How Artisan Maina Devi Became India’s Only Loewe Foundation Craft Prize Finalist

Maina Devi and her rug - 'Lehrata-Khet'
Maina Devi and her rug - 'Lehrata-Khet'Jaipur Rugs

The art space is infamous for its politicization and a tendency to favour elitist commentary on social dynamics. In countries like India, where the class divide is stark, craft is typically associated with specific regions and communities intertwined in socio-economic realities, and has struggled to break through the barriers preventing it from reaching the upper echelons of the art world. However, amidst this landscape, Maina Devi, an artisan from Rajasthan, has defied the odds as a finalist for the prestigious Loewe Foundation Craft Prize.

The Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, established by the Loewe family, serves as a platform to recognize artisans worldwide who exemplify exceptional skills in creating objects that seamlessly blend aesthetic and artisanal value. The foundation's mission is to foster creativity, support educational programs, and safeguard heritage across various artistic disciplines. By celebrating the contributions of craft to contemporary culture, the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize has become a prestigious event for artists and artisans around the globe.

The only entry from India this year, Maina Devi's, 'Lehrata-Khet', breathes new life into an ancient carpet-making tradition that originated 2,400 years ago in Rajasthan, India.While this time-honoured practice has gradually been overshadowed by the rise of the commercial rug industry, Maina's handwoven creation stands as a testament to the enduring beauty and value of traditional craftsmanship. Using over 200,000 asymmetrical Persian knots and a combination of hand-spun sheep wool and bamboo silk, the rug reflects Maina's dedication to preserving and reviving this exceptional art form.

Maina Devi and her rug - 'Lehrata-Khet'
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Maina Devi, who hails from the Raigar community, has defied the limitations imposed by generational oppression in India. The Raigar community is often marginalized as a scheduled caste, yet Maina has embraced art as a means of self-expression and self-sufficiency. Weaving has become her solace and an avenue for preserving her cultural identity. Born in the remote village of Kekri, Maina has honed her weaving skills for over a decade, transcending cultural boundaries and creating textiles that provide her with income, independence, and a strong sense of identity.

What sets Maina Devi's rug apart is the absence of predefined drawings or patterns. With 'Lehrata-Khet,' the artist was able to express herself directly on the loom, infusing the rug with a unique sense of authenticity and personal narrative. The title itself translates to 'a waving farm,' and the abstract portrayal of Maina's village and its surrounding fields incorporates intricate details and motifs such as grains and vegetables. This rug serves as a direct manifestation of her cultural heritage and her intimate connection to the land she calls home.

Maina Devi's masterpiece is part of the Manchaha project, a remarkable initiative by Jaipur Rugs that combines design and social impact. Through this project, weavers in rural India are empowered to create their own rugs. The project acts as both a platform for self-expression and a sustainable livelihood for weavers and their families. These rugs not only exemplify exceptional craftsmanship but also become vessels for personal stories, cultural elements, and the rich tapestry of the weavers' lives; facilitating a global stage for local art.

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