Reviving And Reinventing Folk Art



Art transcends all cultural and physical boundaries and Memeraki proves that better than any other brand. Their stunning hand-painted bags have given folk and traditional artists in India visibility all over Asia and America. An independent consultant with organisations like the World Bank Group, CGAP, and the Financial Alliance for Women, Memeraki founder Yosha Gupta has personally scouted artists from remote villages and cities, often spending days with them learning about their craft. Each bag is unique much like its artist and beautifully painted with Madhubani, Gond, Pattachitrra, Kashmiri, Warli, Thanka, Kalamkari, and other art forms. Since they love experimenting with different materials, you can choose to carry a piece of Indian folk art painted on leather, faux leather, fabric, wood, cork, and even a paper mache Memeraki bag. The founder proudly tells us, “We work with over 100 folk and tribal artists across India – the mission of our brand is to revive the dying arts of India and create sustainable livelihoods for these artists and artisans.” 

“Awareness and marketing is one big challenge. Not all of them are well aware of digital media and unable to use digital media well so they are not able to reach as many art patrons across the world”, says the founder when asked what some of the challenges are that the artists face today. “Design innovation and product quality is the other challenge were more designers need to work with artists to be able to help them create new products but without changing the essence of their art. Artists don’t have access to the best quality of products that they could paint on their own and here is where brands like ours need to come in and co-create with the artists”.

The brand has gone further than just creating a source of income for India’s folk and tribal artists.  Working with multiple non-profit organizations in India, Memeraki ran a crowdfunding campaign in 2017 to raise 15,000 USD to build an art school for girls in the Madhubani district of the country. In 2018, the company also created a collection of bags using cork to raise money for an elephant orphanage in Vietnam. 

“As India’s only hand-painted folk art brand creating artisanal high-end handbags”, with the artists as the central heroes, Memeraki has expanded the platform for many of India’s folk artists by organizing art workshops in India and Hong Kong, and online art classes that can be accessed via Zoom from anywhere in the world. These online art classes not only provide the much-needed income for artists who come from very humble backgrounds and are further facing challenges due to the current lockdown but also give people the opportunity to learn from the masters themselves. The world may have adapted to Zoom, but for the artists living in India adapting to the technology has been an incredible accomplishment given the technological and infrastructural difficulties they face. Yosha facilitates each class herself, translating for the artists (since English is not their first language), and explaining the history of the art form being used while they paint. At just Rs.750 per class, learning from the masters in folk art has never been more affordable or accessible. With traditional Indian music playing softly in the background, the classes are truly unique in the experience they provide to the many participants joining from around the world.


Meet some of the Artists

KRISHNA TASHI PALMO
(Thangka Artist)
One of Meemraki’s most inspiring artists, Krishna learned art at the Tibetan traditional art school from 2006 to 2012 in Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul Spiti district.  Being one of the very few Thangka artists, Krishna despite her physical challenges (polio in both legs) continues to inspire everyone with her art and by teaching children at a local NGO in her town.

PRATIMA BHARTI and DK BHARTI
(Madhubani Artists)
The real-life couple and Madhubani artists Mr. and Mrs. Bharti both have distinctive styles for Madhubani art. They combine modern lines and geometric figures with traditional patterns.

APINDRA SWAIN 
(Pattachitra Artist)
Apindra Swain’s family has been painting for generations, and his dream is to continue using the Pattachitra art form in new and interesting ways. A resident of Raghurajpur, the village of Pattachitra artists in India, Apindra often experiments combining the art form with calligraphy and painting on modern household items.

ANIL VANGAD
(Warli Artist)

Anil Ji is one of the leading Adivasi Warli artists working with Meemraki, with over three generations of his family practicing the art form.  He still prefers to use the traditional mediums of gerua, rice paste, charcoal, and cow dung with the use of synthetic paints and dyes.

RIYAZ
(Kashmiri Artist)

Riyaz is a paper mache artist from Kashmir known as much for his philosophy in life as his artwork. Apart from painting on Memeraki’s wooden and leather bags, he is currently developing a paper mache collection of handbags as well for the company. 

RAJENDER SHARMA
(Miniature Artist)

Interested in art since the age of 10, Rajendra has now been a miniature artist for 25 years. Self-taught and the son of a legal draftsman, “Raju Ji” was inspired by all the beautiful art he saw in the city of Jaipur where he resides.

