It was in January 2014, while collaborating with marble and metal sculptors at a residency in Rajasthan, that Sudheer Rajbhar noticed how artisans and assistants were exploited: they worked gruelling hours for menial pay, and their work was seldom preserved. It was this observation that eventually led him to start his accessories brand, Chamar Studio.
Rajbhar, 32, who had earned a diploma in drawing and painting from Vasai Vikasani College Of Visual Arts in Maharashtra in 2010, had his personal reasons too. “People often use the words ‘bhar’, which is part of my last name, and ‘chamar’ as derogatory terms to address those from ‘lower’ strata of society whose occupation usually entails working with leather,” he says.
In August 2017, after curating the exhibition We Are Here Because You Are There, featuring works by aides and apprentices to artists (his foray into giving voice to the work of those he called “often overlooked”) at the gallery Clark House Initiative in Mumbai, he began to focus on his own work. He finally took the leap to start Chamar Studio after being thrown by the dexterity of a cobbler he had approached to make him a satchel. As part of Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2018 in February, he displayed his studio’s work for the first time at Jehangir Art Gallery. The pieces stood out not only for their minimalist aesthetic, but because they were waterproof and eco-friendly as well.
A cloth tote by Chamar Studio
Rajbhar currently works with artisans who lost their livelihood because of the 2015 beef ban. They now work with recycled rubber, cotton and thick canvas, and receive 50 per cent of the proceeds. He designs the products at his home-turned-studio in Kandivali, and hopes to one day turn it into a collaborative space for artisans and designers.
His next project will see him create a collection of blue accessories, inspired by the uniforms of the cobblers, who work at railway stations. “I want to train these men and enable them to raise their income. If I can grow my company, maybe people will stop associating the word ‘chamar’ with poverty and inconsequence. How amazing would that be?”