Camel Bone Artists, Project Kalayatra

When I stepped in Zakir Hussain’s workshop for camel bone artists, I was in a haze, literally. Covered in white dust, I saw a bunch of young men engrossed in working with incredibly sharp machinery, their nimble fingers sculpting the camel bones into artifacts with finesse. Zakir is a very well know, national award winning camel bone artist, he had just returned from Italy where he had been representing Indian Art. The day I spent with him and his disciples left me asking new questions regarding artisans and their communities.
Camel bone sculpting is a very rare art and not many from the young lot are interested in learning it or taking it forward and it’s not because they do not wish to explore the idea. They are forced to make a choice to migrate to cities or bigger towns because being an artisan hasn’t been a very encouraging factor, monetarily or emotionally. Zakir is a firebrand, he is not just a respected and rightfully so artist but also an honest speaker when it comes to speaking about the artisan issue. We spoke at length about government help, role of the NGOs and the dire need of attention to the situation, the camel bone artists are now, an endangered breed.
Camel bone artists work hard over years to turn into expert craftsmen, the work is done by hand using extremely sharp tools, one needs to be medically fit because the camel bone dust can easily give one a run for fresh breathing air. Once sculpted, they are painted intricately if the article demands the same. The Indian Government runs mentorship and training programs for budding artists and pays a nominal stipend during this period. Zakir runs the training program in one of the cities in Rajasthan and I was delighted to experience this.
I can’t write down the churn inside me when I heard these amazing men talk about their lives or the focus and determination by which they intently worked on their craft, it is humbling and it is delightful. Art needs to be preserved, artisans need to be encouraged. Art exists because they do.

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