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  • Trails and Tales of Terracotta in Africa: From Nok Sculptures to Present-day Ceramic Arts

    Terracotta, also known as terra-cotta in Latin, which simply means ‘baked earth’, is a brownish-red material often used in ornamental architecture and sculpting or in making earthenware. The beauty of this medium is synonymous with its unique shades of brown and malleability. It has stood the test of time with a firm footing in the past, present and even in the foreseeable future. The origin of terracotta can be traced back to prehistoric times. Venus of Dolby Vestonice, the oldest known terracotta sculpture in the world was found in 26,000 BCE-24,000 BCE. It was discovered under a layer of ash on a palaeolithic encampment in Moravia or the present-day Czech Republic. You'll find terracotta's presence in countries like China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and India. An Enigma Called Nok Traversing the trails and travails through time, it is with awe that I look at Africa, which looms in large as another remarkable destination of change for terracotta. I Googled it up and came across some thousand sources surrounding the enigmatic phrase ‘Nok Culture’. Some three or four images of terracotta head sculptures too captured my attention. Discovered first in modern-day Nigeria by Colonel Dent Young in 1928, Nok sculptures are named after the village where they were found. An archaeologist, Bernard Fagg, later found more of these terracotta sculptures in the town of Jos in Northern Nigeria. These sculptures are believed to be from 1500 BCE-500 BCE. They feature human figures with long heads, almond-shaped eyes and elaborate hairstyles similar to those worn by some Nigerians even today. Many figures even portray common human emotions and experiences, including love, music, sickness and war. Not to mention, Fagg also found quite a lot of jewellery and utensils. Though artists from the Iron Age mostly indulged in creating iron sculptures, terracotta earned popularity after the Nok people of western Nigeria began creating figurines out of clay. The Igbo culture of eastern Nigeria then followed the practice as it gradually spread across sub-Saharan Africa. Clay that holds clues to the history Essentially, the Nok sculptures encourage scholars to believe that an older tradition may have preceded the terracotta art in Nigeria. They also suggest a relationship to the later arts, such as the Ife terracotta sculptures of the Yoruba culture from 500 BCE. While evidence shows that the Nok sculptures were made for more than 500 years, their style remained consistent. This is strange as typically, stylistic changes are to be expected since it is a creative object that was being replicated by artisans across different generations. Mystery behind the craft In the absence of any evidence of a centralised workshop, the only conclusion is that these sculptures may have been made by wandering craftsmen. This sprinkles more enigma on the astonishing uniformity of these sculptures. Speculations lead us to believe that these sculptures were supplied across human settlements. These sculptures were perhaps images of a deity or they may have had a specific but now obsolete purpose. More space for curiosity, yes. It is quite difficult to understand how and why these head sculptures were created. Based on hypothetical shreds of evidence, scholars and archaeologists of the 21st century continue to study them. Production of Nok sculptures today Scouring through the internet, I stumbled on an artist named Audu Washi from Jos in Nigeria, who makes perfect copies of Nok terracotta sculptures. He spends his time making Nok terracotta, which includes figurines of other styles such as Sokoto and Ife. A peek into his method of making Nok figurines reveals a bigger picture of the original method, though with room for differences. He starts off by sourcing the clay from the Nok region, some 100 km from his village Miango, which according to Audu Washi has a ‘shine-shine’ to it. The clay is pre-treated by adding specific components, including ground stones from alluvial deposits, muscovite, and coarse feldspar fragments. The ingredients are then left in a dry plastic bag in a dampened state. Next, he models the clay figurine starting from its base. Audu Washi never starts with his head as parts above the bottom are placed step by step. He uses a multifunctional tool that could be far from the original tools used in the process: A 1-cm-thick wooden stick with a slanted point. Using the pointed end of the stick, the artist presses it into the clay and smoothens out the surface. He then occasionally makes all kinds of incisions and grooves to create patterns on the clay. Washi adds that using