The Many Faces of Dhokra
Dhokra art is the earliest acknowledged technique of non-ferrous metal casting known to human civilization. The name Dhokra or Dokra is used to indicate brassware products from nomadic craftsmen from Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal. These communities, which are the Situlias, Ghantaras, Thataries, Ghasis, Bathudis, and others have taken the baton to keep this traditional artwork alive.
History of Dhokra Art
Dhokra craftwork form goes back 5000 years from the Dhokra Damar tribe of West Bengal. These Blacksmiths of Bengal are the earliest known practitioners of nonferrous metal casting known to civilizations. One of the earliest known artifacts of Dhokra is the Goddess Sindhu Maa (dancing girl) of Mohenjo-Daro.
It takes its roots from West Bengal and Odisha. . Their technique of lost wax casting Dhokra is named after the tribe of Dhokra Damar. This technique then made its way from Jharkhand and West Bengal, to Chattisgarh and then all over India.
Dhokra products were used in various applications from figurines to measuring bowls and religious deities, though their themes are pretty limited given the fact that the metal artisans do not have much spectrum of imagination beyond their own lives. That being said, the technique that was once upon a time solely used for creating articles for the tribesmen’s personal use has now evolved and is currently being used to make jewelry boxes, tableware, lamps, and more.
Formation Process of Dhokra
The formation process of Dhokra art works is a meticulous procedure performed with utmost care and precision. First off, a core, slightly smaller than the designed artifact, is made with clay. Then it is left to dry in the sun after that it is given a coat of wax according to the desired thickness of the artifact. The wax layer is then coated with a slim layer of clay and all of the patterned intricacies are sculpted onto this clay layer. Once this clay layer dries, various clay layers are later on added and dried until the mold is solid and thick enough. It is then heated at temperatures for the wax layer to melt.
Once the wax has been drained off, the liquefied metal is poured into the mold cavity through multiple channels and left to take the shape of the clay mold. Once the metal has cooled off and solidified, the clay mold is broken off and therefore the casted object is revealed. As a result of the broken mold, no two Dhokra art pieces will ever look the same.
The final step in the method is applying patina to the metal object. This process enhances the surface by making it colored through the application of assorted chemicals. A final coat of wax is applied to reinforce and preserve the patina. Patina acts like a protective covering also it makes a metal object look aesthetic for its color.
Dhokra in 2021
Unfortunately, this stunning artwork is facing a lucid decline. The steady increase in raw material cost makes the finished products way more expensive to attract enough customers. As a result, craftsmen chose to avoid or show less interest in producing such artworks. Lack of inspiration, encouragement, and information of new trends as well as the inability to adapt to modern technology has also caused the decline of this artwork.
While there is still a heavy demand for these sculptures both commercially and in international markets, in cities like Milan, Paris, and London, the primitive techniques and lack of better tools cause a delay in production. The combination of ancient techniques, tribal simplicity, and craftsmen’s innovative skills results in some breathtaking creations.
Dhokra art is used in creative ways to make new-fangled artifacts, and minimalist jewelry today. Along with items like ashtrays, doorknobs, and handles, kitchenware and even statuettes of celebrities, Dhokra stays afloat amongst its century's art forms.
Although attempts are currently being made to revive the craft today, Dhokra artisans are still troubled to keep their craft going. The lack of business know-how and techniques to market their products in today’s market is the main factor holding these artisans back. With the rise of e-commerce and renewed interest from the younger generation in authentic, heritage-rich art, there a burning candle for this ancient artform.