“If your stories are good and I’m sure it will be welcomed . The region has a huge potential But the gaps has to be shortened Or rather filled.” These are the words of Pabitra Lama Sarmah who conceptualized and started the “Maati Centre” . Craftsmanship consciousness within the realm of art, while providing accessibility and visibility to talents from within communities in India as well as from abroad is the committed endeavors of the Centre. Opened up as a space which now promotes alternative , off beat art consciousness blended with the mainstream diaspora of arts and culture of the local artisans. The systematic Collaboration with a wide network of institutions like the Tihar Jail , Dastakar ranthambhore and diversing their activities/reach and creating this common platform remains at the core. This is all to the contribution of Pabitra Lama Sarmah, a former World Bank Project employee and her husband who took on to giving shape to the present day Maati Centre. We here at TNT spoke exclusively to her on behalf of the entire team to give a glimpse of work in the Centre.
TNT – Why did you chose the name “Maati Centre”? What was the inspiration behind it?
Pabitra– “Maati is the base the foundation for any creature to stand survive and grow. That’s why the name came up and it’s time to give back to the society. ” Before the Centre started functioning, we had started a craftstore named “Colours of India”which sold crafts like pottery, clay items, decoratives but on a small scale. The inspiration behind the Centre was to give local artisans and craftsman a bigger and more broader exposure and create a connect. While a lot of our folk and tribal arts is based on the oral system of knowledge: “Maati” strives to safeguard these, through mapping and documentation. It was this dream which had a strong foundation and that probably helped in taking the form of reality. And today the Centre is a buzzing team of young dedicated individuals who volunteer their time and hard work to bring out the events successfully.
In an exhibition with the Colours of India
TNT – How did you get connected with Tihar or Dastakar?
Tell us more about your model like how do you connect with local artisans?
Pabitra – There are more than 70 NGOs and social organisations who collaborate with us for showcasing their products namely Tihar jail , Aagor Bodo Weaves ,MESH , Roohi , Mukha xilpa Camuguri Xatra -“Majuli” India. Some local artisans from the region including Siddhartha Kam Deuri , Nest by Arpit Agarwal , Bonuwa luxury by Rinki roy. Like ROOHI is a social enterprise passionately working with traditional textiles and crafts and helps empower weavers and artisans of North East India. And other NGOs like Maximising Employment to Serve the Handicapped (MESH) emphasize on practicing fair trade with craft artisans who are affected by leprosy or have disabilities. And most importantly, the products from Tihar Jail make a strong statement as it speaks of reforms through something more creative and valuable. With these, students and resource persons of institutions like National Institute of Fashion and Technology (NIFT) work together with the local artisans to create more innovation and give a slightly refined artistic edge to their products.
Related: Top Tribal Occupations of NorthEast India
(Products from the NGOs put up in the craft store)
Artist Neelim Mahanta (left) wih his paintings, Nassif Ahmed (Film- maker) showcasing “Journeyman’s stories and his wisdom”
TNT – Poetry reading, Film screening. Dance workshops, Book reading rooms, which go beyond promoting only art and craft, so how did you think of incorporating these?
Pabitra – Art is very vast. There is no frame. So targeting the young generation involvement and passion. Anyone who express his way of seeing things are welcomed .Literature played a vital part in society. Nowadays we don’t know about our local poets and independent writers . Here, we have also collaborated with Sahitya Sabha to work in this segment of promotion of literary genre. Independent documenatry makers can also come to screen their documenataries and hold discussions. This is their own platform to serve their individual artistic interests for the larger society. Ulrike Reinhard, German publisher – author who successfully bridged social gaps with her “Janwar Castle” theme in Madhya Pradesh will also come down with her expertise and share it with the Centre.
Collection titled “Neelim on his colours”
TNT – Tell us more about social entrepreneurs and social empowerment. how do you take your vision forward to the rural belts in the state ?
Pabitra – Social enterprise is something neglected. So we came up with unique concepts like , “Stories from Villages”. We bring the villages into the scene wherein we are presently focusing into region specific home grown produce. Soon we will be conducting ‘farmers market’ on weekends covering these social enterprises and other small community groups involved in farming. We have already started a project in Majuli. Here we are providing support to a Missing community farm land and assisting in producing Jaggery , Black Lentils and Red Rice. There they don’t get a market and no one takes the pain to get materials from the villages. Even if they get to cities they higher the prices so much no one buys. And now there are international organisations who are willing to help these small farmers. And yes we go to villages looking out for small self help groups and communities.
Related: Bamboo and cane crafts of Tripura
In an unique conceptualization ” Colours of Maati”
TNT – You have also been working with many change makers in this region who are committed to contribute in social sectors. How is it working with such people?
Pabitra – Apart from institutions, individuals also come forward like Uttam Teron , Principal of Parijat Academy. This Diwali we did a project with this school which gives free education to 450 plus village poor students . We trained teachers to make candles and it was fully funded by the Centre and finally they sold candles worth rs. 25000. In fact input in the Centre we have a special counter for Parijat Academy wherein the parents of these poor children’s produce local bakery like pittha laru and other snacks and earn from the same.
Some of the artifacts, crafts put on display
TNT – How difficult do you think it is to sustain in Northeast than nationally or globally? What were some of your practical challenges you faced in the region?
Pabitra – Sustaining is never difficult if you ask me .The innovative approach has to be there. The stories of Northeast need to be preserved, promoted and perpetuated to the traditional cultural forms and practices as well as artistic manifestations including folklore, literature, indigenous crafts and allied cultural expressions of the society. Lack of growing engagement with the contemporary ethos and its desire to strike a balance with tradition and scientific temper in tune with the times is the driving force behind our work. Whenever we spoke to someone the first thing that came up was why Guwahati is not been able to come up with a solution wherein the artist community can grow and learn, considering the potential. Knowledge sharing has been poor in the creative field and the idea clicked lets have a community. That is how finally we assembled and the challenges are always a part of everything but the only approach we see is if people gives us a little love and care we gonna make through . When we say a community it has a lot to do staring from showcasing talents to conducting workshops and sessions involving resource person from the region to national as well as global .That’s how the vision is to survive.
TNT – Now, with such a huge plethora of activities, do you have any recent plans in the list?
Pabitra- Many people stand out as reflection of the encouragement provided by platforms towards the evolution and development of new cultural forms and artistic performances relevant to the aspirations and the needs of the contemporary society. Neelim is such an artist who does brilliant street art .This winter we are planning a street art festival and the objective is to create a space wherein a strong message is communicated. And this will a project where in the area will be converted to a lovely place. And people will realise how beautiful we can make things if we all contribute. This will be done with other national n internal artist in collaboration .And yes we don’t need Money for this we need Colours.