iron tools such as a knife could be too sharp to create the soft contours on the figurines. It takes some two to three hours for Washi to finish one sculpture before it is sun-dried for four to five days. It is later baked at a temperature of 600-800 degrees centigrade. They take on a beautiful brownish-orange colour after the firing process. One thing to bear in mind now is that these sculptures may not be water-resistant unless glazed. Terracotta in present-day Africa In West Africa, pottery has been for social, utilitarian and religious purposes. Whereas in eastern Nigeria, terracotta or ceramic pots have been used as musical instruments among the Igbo, Ibibo and Kalabari communities. Before the advent of pipe-borne water and refrigerators, terracotta pots were used for cooling and storing water. Even now, in some societies, palm wine or local beer is brewed in huge pots buried halfway in holes dug in the ground. In some cultures, such as the Dakakari in Northwestern Nigeria and the Akan in Ghana, pottery sculptures are used in rituals for the dead. They make terracotta heads that become the focal point during funerals, a tradition that is thought to be more than three centuries old. These terracotta heads, buried near the grave of the deceased, are considered a medium of exchange between the living and the dead. Similarly, among the Ashanti people in Ghana, sacred pots are used by the bereaved family. The practice of using terracotta to make sculptures, and utensils etc. has continued into the 21st century, perhaps minus the passion and predestined purpose. Today, there are hundreds of Nok sites that face the threat of illegal excavation. You can find two of the ancient Nok sculptures at the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art. Pottery, a gendered art in Africa? Though the introduction of Western concepts of art and culture has affected contemporary African art, pottery as an art form has demonstrated resilience, synthesis and flexibility. Pottery, with few exceptions like Audu Washi, is made by women in traditional African societies and dominated by women. However, only a few scholars have considered women to be the creators of the figurative ceramic sculptures, including the Nok sculptures, discovered across the savanna. Due to the gender biases that often correlate men’s art as ‘high’ over women’s ‘low’ craft, men are conveniently presumed the creators of these works. Such production by women can construct new social and cultural meanings. But for some reason, it is hard to find names of women etched into the historical records related to Nok terracotta sculptures too. However, terracotta and ceramic arts are standard art subjects today to make them more accessible and laudable in the world of art. Conclusion Terracotta in Africa is synonymous with the Nok Culture that existed for some 500 years and mysteriously disappeared from the face of the planet. Archaeological readings suggest that the use of terracotta in Africa may have originated around the same time as the Iron Age. However, we also get a sneak-peek into the ancient life and practices of the Nok people. Pottery in contemporary Africa today is thus one of the most practical of arts, that provides in concept and physically an excellent testament to the changes over time. References was also popular in,(1000-500 BCE)..)

  • Greening Your Home: Top 10 Easy-to-Grow Indoor Plants for Beginner Plant Parents

    Everyone longs for a space of their own. When children build blanket forts and play home under desks and tables they are catering to this intrinsic desire to have a space of one's own. What about sharing this space with our favourite plant babies? How tantalizing. This is probably because the very process of caring for them is a step into the adult world. But taking care of plants is not an easy task for beginners. One has to take up the role of a parent, which we all know can be both rewarding and exhausting. Yet with some effort, love and care, a mini jungle can be created in every home. Like the wisest among us say, “Take it one step at a time”. Numerous plants can get along well with new plant parents. All you need to do is smartly choose these plants which adapt to any environment and demand minimum resources and care from us. Pothos Often grown in homes as Money plants, Pothos are an extraordinarily adaptable species which is believed to have originated from the Polynesian forests. Their association with financial luck has made them a popular choice for plant lovers. Furthermore, the ease of taking care of them and the variety of hues and patterns they come in have solidified their position as the plant parent's favourite child. Light: Pothos plants can tolerate a range of light conditions, but they do best in bright, indirect