The thing about Maati Centre is that it takes more than one visit to truly understand all the wonderful things that are happening through this one venture. Located on Lamb Road, Guwahati, it is first and foremost one of the best places to get your hands on some of the most fascinating handicrafts and artwork in the city but is that all there is to it? The wonderful news is that this is just the beginning, Maati is also a space for young and creative minds to be themselves and showcase their work. It is also the place where city folk learn the stories of many deserving yet unnamed artisans across the region and the country for that matter.
The Birth of an Idea
The idea of starting a venture like Maati took shape 9 years ago when Rishi Raj Sarmah and his wife, Pabitra Lama Sarmah were travelling across villages in India. They realized that the uniqueness of each tribe or community was embedded in the local handicrafts. ‘With time, it became a research paper for us and we started visiting various NGOs and small groups who are engaged in developing a sustainable income though handmade products.’ They wanted to share the stories of these artisans with friends and neighbours back home which is why they started to bring back extra products, other than for their personal collection and started buying from them. When the demand increased, they could no longer accommodate all the customers in their home which compelled them to look for a shop.
‘In 2011, we started operating out of a small store in G S Road which was just a 50 sq ft area,’ revealed Rishi. But apart from selling handicrafts, they also wanted to provide a platform to support the alternate art and culture from the region. ‘We did a small survey in 2014 and met few independent artists and entrepreneurs who were prepared to go all out if they were provided with a transparent platform. That got us thinking and those ideas led to the birth of Maati Centre in February 2017.’ It is interesting to note that Maati Centre currently has ties with 70 organisations including NGOs as well as young artists and designers.
One thing that has helped Maati gain new fans every month is the lineup of interesting events. ‘There are mostly two types of activities which takes place in Maati. We invite artists from across India and get them to project their work. It is a personal interactive approach for the young generation to understand the importance of dreams and getting inspired. Young and aspiring visitors can ask the artist for guidance and working together is also a plausible option. These kinds of activities are mostly self-funded by Maati. On the other hand, we also organise exhibitions and other activities for which we need to manage minimum infrastructure like electricity, chairs, tables, sound system or projectors etc. We don’t charge anything just for managing the event, but if someone wants the infrastructure to showcase his/her work, then we charge a nominal amount to arrange the same.’
Maati team also doesn’t believe in the concept of the middleman which is why they do not make a cut when artistes hold exhibitions and their work is sold. ‘During a recent photography exhibition, an artist earned almost 16000 INR, and as per the rules laid down at Maati, we didn’t take any form of cut from the sales.’
The Road Ahead
Financially, Rishi has seen both cash inflow and outflow in the last 9 years. ‘We have survived without any bank loans or any government support, hence I don’t think funds will be a challenge to keep the Maati dream alive. We are also grateful to a large number of customers who stay abroad. They always order special gifts for Christmas and New Year.’
Maati will also be launching a new platform known as Maati Films very soon. ‘The whole project is under a young passionate filmmaker Akash Das. Maati films will be free for anyone who wants to use these stories for educational or research purpose, and also for artistes who want to use it as part of his/her project.’
Started an Art Movement in Majuli. Two villages towards Chitadharchuck have been adopted. They are building an art village wherein the houses will be painted by Neelim Mahanta. The idea is to tell the stories of the Mishing folk residing in Majuli.
Will be building eco toilets for the Mishing community. With the help of V S Shyam Kumar, a young IT student, they plan to put together a model which is made from bamboo and big water jars. One unit will cost around Rs 1300. These toilets will also be a source of income as outsiders will be charged a nominal amount to use the same.
Help develop a student’s hostel which is being run by a Mishing entrepreneur, Haren Da.
Start a small art gallery at Chitadharchuck which will support local stories and other activities for attracting tourists.
Setting up a children’s library at Chitadharchuck.
Working with farmers and trying to set up a simple industry in Dima Hasao district which will promote homegrown produce.
By Meeta Borah
This feature was published in Eclectic Northeast April 2018 issue