We have opened doors that were previously shut to talented and young Mithila artists in Bihar,” says Dr Parmeshwar Jha, president of the Mithila Art Institute (MAI) in Madhubani, Bihar. Established in 2002, MAI is an attempt to breathe new life into the traditional art form of Mithila paintings.
To add a relevant contemporary touch to this gorgeous, traditional art form, MAI’s parent company, the Ethnic Arts Foundation (EAF), launched three websites on November 14. Mithilartinstitute (.org) is the official MAI website. Mithilapainting (.org) aims to give people a closer look at the art form and talks about the EAF in detail, while Mithilapaintings-eaf (.org) is dedicated to the travelling exhibition of Mithila paintings organised by the EAF.
The EAF was set up in 1980 by American anthropologist, Raymond Owens, to deal with issues that plagued Mithila art such as the refusal by the younger generation to take up the art, domination of the market by only a few families, and exploitation of artists by dealers. After Owens passed away, the MAI has continued his legacy.
Dr Jha says, “Our US-based colleague and Mithila art expert, Peter Zirnis developed these websites. The MAI site has been launched exclusively so that we can showcase our students’ work to the world. This is a platform for our students to sell their work, too. Paintings have no geographical borders and can be loved universally.”
The MAI website has a range of work by its students and graduates along with a note on their achievements. It also showcases locals and the art they practice on a daily basis at home. An entire section labelled ‘New Directions’ is dedicated to ‘non-traditional’ subjects like women’s oppression, female foeticide, corruption and discrimination.
The website is just picking up, but the MAI has already chosen to go to the next level. Dr Jha explains that in January, Zirnis, who is on the board of the EAF, will come down to teach the students and administrators how to run the website. The students will also be encouraged to set up their own websites to sell their paintings independently.
Dr Jha says, “We conduct open examinations for over 400 students every year. They appear for a four-hour exam where they have to draw subjects spontaneously suggested by master artists. Of these, we select 35-40 students for a one-year course. In the second year, we invite eight or nine students from the previous batch to attend the course.” MAI does not charge a fee from students to pass on techniques of the Mithila paintings and to hone their skills. Second year students receive a stipend of Rs 500.