light. They can also thrive in low light, but their growth may be slower. Direct sunlight should be avoided, as it can scorch the leaves. Water: Watering once a week is sufficient. But frequency may vary depending on the temperature, humidity and pot size. Fertilizer: Pothos plants do not require frequent fertilization, but they can benefit from occasional feeding during the growing season. A balanced, water-soluble fertilizer can be applied every 2-3 months. It is important not to over-fertilize the plant, as this can lead to root burn and damage. Monstera deliciosa Monstera deliciosa is lovingly named after its monster-sized leaves. The perforation on the mature leaves of the plant is often likened to the holes in Swizz cheese, giving it the name Swizz cheese plant. In China, they are believed to be a symbol of longevity and are grown in honour of the elderly in the family. From the tropical forests of southern Mexico, Monstera has found its way into homes around the globe. Water: Monstera plants generally prefer well-draining soil that is kept evenly moist but not waterlogged. Water the plant when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Light: Monstera plants thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. They can tolerate some direct sunlight in the morning or evening, but too much direct sunlight can scorch their leaves. It's best to place them near a window with filtered or diffused sunlight, or a few feet away from a bright window. Fertilizer: A balanced, water-soluble fertilizer can be applied every two weeks. It's important not to over-fertilize, as this can cause burn on the leaves. Snake Plants Snake plants have long vertical leaves with a pattern of alternating dark green, grey, and light green. These plants got their name due to the resemblance their sharp and stiff leaves have to snakes. They have attained worldwide fame for their air-purifying property. As a harbinger of luck and positivity, Snake plants are a regular sight in the homes of spiritually tuned individuals. Water: Snake plants can tolerate dry conditions. It is better to water them thoroughly and infrequently ( once in 2 to 4 weeks)while allowing the soil to completely dry out in between the sessions. Light: they can adapt to various light conditions. If kept in bright indirect sunlight they might grow faster but they can thrive in low lights as well. Fertilizer: Although Snake plants can benefit from organic fertilizers like compost and worm casting, they do not require frequent fertilizing. It is recommended to fertilize them once or twice a year. Peace lily symbolising purity, prosperity and enlightenment, Peace lilies have blossomed in homes across nations. With its dark green leaves and white flowers, it brightens the aura of any space it's placed within. These highly symbolic plants are also excellent air purifiers. Water: Peace lilies prefer moist but not waterlogged soil. It is important to allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so it's better to err on the side of underwatering rather than overwatering. Light: Peace lilies thrive in bright, indirect light, but can also tolerate low light conditions. However, if placed in bright spaces, they tend to bloom more. Fertilizer: Peace lilies require fertilization every 6-8 weeks in spring and summer. It is important not to over-fertilize them as it can lead to salt build-up in the soil and cause damage to the roots. Spider plants As a very forgiving plant that does not take to heart the occasional mistakes of their clumsy owners, Spider plants have taken over the hearts of many. Their ribbon-like leaves in different shades of green droop around the edge of the container resembling the legs of a spider. Water requirements: Spider plants prefer to be evenly moist but not waterlogged. They can tolerate periods of dryness, but it's best to keep the soil consistently moist. However, overwatering can cause root rot. Light: They can survive in low-light environments, however, they prefer bright light. So if we want to place them inside our house, they can be kept near a window, so that they can receive a few hours of sunlight. Fertilizer: They don't require frequent replenishing, but they can be fertilized in summer and spring with organic manure. Make sure to dilute the fertilizer to prevent over-fertilisation. Aloe vera Aloe vera can be found almost in every house. The aloe gel within the plant is often considered the sacred blood that holds secrets to immortality, beauty and health. Ancient Greeks believe this plant could cure everything from baldness to insomnia. They also purify the air around us by wiping out toxic gases. Water: Aloe vera is a succulent plant that can survive periods of drought. Therefore, it is important not to over-water