In Maharashtra's Golavali village, a farmer-artist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art

Sharmila Kinjalkar is a farmer, agricultural labourer and a self-taught craftswoman in rural Maharashtra who is turning items of trash into things like lanterns, garlands and dormats

Sanket Jain February 01, 2019 09:21:40 IST
In Maharashtra's Golavali village, a farmer-artist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art
  • Sharmila Kinjalkar is a farmer, agricultural labourer and a self-taught craftswoman who is turning items of trash into things like lanterns, garlands and dormats

  • A resident of the Golavali village in the Sangameshwar taluka of Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, she creates unique solutions to their problems using her crafts.

  • Her family continues to struggle to make ends meet, and since she is not very educated, she finds it difficult to determine prices for her products.

  • Apart from the community's admiration, she has earned the pride of her parents too, who have praised her for exploring her talent amid poverty.

This story is part of a series on the everyday heroes of rural Maharashtra.

For Sharmila Kinjalkar, art was never an accident. She calls it an experiment at which she keeps failing again and again, until something creative comes out of it. “Art always stays alive. Once you start working on it, things begin to happen,” is her answer to all hurdles. Forty-year-old Kinjalkar is a farmer, agricultural labourer and a self-taught craftswoman who converts items thrown away as trash into artistic designs and solves the everyday problems of the villagers.

Poverty inspired her to become an artist. After dropping out of Class Six because of financial constraints, she would work as a mazdoor at railway and road construction sites to support her family.

A resident of the Golavali village in the Sangameshwar taluka of Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, Kinjalkar is known today as a ‘farmer-artist’ in her basti (Kinjalkarwadi). It all started in the late 90s when she was making a gajra [a garland of flowers worn in the hair]. “On an impulse, I decided to make one without using any thread. It was challenging, but I eventually succeeded at it,” she recollects with a smile. That’s when Kinjalkar decided to further explore the world of art.

In Maharashtras Golavali village a farmerartist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art

Four different sizes of petals are used to make one artificial flower. All photographs by the author

Creating, designing, improvising

After observing the problems of the people, she decided to use items of trash as one of the most important materials in her art objects. She stitches doormats and mattress, crafts artificial flowers for fellow women farmers, designs lanterns and flower stands using rice stalk, and uses micron thread, both old and new, to craft rakhis, and wool for door hangings.

The Kinjalkar family cultivates paddy once a year. “I always wondered if rice husk and rice stalk could be used to make something,” she says. Once, she picked up the unthreshed rice stalk. “I started wrapping it around a disc (made from tin wire). After numerous attempts, I figured out the way to craft a lantern.” People always ask her about how she makes them from rice stalk. To date, she has crafted more than 30 lanterns of different dimensions. “A lot of people ask me to give these lanterns for free. In such cases, I teach them and ask them to craft lanterns on their own.”

Now, she has brought down the time taken to make each lantern to just an hour and a half. She now preserves the rice stalk for a year and continues to craft different types of lanterns. “If you thresh and winnow this lantern, you will get rice,” she says, laughingly. Recently, she also made a flower stand from the rice stalks. “That’s the beauty of art. You keep improvising,” she says.

Five years ago, Kinjalkar saw a young girl in her village trying to create something using an old sari. “She told me how old saris can be used to make doormats,” she recollects. Fascinated by the idea, she failed numerous times while designing one for herself. Now, she uses two six-yard-long saris to make a doormat. “It’s just like braiding hair. You just need to stitch these braids carefully,” she tells me. A lot of women give her saris and pay only Rs 50 for a doormat. “It takes at least six hours to make one. How can Rs 50 do justice to my labour?” she asks.

In Maharashtras Golavali village a farmerartist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art

Stitching loops into saris is one of the most tedious parts of making a doormat

One of the most arduous processes is stitching a six-feet-long mattress using old saris. “It takes at least 20 saris to make one mattress,” she says. “People don’t believe that the mattress is made of old, rejected saris.” She finds this amusing and elaborates on how reusing old things is fascinating, and inspires her to keep experimenting more.

Kinjalkar thanks her fellow women farmers and labourers, who taught her new crafts and spoke about different ideas. In the early 2000s, one of the woman ironsmiths (a seasonal migrant) taught her how to design artificial flowers. “She showed me how to make a petal. Immediately after I got back home, I tried and made different varieties of flowers,” she says proudly. But these flowers left her confused. What use could these flowers be put to? Her observation skills eventually gave her an answer: “A lot of women wear flowers in their hair. Natural flowers lose their freshness quickly, and that’s when I decided to make artificial flowers.” Today, a lot of women farmers come to her house and buy them for Rs 10 each.

Speaking about how she experimented and learned new art forms, she says, “It’s simple. You just have to twist and turn thread and see what works.” Using the coloured woolen thread, she makes torans (garlands to be hung outside doors). It takes at least ten hours to make one toran. Kinjalkar’s idea is to design every possible object that she uses in her everyday life. This drove her to make a garland out of cotton to be offered in temples. “A lot of priests from the nearby temples now ask me to make garlands and lanterns,” she says.

In Maharashtras Golavali village a farmerartist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art

To date, Kinjalkar has crafted more than 30 lanterns using rice stalk and husk

Practising art has not always been easy for her. “Sometimes, she works till midnight. If she decides that she has to work on her art, then no one can stop her,” says her son Ravindra. She makes sure that she devotes at least an hour to her art everyday. Her mother-in-law says that art has become an inherent part of their house now.

She tries to add colour to festivals with her crafts. Making one rakhi takes 25 minutes; she uses old and new coloured micron thread. “People pay me only Rs 5 for each Rakhi, but I feel grateful that my art is reaching villages,” she explains.

Art amid adversity

“People ask me to give away my crafts for free. Being humane matters a great deal to me, so I have have given many of my artworks for free. I am not very educated, so I don’t know how I should determine their prices,” she explains.

In Maharashtras Golavali village a farmerartist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art

Some of the flowers Kinjalkar has made

She works as a farmer and an agricultural labourer in other’s fields. She leaves for the field at eight in the morning and leaves only at six in the evening. “Not many women want to learn these art forms because of the strenuous agriculture labour they do,” she explains. “Even if I don’t get money for this now, I make these things to keep the art form alive.”

Her husband, Shankar, who is in his mid-40s, works as a farmer in the Golavali village. To make ends meet, he moves to Mumbai for four months every year and works as a labourer, building tents. Her sons, Ravindra, 17 and Omkar, 13, are both studying now, and they help her with designing the rakhis.

Inspiring the community

School teachers in the nearby villages of Rajwadi, Aravali, Dhamani, Dhamapur, Tarf, and Sangameshwar have invited her to conduct workshops on reusing trash. “It’s interesting to see how children learn these skills quickly. They keep creating interesting things whenever I meet them,” she says. One of the challenges before Kinjalkar is that she is unable to find the time to take sessions in far off villages.

In Maharashtras Golavali village a farmerartist is inspiring her community to turn scrap into art

Kinjalkar has not restricted herself to one craft. She keeps experimenting to come up with new ideas

“My parents are proud of me. I'm practising this art form while battling poverty. That’s what they appreciate about me,” she says with a wide grin. Her mother, Sunita and father, Laxman Bhadvalkar, both in their late 60s, work as tenant farmers in the nearby Rajwadi village.

“If I could sell all of my artwork in one place, then I could earn some money from it,” she says. She brings a set of old tin wires and talks about her dream of reusing them. “Next, I will convert these hard wires into some design. That’s my dream now,” she says with a smile.

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