Trash to Treasure

Sculptor Ashish Ghosh’s repurposing skills force us to rethink and look at the junk in another light as the upcycled stuff becomes even cooler than the original, says Jimmy Arora

We all have stuff that no longer serves any purpose around the house, but we still have trouble getting rid of it. Either it’s “still OK”, or “might come in handy” or just holds some sentimental value to it. In extreme cases, this might lead to hoarding, but if you’re creative enough, you can solve the problem by repurposing, upcycling and reusing your old things. Besides serving a purpose (again), repurposed items add this lovely touch of creativity and coziness to the space. Heck, most of the time, upcycled things become even cooler than they originally were. Assistant Professor Ashish Ghosh, who teaches product designing at the prestigious Visva-Bharati University at Bolpur, West Bengal, is one such person who loves giving a new and useful twist to those items that are virtually fit to throw. For example, a simple dholki (a small drum) turns into a sitting table and a bunch of iron chhalnis (sieve) is transformed into a magnificent lamp. Ghosh, 46, who has a diploma in woodwork and a BFA and MFA in sculpture, operates out of his art workshop, Mrittika, at Bidhadhorpur, Santiniketan, around 200 km from Kolkata. Started in 2005, his workshop spread over an acre of land first dealt with making crockery and art objects from ceramics before he hit upon the idea of remodelling items. “I felt we could create an additional market for these items and it would eventually benefit their producers and sellers,” he says. “We come across several things in our daily lives that we think are meant for single use only. Our changing tastes also make us discard stuff for seemingly better products. We are trying to remodel them to create their demand again. Who would have thought that a dholki could be turned into a sitting table and a gourd into a hanging lamp?” he chuckles. Ghosh, who was always fascinated with the idea of doing something new from old items since his childhood, claims his workshop is the first in the country which has taken up such a rare initiative. He says that he has been able to provide employment to local youth by training them for the work. “We have chosen only local youth for the work because we wanted to create employment for them. Several of them, who have been successfully trained by us are free to start their own work,” he adds. The sculptor says that the concept was innovative but it was difficult to convince people in the beginning. “People laughed at me when I told them about my initiative. They thought it was not possible to refurbish things like dholki and even branches of palm tree into something new. But I was determined to achieve my goal and I’m happy that such items are now available in the market.” Ghosh says that a normal dholki sells for Rs 1200, while after converting into a sitting table it fetches much more. A hanging lamp made out of a gourd sells for Rs 1500, he informs. “Our efforts have also benefitted the producers as it has created additional market for them and have increased their sales.  We now get lot of orders for our innovative products,” he says. Sunit Halder, a farmer in Birbhum district, commended his efforts of making new products out of vegetables and other items. “We have been growing gourd for a long time, but our market is limited. We hardly knew that it could be put to a different use other than consumption. His initiative would definitely go a long in giving us a fresh market and obviously more income.”

But Mrittika is not just all this. For sculpture enthusiasts in India and abroad, his work is a treat for the eyes. Several laurels have also come his way. The Beijing Olympic Committee awarded him in 2008 for his outstanding artwork “Nest” depicting the theme that the world makes a home inside a single nest. Ghosh had submitted a 50-cm model to the Olympic Committee and the mantra was central to Nobel laureate Rabindraunath Tagore’s world view that shaped the poet’s view of Santiniketan.  This was, however, not his first participation in an Olympic art endeavor. In 2004, he went to Athenes, Greece, for making a sculpture he named Crisis for the Olympics. The world highlighted the critical issue of drinking water in third world countries.  His ‘Splendour’ was shortlisted among 2,800 works of 1,203 artists from 62 nations to be selected for display at the International Competition for Contemporary Ceramic Art 2002-2003 at Florence, Italy. Closer home, his works can be seen at a five-star hotel in Kolkata in the form of a floating structure titled, ‘Man and Earth.’ The reflection in the water reflects the drama of life. “Nowadays, I have tied-up with architects who install my work at luxury hotels and even in high-end houses,” he says.

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This is a great example of how art museums can engage with the 99% (and potentially get gov't funding for their work) while rejecting a 1% mindset. Museums are places of healing, community, and many other things. Not just rich people's baubles.

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