it. Watering is necessary only when the plant is completely dry as the plant itself has enough water content, there are chances it will rot. Light: Aloe vera can thrive in bright but indirect sunlight. A south-facing window is hence a good spot for the plant Frequently changing the position of the plant can harm the plant. It cannot withstand fluctuations. Fertilizer: It can grow even in poor soil conditions, but adding fertilizer to it once in two months can help in promoting the growth of leaves (the most beneficial part). Aglaonema Aglaonema comes in varieties- with a blend of pink and green leaves, white and green, and dark green. With vibrant colour combinations and captivating patterns, they are loved by all. Also known as Chinese evergreens, they are also considered luck-bringing plants in certain parts of Asia. Water: Aglaonema prefers to be kept slightly moist, but not too wet. It is best to let the top inch of soil dry out before watering again. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so be sure to use a well-draining soil mix and avoid letting the plant sit in standing water. Light: They prefer bright and indirect sunlight. Too much exposure to the sun may lead to wilting of the leaves. Fertilizer: They can be fed with fertilizers during the spring and the summer. However, doing the same during the winter can slow down the growth process. Jade These plants with tiny leaves belong to the succulent family and can have a long life span if they are taken care of properly. They are also known as fortune plant or money tree. In Feng Shui, the plant is said to be the symbol of consistency. According to Vastu, the jade plant, also known as the wealth plant or money plant, will bring wealth and good luck if placed in the southeast corner of the house. Water: The jade plant is a succulent that needs infrequent watering to thrive. The leaves of the plant retain water and become swollen with dark edges when overwatered. If the leaves bend when you squeeze them it's time to water them. Do not retain from watering till the leaves become wrinkled. Light: They need a lot of sunlight. The plant will thank you if you keep it near the southeast-facing window of your house. An inadequate amount of sunlight will affect the growth of the plant. Fertiliser: Adding fertilizers once a month is more than enough for the plant. Repotting the plants after two to three years can be considered as the plant grows rapidly. ZZ plant Also known as Zanzibar gems because of their shiny leaves ZZ plants are one of the easiest plants to grow at home. It sometimes gets mistaken as an artificial plant due to its flawless dark green leaves. They can also survive droughts due to their rhizomes that is a store-house of water. They are slow growers with individual leaves having a lifespan of about 6 months. Water: They are drought-tolerant plants, and thus they don’t mind even if you underwater them. However, while growing indoors, we can check if the soil has no water, and can water accordingly. Their thick rhizomes make them resilient to dry conditions. Light: ZZ plants can tolerate low to moderate light conditions and can even grow in artificial light. However, they prefer bright, indirect light for optimal growth. Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves, so it's best to keep them in a shaded or partially shaded spot. Fertilizer: They do not need fertilizers, however, they can also be fed while you are feeding your other plants. It would just increase their growth pace, which is already fast. Rubber plants People used to the large Rubber trees growing in plantations, might be surprised that they are easy-to-grow indoor plants. One of the interesting characteristics of this plant is that its leaves change their shapes in different stages of life, unlike other leaves with the same shape throughout their life. Water: They want their soil to be moist, but they are not very happy when they are bombarded with a lot of water. Light: They prefer low light. Bright indirect light is very suitable for them. Too much sunlight can be damaging to the plant. Fertilizer: They do not need fertilizers to thrive. But if you are planning to add some fertilizers, you can do that doing the summer. The plant would like if the fertilizer is added in a diluted form. In conclusion, indoor plants not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of your home but also improve air quality and promote a sense of calmness. As a beginner, it is important to choose low-maintenance plants and pay attention to their watering, lighting, and fertilizing requirements. By selecting any of the top ten indoor plants discussed in this article, you can kickstart your indoor gardening journey with ease and experience the numerous benefits that come with it.

