What is Dhokra art?
Dhokra art is essentially metal figurines fashioned from bronze and copper based alloys using a ‘lost wax casting’ method also known as ‘cireperdue’ 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.
Process of making Dhokra art
There are two main processes of lost wax casting solid casting and hollow casting. While the former is predominant in the south of India the latter is more common in Central and Eastern India. Solid casting does not use a clay core but instead a solid piece of wax to create the mould; hollow casting is the more traditional method and uses the clay core.
- A smaller core for the desired artefact is made in clay and then coated with a thin layer of wax for thickness, all minute designs and carved into the clay. More layers of clay will be added and dried till it becomes thick enough and heated to melt down the wax layer
- Molten metal is poured in the clay mould and left to take shape. Clay mould is then broken off and finishing touch of carving is given. Since every mould is broken after each casting no identical pieces is created and each piece of dhokra is unique. These handicrafts does not have a single joint in them.
- In the final step patina is applied 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
Uniqueness of Dhokra
- The uniqueness of Dhokra art is that“No one can copy Dhokra. Every piece is unique as each artisan can create in his special way. With thin hands, legs and a slender body, Dhokra pieces look different. It is tribal art and they showcase it in their own way. The beauty of Dhokra is that the pieces are not perfect,” “There are only a few people who can do this work, it takes time to create the art piece and that is why the production is less. That’s why not many people know about it.
- What makes this art form unique is the fact that no two Dhokra artworks are alike, and every single sculpture is painstakingly crafted to be one of a kind. The artisans take inspiration from mythology, the environment and simple rituals, and showcase these through their works. This ancient tribal art is appreciated by art enthusiasts from around the globe.
- Time-consuming and intricate, the Dhokra art form involves making a basic clay model of an object and covering it with wax, before etching on finer details. Thereafter, another clay layer is added which acts as a mould into which hot metal is poured. The metal melts the beeswax and pushes it out to take on the shape of the object.
History Of Dhokra
- Tracing back its history to over 4,000 years, Dhokra is a folk art that involves the casting of non-ferrous metal like copper or bronze using the lost wax technique. This technique of metal casting has been used in India for over 4,000 years and is still in use. One of the earliest known ‘lost wax casting’ artefacts is the famous statue of the dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro.
- It gets its name from its main practitioners, the Dhokra Damar tribes who are traditionally metalsmiths. Spread over the eastern part of India, including West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Dhokratribals are also found in some parts of Chhattisgarh.
- While Dhokra art originated in West Bengal, over time the tribes moved to Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa and Chhattisgarh as well as places like Kerala and Rajasthan. Hence, the art has now spread all over India.
Adilabad dokra art
- The Dhokra metal craft is popular in the tribal belts of West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Adilabad dokra art from the state of Telungana is also a famous place where this artform flourished,practiced and also got recognized by the government with geographical indication.
- These art forms combine small figurines of horses, drummers, tribal deities and plaques. These types of art and jewellery are mainly made from brass scrap. Unlike any other metal craft, the core of the objects is filled with clay.
Evolution of Dhokra
- Dokra Art is still used to craft artifacts, accessories, utensils and jewellery. It is differentiated by its rustic simplicity, enchanting folk motifs and clean, distinctive, lines.
- The artistry of dokra jewellery making in brass using the craft of Dhokra Art was practiced in the Indus Valley Civilization, Rome as well as in Egypt.
- 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.
- 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.
Also see: Special about Tanjore Painting
How to make dhokra art
The art of Dhokra handicrafts making is passed down from one generation to another and is a creative and contemporary expression of an ancient technique – that would earlier use motifs of gods and goddesses, floral shapes and rustic designs. Today’s craftspersons have given the Art of Dhokra a stylish look with new designs and products
Craftsmen involved in the making of Dhokra crafts rely on materials at their immediate disposal – wax, resin and firewood from the forest, riverbed clay and a firing oven made by digging a hole in the ground. Such resources might seem very easy to procure, but in tribal hamlets, where such artefact is made, craftspersons are dependent on nature, and it is their hard work that creates Dhokra artefacts.
Dhokra casting is done with easily available natural materials like husk, honey wax, mittigobar and brass
Decline of Dhokra art
This beautiful artwork is facing an obvious decline. Lack of inspiration, encouragement and knowledge of new designs as well as the inability to adapt to modernization has also contributed to the decline of this artwork.
Life has not been easy for Dhokra artisans. In recent years, the cost of raw materials like bronze and brass have been steadily rising making the products way too expensive to attract enough buyers. Artisans have been showing less interest in producing such master works which costs more and takes painstaking time to complete. Also, rampant deforestation is leading to paucity in the supply of other raw materials like beeswax and termite nest soil.
While Dhokra artefacts are available on websites like Amazon, the demand for this unique art form is not as high as one would expect. “At times they don’t even get back the money that they have spent on going to exhibitions,”
While there is still a heavy demand for these sculptures both commercially and in international markets, in cities like Milan, Paris and London, the primitive techniques and lack of access to modern technology also causes a delay in production.
Little wonder then that like with several other traditional Indian art forms, a number of artisans from the younger generations are opting out to choose jobs that offer them more secure incomes.
Our Contribution to Dhokra
At Kamya to help this century old artform from our part, we had come up with new way to popularise and market this ancient art, through offline stores and our website which will give the Dhokra artisans a platform to sell their artwork. This will create a significant step towards giving this valued folk art form the limelight it deserves, and comes as a ray of hope for artisans who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their art and tradition alive.
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