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
By teaching Madhubani artists how to sew a mask, we prepare them to protect their lives in the current epidemic and making them the real #MaskWarriors.
Only when the huge population of India living in villages is protected well, can they survive the blow of this pandemic, and be able to preserve our heritage. And a simple cotton mask made at home is our first step towards that.
Ihitashri Shandilya is the founder of MITHILAsmita. The views expressed are the author’s own.