WOW | Designs On You

Breathing Life Into Mithila Art

TRISHNA SINGH BHANDARI

For over 3000 years, Maithili women have painted the mud walls of their homes with scenes of legends of Hindu gods and goddesses, passing the skill from mother to daughter. Maybe this is what keeps the intricate art dating 7th century alive even today. In an effort to make this art form visible on everyday products in the capital, Trishna Singh Bhandari founded Mithila House in July this year.

Over these six months, Trishna has received much appreciation for her art gallery. “It was in October that we started doing well. Now our sales easily cross a lakh every month,” she shares. The payment is directly handed to the women artists and not their husbands and sons; no donations and no middlemen are the few principles of her business. Creating responsible and ethical business to empower an artisan, who plays an important role in the economy, was at the core of the business.

Trishna is an environment law student. She did her Bachelor’s degree in India and Masters from Australia. She returned to Nepal in 2014 and started working on a forestry project called REDD + (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and associated activities). When the project ended in early 2019, she started researching the possibilities of opening a Mithila Art Gallery in the capital and finally lay the founding stone for Mithila House in July 2019.

Today, she not only manages the art gallery but also does part time consultancy for government projects. “I write proposals for different ministries like Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Environment,” she shares.
Excerpts from an interview with the versatile Trishna:

Why did you choose to venture into Mithila art?

Though I was born in Kathmandu, my parents and grandparents belong to Orahi village in Mithila region. We used to often visit our village during vacations. This way, I have been exposed to Mithila art since childhood.
We also didn’t find the art much in the capital except for a few boutique stores like Dhukuti and Mahaguthi. This made me and my sister explore the reasons behind it. We visited Janakpur as part of our research. In Janakpur, Mithila artists are brought together through an association where they hand paint these products only for export. Hence, the art is either exported or it is only limited to Janakpur or the Terai region. Moreover, I met a curator of Mithila art in Janakpur and tried to understand why the art did not have visibility in the capital. According to him, overcharging of these products was the main reason. The artist is paid less while the products are sold at a much higher profit margin to expats living in the capital. The artists weren’t happy with this arrangement. This led to the establishment of Mithila House which now serves as a bridge between artists and customers. We are the base for these people in Kathmandu and are trying to collaborate with individuals and organisations, hotels, restaurants and to introduce Mithila wall graffiti. We take a minimum percentage and the rest goes directly to the artist.

How does Mithila House function?

We started in July this year and in six months, we have associated with many independent artists who have been doing Mithila art for a very long time. Some of these women artists now live in Kathmandu and had completely stopped practicing this art form as they lacked a platform.

When I started this art gallery, I called for these artists through Facebook. They are certified Mithila artists from Mithila Art University in Bihar and the art school in Janakpur. But they were unemployed. Currently we have three in-house artists and the rest of work gets done on project basis.

Does your products deliver any message?

We work on different themes. In all the themes, the style remains the same while we add a modern flavour to it. Mountains meets Terai was one of our much appreciated theme. Likewise our other theme revolved around contemporary women since Mithila art has always been about household women. This artwork was demanded by the NGO called Women LEAD Nepal.

Also, we are trying to display the art using various elements which we use in our day to day life. Whether it is a customising mugs, saris, shawls, jewellery boxes and more.
Please share your concept for:‘Make your own sari.

We offer our customers a wide range of sari fabrics to choose from. It ranges from cotton to silk. It is then dyed in their desired colour. Similarly, the customer also chooses from a variety of Mithila art designs. This way the design is hand painted by the artist and is delivered within two weeks. Moreover, we also have in stock hand painted Madhubani saris which we hand pick from India. The price ranges from Rs. 3000-15000.

What marketing strategies do you employ?

In the initial days, we participated in a number of flea markets and our products were a hit in almost all of them. Besides, we did aggressive promotion on social media handles which includes Facebook and Instagram. We also did free sampling for social media influencers. Further to gain visibility in the market, we placed our products in Everything Nepali at Baber Mahal Revisited.

In fact, it all started with a Facebook survey through my account which was responded by 300 people who were all positive towards Mithila Art in Kathmandu. This boosted my confidence and hence Mithila House happened.

Tell us about your wall graffiti projects.

We are getting emails from several organisations like UN, Mitini, etc. They want to collaborate with us for wall paintings, Mithila art sessions and various customisation. Also, Hyatt Regency Kathmandu wanted one section to be a Mithila section. Nothing has been finalised yet but we have shared a few samples and are awaiting approval. Further, we are doing interiors for House of Karim. We need a lot of visibility and wall graffiti would be the appropriate way to gain attention. It speaks volumes. Kathmandu is emerging as an art city and in a couple of years, I am sure I will be seeing a lot of public places beautified with Mithila art graffiti.

Future plans.

In 2020, more collaboration will be taking shape with various restaurants and hotels for wall graffiti. We also want to get involved in souvenirs. We will be introducing laptop and phone covers displaying the art. Besides Mithila, we also promote Kuniya, a tray used during Chhat. We are making key chains and wall hangings out of them. We want the culture to be promoted along the art. Also, we want to introduce a few more products used in the Terai which can be customised in the form of gifts.