Middlemen robbing Madhubani artists of recognition and livelihood
Bihar's Madhubani paintings are famous across the globe. However, the colorful art-form is facing considerable threats from middlemen who cut deals on the behalf of artists.Moreover, the government has failed to help the artisans from getting exploited
Edited by: Swati Subhedar
Madhubani paintings, known for their natural bright colours and detailed line drawing, have been the preferred choice of art buyers over the years. Though this art form is famous world-over, artists fail to get due recognition and money, thanks to middlemen who fail to get good deals for them. The unfortunate artists are entirely dependent on them to sell their art-work.Eventually, these middlemen end up running the show and making money.
Madhubani painting or Mithila painting is the traditional folk art of Mithilanchal region in Bihar and Nepal, which is believed to have been originated from Madhubani district of Bihar. We often see Madhubani paintings on clothes and accessories and at exhibitions, and we assume that the artists must be earning good amount of money for such beautiful artwork. The paintings, undoubtedly, fetch good money, but the middlemen, and not the artists, get a chunk of it. The local artists entirely depend on these middlemen to get them work.
"Call it their love for the art or the fact that they couldn't learn any other skill, but people living in Jitwarpur village depend solely on Madhubani art to make their ends meet. These artists put in their heart and soul in their creations, but they have to depend on agents to sell their labour of love. These agents sell these paintings at a higher price, at times 70% higher than what is given to the artists," said Dr JS Mishra, senior artist and a Ph.D. in Madhubani Paintings.
These middlemen are present in various parts of the state and have good rapport with potential customers, who buy these paintings for a good price. Their only task is to buy paintings made on canvas, paper, cloth and apparel from local artists at cheap rates and sell them at exorbitantly high prices. Sometimes, the price they earn is more than 70% of what they pay to the artists.
Jitwarpur village in Madhubani district is a hub of Madhubani artists. As soon as you leave from Madhubani railway station, you would see bright paintings on street walls, buildings and offices. As you start approaching Jitwarpur village, these painting are a common sight across all mud houses. People living in this village plaster their houses with cow dung and make paintings on them.
"My grandmother was awarded Padma Shri for her contribution in Madhubani Paintings. She was the one who started the trend of painting Madhubani on paper sheets. We really expected winds of change thereafter, especially after seeing the encouragement it brought among the people of the village. But who knew it would be ephemeral?" Mithilesh Kumar Jha, grandson of Padma Shree late Sita Devi told Gaon Connection.
Middlemen pull the strings
"In the past decade, there has been a rise in the number of artists in and around the village. However, they can barely speak Hindi or any language except Maithili. Also, because the majority of the artists are women, they don't move out of the village for business and are compelled to depend on agents to sell their paintings on silk clothes and cartridges," said Manish Jha, a social worker.
Artists working diligently in their homes on fabrics and paper sheets, working overtime to meet deadlines is a common sight in this village.
"These middlemen are mostly residents of nearby cities who have strong network, nationally and globally, which is why they serve as a link between artists and buyers. They buy artwork from artists at a negligible price only to sell them for higher prices at exhibitions or to individuals who give them orders. We know that they don't even get 50% of the market price, but we don't have any other option but to depend on these artists," says Madhu, a local artist from the village.
What's worse, artists are not even allowed to mention their names on their creations. "I remember, a foreigner was willing to buy one of my creations on a silk saree for Rs 50,000 at a showroom in Delhi. But since I am not a well-known name, they refused to buy it. We are not supposed to write our names on our art pieces because the agents end up losing business. They get insecure that customers may end up contacting us directly. It would definitely be a huge loss for them," added Mithilesh Jha.
The artists' demand
"Various art exhibitions are organized every year. We can't afford to participate in all due to high entry fees and travel expenses. The state government should fix a venue or an exhibition hall where all Madhubani artists can exhibit their creations. This way we would be able to sell our paintings directly to buyers," said Vibha Devi, a Madhubani artist from the Jitwarpur Village.
"Couple of years back we painted the Madhubani railway station for which we were supposed to get awards and entry passes for the national exhibitions, which hasn't happened yet. We were just given snacks every day, till the time we worked and some Rs 200," Mithilesh told Gaon Connection.
It's high time, the state intervenes and ensures that the artists get their due. Else, very soon, the middlemen would take over and that would mean both, the art and the artists would figuratively die.