How Covid face masks are redefining wearable art

Indian craftspeople and tribal communities are turning masks into art — from Cheriyal, Saora, to Mata ni Pachedi paintings. Here's a list

Cheriyal painting, Telangana

What was once told on scrolls is now depicted on Khadi, as Cheriyal artists paint farmers, parrots and elephants on masks. The Nakashi community in Telangana works with mythological figures and narrations. Though the scrolls traditionally used watercolours, in the cloth masks, fabric colours are expressed in vibrant shades. Each mask (2 plies) is priced at Rs 140.

Contact: [email protected]

Organic masks, Bengal-Kerala

Textile designer Shaswaty Nair dips her handloom threads into aloe vera, neem, turmeric, basil, indigo and red sandalwood, turning them into breathable masks. Kolkata-based Nair began Shrivatsa, her label, about eight years ago and since then has been working with artisans and craft traditions in Bengal and Kerala. The dye mix has natural ingredients and a herbal mix of 108 herbs that form a dye bath. Sold in pairs (3 plies) at Rs 300, delivery charges are extra.

Contact: [email protected]

Handwoven masks, Nagaland

Made on the loin-loom or backstrap loom, these pure cotton handwoven masks tell stories of tribes. From diurnal rhythms of day and night, shown through the use of colour and dots and dashes, to repetitive geometric patterns that signify kinship, these masks are elegant reminders of a homespun culture. These (2 plies) come three in a pack at (Rs 450) or five in a pack at (Rs 750).
Contact: [email protected]

Ajrakh, Gujarat

This craft of resist-dyeing and block printing is as old as weaving. Several wooden blocks sit within one another to create varied patterns and designs. The imperfections in the setting of the blocks on fabric can tell you if it’s handprinted or screen-printed. Each mask (3 plies) is priced at Rs 45 and above. Contact: [email protected]

Chikankari, UP

In Lucknow, fish is considered a sign of goodwill, peace and celebration. At Sangraha, they stitch an added layer of polyamide fabric to ensure the holes made from the fine needles of Aari and Chikankari work are sealed. Peacocks and floral patterns, too, are embroidered on these masks. Besides online outlets, these face covers are available from their website:, at Rs 295 and above.

Sambalpuri Ikat, Odisha

This weave has been used to dress Lord Jagannath for the rath yatra. Difficult to replicate on a machine, the Sambalpuri Ikat is an intricate technique of resist-dye and weaving the dyed threads into fabric. With motifs of water, birds and the sky, the fabric celebrates the beauty of nature. Priced above Rs 50 a mask (3 plies), one can contact [email protected] for further details.

Mata Ni Pachedi, Gujarat

These temple cloth patterns don’t feature motifs of the goddess on the face cover. Painted imagery of Ahmedabad’s famous Sidi Saiyyed Mosque Tree of Life features prominently in the design. Priced at Rs 120 (2 plies), it can be ordered directly from the artisan.

Contact: [email protected]

Saora Painting, Odisha

The textiles embroidered by the Dongria Kondh women of Odisha honour their gods. The designs include Saora paintings, an art form that is visually similar to Maharashtra’s Warli paintings. The triangular hills on the masks symbolise their relationship with nature, the sacred world of Niyamgiri, the god who protects them from the evil spirits. Each mask (2 ply) is priced at Rs 300.

Contact: [email protected]

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