SAIKIRAN DHANALAKOTA
(Cheriyal Scroll Artist)

The DhanalaKota family is the last practicing family for Cheriyal Scroll art, and the 25-year-old artist SaiKiran shoulders the big responsibility of carrying forward this legacy. A 160-year-old Cheriyal scroll painted by his great-great-grandfather is exhibited in a museum in Paris to give you an idea of his family’s legacy. SaiKiran pursued a degree in fine arts to learn new art techniques to contemporaries the art and make it relevant in today’s times. 
 

VENKAT RAMAN SINGH SHYAM 
(Gond Artist)

Venkat Raman Singh Shyam was born into a Gond Pardhan family in Sejohra village of Madhya Pradesh and has since immersed himself into the art form for the last four decades. He learned to develop his own unique style and sees a lot of similarities between his work and that of Dali and Picasso. 

Yosha is the founder of a direct to customer artisanal fashion brand Memeraki (https://www.memeraki.com/ ). Memeraki has been created with the mission to reinvent and revive long lost arts with contemporary fashion, technology, and storytelling. They have been covered across media outlets like Forbes, SCMP, Tatler, Apple Daily and more. Yosha has spent 15 years in the FinTech sector and worked across Asia. She also works as an independent Digital Financial Inclusion Consultant with organisations like CGAP, World Bank Group, and the Financial Alliance for Women where she works on financial inclusion projects across Asia with a special focus on gender. She was also the Founder & CEO of a cashback app with more than 1 million downloads in India. They were backed by 500 Startups and Vectr Ventures and were also a part of Facebook’s FBStart program as well as Cyberport’s Startup program in Hong Kong. Yosha has an MSc in Finance from HKUST and an undergraduate degree in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She is also one of the cofounders of Indiatechhk (www.indiatechhk.com). Yosha was appointed to the Diversity List 2018 for Hong Kong, which aims to give ethnic minorities of Hong Kong a voice in decision making and policy, particularly in government advisory bodies. She was awarded ‘Most Influential Payments Professional’ by World BFSI Congress and Awards 2018, India.

Sign up for the online zoom classes directly from the Memeraki website- https://www.memeraki.com/

Written By Shikha S. Lamba With Yosha Gupta (Founder Memeraki)


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Memeraki Handbag Pictures by – Sujata Setia (www.butnaturalphotography.com)

25 thoughts on “Reviving And Reinventing Folk Art”

  1. Jodhpur and Rajasthan, in general, are known for their rich tradition of handicrafts, jewellery, textile art and also a beautiful art form called Sanjhi- paper cutting in different shapes and forms. Yosha must check it out at Alwar, a gentleman called Ram Soni who has won awards – is your man!

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback Angeline, will be sure to look him up. We are working with one Sanjhi artist in Mathura, its such a beautiful art!

  2. Thanks for introducing me to the wonderful world of Memeraki. The exceptional, far reaching work being done by the team, encompassing such a wide range of Indian art is commendable. Glad C&C is providing another platform and exposure. Very well researched and written, Shikha.

    1. Thank you so much Aunty. Your feedback always means a lot to me. I have been wanting to cover this brand for a long time. Yosha is very passionate about the arts and our culture, and she is constantly working to give more exposure to artists and singers from India.

    2. Thank you so much, that is such a lovely comment and keeps us motivated to keep going. And agree, Shikha writes beautifully 🙂

  3. Shikha, very well researched article. And you are making all this work known to others. Great jo. Keep it up. Love you and proud of you. Saw your other conversations. Attractive mix for many…well done !

  4. Such an amazing feature Shikha – love the details !! Super work job Yosha ( realised we share the same alumnus 😉 Keep sparkling girls !

  5. Great article Shikha. Well written. I love what Yosha and her brand does for the folk art people in India. Commendable!

      1. Always have admired Memerakis work from the beginning and Yosha kudos to you to get these talented artists and showcasing Indian art on the international platform !! So proud of you ! Shikha such a beautifully written article !! You are one talented lady I have met here ! So glad we did .. lots of succees to CnC !! All the best

        1. Thank you thank you my lovely ladies Dhara and Moushumi for always being such amazing evangelists . Yes, loved the article too, so beautifully written and captures our work so well.

  6. Such an enlightening article shikha really enjoyed reading it n leaving about the different works of art! Keep up the great work! Have a handbag I picked up online a couple of years back madhubani work could be memeraki don’t remember now!

    1. Thank you so much Nandita 🙂 Send me a picture and I’ll be able to tell if it’s a Memeraki bag 🙂

  7. Very informative Articles Shikha. I want to go through them more extensively. Get to learn so much more. Keep up the good work and Thank you for Sharing. Love you.

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