  • Crafting a Better Future: The Untold Struggles of India's Handicraft Artisans

    The history of India's handicrafts dates back almost 5000 years. The country's rich cultural heritage and centuries of evolutionary tradition are manifested by the huge variety of handicrafts. Indian handicrafts mirror their makers' identity, further adding to the charms of this beautiful nation. Although Indian handicrafts are gaining attention on a global level, the artisans who create these pieces are facing numerous challenges that threaten their livelihoods and the survival of their craft. Let's take a closer look at these obstacles faced by Indian artisans and their handicraft production. Lack of market linkages Although crafts are gaining popularity among sophisticated city dwellers, the majority of the artisans depend on the local market to earn their living. This lack of access to buyers is a major obstacle that forces craftsmen to sell their products at lower prices. They often struggle to earn decent wages despite working long hours in poor conditions. This causes them to lose trust in their craft, whereas the middlemen who pop up to exploit this situation sell their goods at a high price point. To combat this issue, a way to improve market linkages is by connecting artisans directly with buyers or providing them access to online marketplaces. Additionally, government initiatives such as the National Handicraft Development Programme and the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design aim to support artisans through training, funding, and market access. Limited Access to Technology Technology has been a driving force for several sectors in recent years. Unfortunately, Indian artisans are still missing from online marketplaces. The high logistical cost and digital know-how hinder their ability to connect with potential customers and expand their businesses through e-commerce. If they learn to properly utilise the internet, these craftsmen could ensure themselves year-round wages while surpassing middlemen who exploit them. To address this issue, there have been various efforts to provide technology access to artisans. The government has launched initiatives such as the Digital India program, which aims to increase the use of ICT in rural areas. There are also non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide technology training and support to artisans. Some private companies have also created online marketplaces to connect artisans with customers worldwide, providing them access to technology and a wider market. Despite these efforts, many artisans still face significant barriers to accessing and utilizing technology. More investment in technology infrastructure and training programs is needed to help Indian artisans fully realize the benefits of technology and compete in the global handicraft market. Limited Financial Resources Indian handicraft industry generally suffers greatly from a lack of working capital and access to loan and credit facilities. In general, this forces artisans to borrow from local money lenders at high-interest rates thereby beginning their difficulties with money. Microfinance institutions have been established to provide financial assistance to artisans. These institutions offer low-interest loans, savings programs, and training in financial management to help artisans improve their financial situation. In addition, several NGOs and government programs have been established to provide financial support to Indian artisans. These initiatives aim to provide financial assistance, training, and market linkages to help artisans improve their livelihoods. Some of these initiatives include the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), and the Ministry of Textiles. These initiatives play a crucial role in providing financial assistance and support to Indian artisans, helping them to sustain their craft and improve their livelihoods. Lack of Skill Development and Training Indian artisans have inherited their skills from their ancestors, but the lack of formal training hinders their ability to innovate and keep up with changing consumer demands. Moreover, the absence of proper training leads to poor-quality products and low productivity. Without regular upskilling and reskilling, artisans find it hard to change with changing times and sustain their livelihood. Training can not only help artisans acquire new skills and techniques but also provide them with business management knowledge, which is essential to run a successful enterprise. NGOs and government organizations are working to provide training programs to artisans in rural areas. These programs include technical training, marketing, financial management, and entrepreneurship. Efforts have also been made to integrate traditional knowledge with modern technology to develop new products and designs that appeal to a wider audience. Competition with mass-produced products With the rise of industrialization, machines have replaced traditional methods of production. As a result, mass-produced products are flooding the market at lower prices, making it difficult for artisans to sell their products at rates that value their labour. This leads to a decline in the demand for handmade products and a loss of income for the artisans. To address this issue, there are possible solutions that can help Indian artisans. One solution is to promote handmade products and educate consumers about their significance. Another solution is to help artisans create a narrative around their craft thus generating interest and keeping it relevant in the market. Additionally, communicating the value of handmade products in international markets can increase demand and help to sustain the industry. The decline in demand for handmade products has also led to a loss of traditional skills and knowledge, passed down from generation to generation. From lack of market linkages to competition with mass-produced products, these challenges continue to threaten the survival of this rich cultural heritage. It is imperative that we support these artisans by providing access to technology, promoting fair trade practices, and recognizing the value of handmade products.

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