Suman Sonthalia, owner of Akkriti Arts Creations, is a self-taught designer who specializes in combining various traditional folk art styles to embellish everyday wood and pottery objects. Suman grew up in a rural community in north-eastern India, where she showed an early interest in art, capturing the culture and traditions of village life in her work. Despite moving to Kolkata, and then Delhi following her marriage, Suman’s passion to promote and keep alive the traditional arts of rural India remained strong. Living in a traditional community where women do not commonly work outside the home, this mother of two started her own business in 1997 with her husband’s support and encouragement. She began with two artisans that she trained herself and sought out orders from local handicrafts emporia catering to tourists.
Suman now employs 55 artisans, mostly women, some of whom work out of her workshop while others work from home. In 2006 she began receiving help from Asha Handicrafts and experienced a seven-fold increase in her business in just a few years. Asha assures her advance payment against all orders, as well as provides training, product development and business advice. Asha has also introduced Suman to the principles of the Fair Trade movement and she now champions economically underprivileged women, providing them work, advance payments and educational assistance for their children.
Suman combines an entrepreneurial spirit with her knowledge of traditional artistic styles. She has successfully combined Warli, Dokra, Madhubani and Kalamkari styles of painting to create a unique tribal look.These painting styles are practiced in different regions of India, yet share a common history, depicting scenes of village life on walls and fabric panels. Suman and her artisans use motifs from all of these styles to create vibrant and colorful functional objects for the home. This is Suman’s dream: to keep these ancient crafts alive through constant innovation and adaptation to modern needs, thus ensuring their continuity.
“Most of my artisans come from rural areas and have rich artistic potential but are unable to utilize their talents due to personal or economic circumstances. My work is to guide them through the creative process. This way, I believe I am also helping to revive our rich culture,” says Suman.