Rhapsodies in Sculpture

A Celebration of West African Elegance
House of Avana both recognizes and strives to preserve the virility and multi-generational history of West African craftsmanship. The company employs eighty sculptors and artisans, their pieces reflect the promise of a rising economic sector- that of the artisan creating contemporary design from ancestral knowledge. Vandana Sharad, Founder and President, shares more about the company’s product line and vision in the following interview: 
HAND/EYE Online How, specifically, do your artisans create the products? 
Vandana Sharad: We design each product in our contemporary collection, along with the sculptor, who would sculpt that piece, keeping in mind to retain cultural sensibilities as well as design a product with practical suggestions from the artisan regarding choice of wood and sculpting possibilities. Our artisans do not have modern tools and modern machinery and mostly no electricity, making it a great challenge to manually carve everything with precision and perfection.
H/E: What materials do your artisans use?
VS: Our sculptors use solid hard wood like teak, marina, mahogany, etc. There are more than 100 varieties of wood being used for sculpting, depending on the density of the wood. 
Our bronze sculptors use solid bronze that they hand cast 100%. Wax molds are first created by hand, around which bronze is melted and cast. The manual hand-casting procedure to create bronze statues is an extremely fascinating technique, and House of Avana is currently conducting workshops, where we are imparting war-affected children from the orphanages in Abidjan, learn these centuries-old techniques.
H/E: What inspired you to work with local artisans?
VS: I was inspired to work with local artisans from West Africa due to several reasons. Firstly, unbelievable creativity and the immense treasure trove of traditions, designs and techniques carried on by artisans in West Africa, in the face of by abject poverty where artisans are still living in the interiors on a $25-$70 monthly earning, with very little government intervention or efforts to alleviate their conditions, motivated me to take steps that I could as an individual to contribute my 2-bits to the country that had given me a home. I am an Indian, living in Cote d’Ivoire for more than 5 years.
My husband and I imported better quality hand-held tools, modern finishing materials like insect treatment solutions, better polishes, etc., and we donated the same to several artisans who we identified as the ones with exemplary skills. We wanted to empower them to create better finished products. I was convinced that they would be able to work miracles if we enabled them and covered their back. The results have been phenomenal.
H/E: What kind of long-term changes do you hope your project has on the community?
VS: House of Avana is working on a 2-pronged strategy:
Firstly, we are enabling artisans, primarily sculptors and bronze artists to create better finished products, that can sell at a higher price point and earn them higher profit margins. In the long-run, this will help them earn higher sustainable incomes and they would be able to educate their children or provide them with better medical facilities and better future opportunities.
Secondly, with our project “Art in Heart,” we are training war-affected children being housed in 2 of the biggest Government orphanages in Abidjan, in local artisanal crafts as a form of vocational training. We are currently training them in nearly 10 different fields – sculpting, bronze work, batik printing, accessories like headgear, neckties, etc., making handbags, making cement vases, bead-work, etc. 
The idea of training them serves three purposes:
  • Children get trained in a form of art as a vocational training that they can use as a source of livelihood when they grow up. 
  • Art, on the other hand, also serves to heal their hurting hearts, that still remembers the slaughter of their parents in the civil war of Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-11.
  • Local art of the land does not vanish and is passed on to the children of the land.
H/E: What products can buyers expect to see at the NY NOW and Artisan Resource Exhibition? 
VS: We wish to showcase artisan skills from West Africa. This includes a blend of the past and the present. We are showcasing the contemporary line developed by House of Avana, along with sculptors in recent times. The main focus is on a collection called “A Piece of Peace,” that symbolizes the fact that safety, tranquility and stability of home is above all wars and political upheavals, and every child in this world deserves the safety and stability of home.
Besides contemporary craftsmanship from West Africa, we are also showcasing our collection of absolutely authentic and dated collectors’ pieces hand-created by master artisans, decades or centuries back. We believe that authentic art is the base for contemporary art and should never be forgotten.
House of Avana’s signature lines will be exhibited for potential buyers at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource August 12-15 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. For more information and to buy products, please visit:www.houseofavana.com.


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