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Maithili art on exhibit

Monday, December 8th, 2014
Members of the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC)

Members of the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC)

Stunning paintings that demonstrate the vibrancy and artistic range of the Maithili tradition will be on pre-Christmas exhibition and sale at The Taragaon Museum at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The artists belong to the Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC), a cooperative established in 1989 by Claire Burkett, an American artist and philanthropist.

JWDC has five production groups of women painting pictures, producing papier-mâché objects and mirrors, screen-printing, sewing and producing ceramics. The Centre offers local women in Janakpur an opportunity to be creative, and to earn an income, giving value to their work and to their own sense of achievement and worth.

The paintings and other objects are rooted in traditions which Maithili women have passed down through generations. Traditionally, Maithili women would paint designs of elephants and peacocks (signifying prosperity) and other animals on the mud walls of their houses during weddings and festivals. In the monsoon, the paintings fade or wash away.This ephemeral art is the basis of the artistic work of the women of the Centre today.

After the involvement of Claire Burkett and a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, a talented group of women were selected to transfer their wall designs to paper. They came from their villages to the Centre where, together and without losing their originality, developed skills in composition as well as in the use of colour and line.

After experimenting, the paints were rendered on Nepali handmade lokta paper which has the rough texture of mud walls. After trying pens and sticks, and experimenting with their own dyes and pigments mixed with milk, the women found that acrylic paint worked best on Nepali paper and could be used as spontaneously as the home-made dyes applied to house walls and decided on using brushes.

Both the form and medium known today as ‘Janakpur painting’ was created by JWDC. A strong core of women, most of them illiterate started working together to produce works of art to express their individuality and shared common religious and cultural themes.

They loved coming to the Centre and working in a comfortable and supportive environment with other women of diverse social backgrounds, free from the constraints of the village and home. As they work they sing Maithili songs and tell tales of Hindu Gods and paint scenesfrom the Ramayana – notably the marriage of Ram and Sita which is celebrated annually in Janakpur.

Many women enjoy painting the Maithili tale of Anjur, in which a new bride is made to do impossible tasks by her jealous sisters-in-law, and each time is helped by sympathetic birds or snakes. They often mix other images with Anjur’s tale, and Gods appear in scenes of family planning. The women have also made paintings promoting Vitamin A, the right to vote, safe sex and saying no to drugs. This spontaneous mixing of themes is a reflection of the real world of Janakpur artists today.

Visitors are struck by the commitment of the women artists, and by the quality of the work they produce. However, sales are limited by lack of advertising and distance from more lucrative markets in Kathmandu and abroad. Competition from others imitating their work is undermining their income.

The pre-Christmas exhibition at The Taragaon Museum is sponsored by Crisis Recovery International (CRI) which helps poor women establish viable and sustainable income generating projects in Nepal and elsewhere.

Maithili Art Exhibition

The Taragaon Museum

12 to 23 December

10AM to 6PM

Hyatt Regency Hotel, Boudha

 David Seddon in Janakpur

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