Rickshaw art uses geometric designs, flowers, birds or popular actors to decorate it. This kitschy folk art is not only painted but also highlighted with tassels, tinsel and colourful plastic and hood works showing the region’s religious beliefs or current social issues. The living pop art culture is done by illiterate rickshaw artists who learn it by living with their master from boyhood. They do not have copyrights but at the back of rickshaw the maker’s name is thumbtacked. Unfortunately the very existence of this art and artists is a struggle, as they do not feel any pride in it because of a very low income, and absolutely no recognition.
Originally in Japan, a technique called Maki-e was used to paint dragons, flowers and scenes from Japanese mythology with lacquer and then sprinkled with gold and silver dust on their pedicabs. But the government banned them because of their ‘not so refined’ works. From then on they plied in solid colours with only a license plate displayed on it. The hand pulled rickshaws of Kolkata to date are seen in solid black which probably suffered the same fate due to the British rule, as they disapproved of the tawdry designs; very bold, bright and raw colours like fluorescent green, dark red etc. (which apparently last longer than softer colours in sultry weather conditions) decorate this common man’s vehicle. Its only some cities in the Indian subcontinent, where the tradition has managed to survive and pepper the landscape with the motifs and colours of the district.
Unlike Design Co. is a studio based in Delhi, which is taking baby steps to revive this rickshaw art, from Benaras, for the sake of the artists and as a tribute to the ongoing pop trend, through everyday objects. The married duo Lavanya Asthana and Harpreet Padam who own this outfit, actually make their living by designing packaging, graphics and prints, presentations, products and accessories for big brands.
Lavanya, who hails from Benaras, has been a keen observer of all things bright and beautiful, since childhood. Her formative years were spent in Gomiya, a small town in Jharkhand. She started her art journey with graphic designing from India’ s premier art college National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Harpreet, her betterhalf, led a more nomadic life since his father was in the Indian Air Force. NIFT ‘s bohemian teaching styles and hostel life, caught his fancy back in school. Funnily though, it was the institute’s modern building at Hauz Khas, New Delhi, which struck his fancy and compelled him to apply for Accessory Design Programme – something new and different at that time.
The couple derive their creativity from travelling far and wide, finding collectibles, capturing mundane aesthetics with a different angle, watching foreign films and visiting old markets wherever they go. When probed further, the Lavanya also confessed about her classical bent of mind which seemed ingrained, as her ancestral house in Benaras shares the same wall with ‘Kabir Math’ and is in the same neighbourhood as Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Sitara Devi and Birju Maharaj (stalwarts of Indian classical music and dance).
The life of a designer is a life of fight against ugliness.
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