I was fortunate enough while in Mumbai to be present for a yearly outdoor art and craft exhibit called the Kala Ghoda Festival. It is held in Colaba, just a short walk from either train station, and features artists and artisans from all over India, as far away as Sikkim and Tamil Nadu. I went to the festival with two friends in the evening and was so impressed that I returned the next day while doing other things in Colaba.

The festival is a good balance of art and craft. The outer perimeter of the fairgrounds is lined with booths of artisans showing off their work. Most of these sellers have ‘No Photography’ signs posted in their booths, and unfortunate but understandable demand for these masters of their crafts. Inside the ring of craftspeople are dozens of art installations, some functional, some interactive, and pretty much all attention-grabbing.

Art at the Kala Ghoda Festival

The festival attracts artisans with high quality goods who use the opportunity to showcase their work to business buyers as well as sell to interested festival attendees. Many of the sellers are online in some form, even if just an email address. Some of them list websites on their business cards, and a few of them advertise that they ship internationally.

Like so many things in India, the crafts are all handmade. The great thing about the Kala Ghoda festival is that the people at the booths are the very people who make the crafts they are selling, or at the very least they are the owners of the products and managers of the craftspeople who make the crafts. There is a certain sense of intimate authenticity that can’t be mistaken or easily faked when interacting with people and their life’s work, and I felt that when talking to some of the artisans at the festival.

The most impressive craftwork that I saw at the festival was actually the wicker sellers from Dheli. Their work was just…solid. They focus on small baskets and containers, from maybe a foot across up to three feet across, mostly in circular shapes. There was just something magnetic about their products that drew people in. The wicker was a beautiful golden yellow, more rich in color than most wickers, that shone the color of late summer corn. The weaving was authoritatively simple, the courses of wicker lining up in angles that were almost too good to be done by hand, exposing the mastery of the creators over their craft. The strength of the wicker combined with superlative build quality made these pieces impossibly strong, as though the walls were glued and pinned with invisible fasteners and adhesives. This strength was clearly and emphatically demonstrated by the artisans selling them by standing on top of a display model and kicking it around the stall floor. Some of the baskets were topped with thin rings of metal, not so flashy that they steal attention from the wicker, and not so subtle that the metal is lost to the wood. The baskets were shaped in a small variety of well thought out designs, all functional, from serving platters and shallow bowls to fruit baskets and small all purpose cans.

I would never in my wildest dreams have thought that I would be genuinely moved by wicker. But I was. Unfortunately the sellers were not open to photography and of course I honored their wishes, so no pictures :(.

The one thing that rubbed me wrong about the festival was the festival’s name and, more importantly, its historical significance. Kala Ghoda translates to ‘Black Horse’ in Hindi. The Black Horse in question is, or was, that ridden by King Henry VII, first Tudor King of England. I’m not the biggest fan of colonialism, neither old nor today (yes, it’s still there, stronger than ever) and it just left a bad taste in my mouth. The reign of King Henry VII laid some of the groundwork to usher in the dawn of British Colonialism across the planet, with India eventually being a focal point in Britain’s colonial intrigue. I suppose that’s another post for another day which I will probably never write ;).

Enjoy more pictures in the photo galleries of the 2014 Kala Ghoda festival here and here.

Cheers,

Nathan