She dabbled in it, perfected it, on being pushed by her friends she started a Facebook page and within no time her spiritual artworks have become quite popular with eager buyers all over the world waiting in anticipation for the somewhat reluctant artist to bring out new pieces. Anuja Kimatrai, founder and creator of Temple Art, says she doesn’t do it for money but for love. She isn’t creating multiple pieces of the same design right now and won’t be putting them on cushion covers any time soon. Sailesh Ghelani had a chat and a nice cup of espresso at Anuja’s home in Mumbai.
So Anuja, I’m looking at the pieces now and they seemed a lot bigger in the pictures.
I like the pieces to be in such a way that they can either sit on a desk, sit on a mantle piece, a coffee table or a small wall or beam. They’re very nice as a house warming present or if someone’s got promoted and they’ve got their own cabin or if someone just wants a little piece at the entrance to the house or near the telephone.
So you wouldn’t make a bigger piece?
Why? Is it too much work?
You see what tends to happen is that when you embroider on a hoop and you keep moving the material round the hoop for a big piece what tends to happen the threads start fraying, they’re very delicate. I could use a bigger hoop but the more you play with it and hurt it, it will get damaged. But once it’s framed nothing will happen to it.
How did this all start off?
I started Temple Art a year and a half ago. It was my aunt who originally did a lot of temple art, of course she didn’t call it that, but she used to do this kind of embroidery all her life. I would see her doing it and I was amazed that she could create these pieces using nothing but a needle and a thread. Now since I had some time then I decided to learn how to do this. So I’d go and sit with my aunt and learn the craft.
My aunt only did thread work though but I wanted to do more than that. So I started playing with beads and sequence. She also only used black cloth but now I’ve started experimenting with other colours as well like blues, pinks and indigos. I’m using a lot of colour psychology in my work.
Every colour has a story and a reason behind it and a way it operates when a human see it. Like blue is considered a very calming colour. So for example when I did the Third Eye of Shiva for example, Shiva has the Ganga flowing from his head and it is water so blue and it was therefore a very obvious choice. The Ganesh I’m doing now I’m using a yellow thread and yellow is a very happy colour.
Were you always very artistic?
In school I used to do Rangoli competitions, flower arrangements and singing. I don’t know whether you’d call that artistic or not but being House Captain we had to put our hands into everything.
So you started a year and a half ago but only just started selling them…
I was getting my hand set. If you look at my craftsmanship now you’ll see a huge difference; there’s heaven and earth between the two. I didn’t know what would happen to my piece after I finished it but I used to do it because I loved it. I would finish a piece and put it up on my personal Facebook page and somebody, a friend or family member, would turn around and say, “It’s mine!” and that would be that.
And then about a month ago a couple of my friends sat me down and said to me, “You’re stupid, you really need to start putting this up on a dedicated page as a brand.” And I was like ‘okay’. I’ll give this a shot. I set up my FB page and I’m pleased to say I had an overwhelming response. I’m sitting today with over 700 Likes and they’re not all my friends and family.
So where are these people from and what sort of response have you gotten?
I’ve got a lot inquiries from Spain, Gibraltar, Canada; people I don’t know who have asked how they can procure my work. An art gallery in Mumbai has inquired whether I’d be fine showcasing my work with them at some point. I’ve told everybody to hold their horses because it’s a bit overwhelming at the moment. The first five pieces I put up on the Temple Art Facebook page sold within two hours of putting them up.
There’s a lot of interest and inquiries but I’m waiting for people to put their money where their mouth is.
Has any piece you put up not been sold so far?
Yes, there’s only one, the Ek Onkaar. I don’t know why but it will in time. Five out of six is not bad. I believe the piece has to find a home in which it will be loved. The piece has to talk to you; it has to appeal to you. Some people have an affinity to a Ganesh, some to Hanuman, some to Shiva. Some like modern pieces some like traditional. Some want it toned down and some prefer bling in their artwork.
Is it interesting for you to appeal to different sensibilities?
Yes of course. I’ve made complete sequence pieces, I’ve made complete thread work. I’ve made mixes of both.
Are you a very religious person?
I’m a spiritual person. I’m not a ritualistic person at all. I’ve grown up in a family where religion and spirituality are major parts of our lives. So yes, we have a huge painting of Krishna in our house; we have a whole room dedicated as a mandir dedicated to God. We’ve observed every religion in our house. Which is why my work is also varied.
Why did you call it Temple Art?
I find the word Temple isn’t limited to Hinduism. Even a church is a temple of God. It seemed like an all-encompassing word.
Would you branch out and do work that isn’t related to Gods or religious symbols?
Well a friend of mine had a baby a couple of weeks ago and I said I’d do something interesting for the child. So I made the God Bless Divina for her. That was part of my trying to branch out a bit. I embroidered the words with a little pink Ganpati next to them. So it’s a cute baby welcome gift. It has the God, I’m blessing the child but it’s an offshoot of the regular work. It could be something for someone’s new home.
What have been your favourite pieces so far?
Interesting story: I would say Devotion-Meerabai (Header image, top of page) and Swing With Me are my favourite two pieces. Someone actually asked me to sell the Meerabai and I told her I had never considered selling either of the pieces. They pushed me further to consider it. So I slept over it and called her back 48 hours later and said I’m really sorry but I can’t even put a price on them.
Okay. But couldn’t you just make another one for that person?
That’s another interesting thing. To date, I have never repeated a piece. I have orders on Facebook for repeat orders. But I haven’t ever done that.
But then how will you sustain the business if you don’t repeat your pieces?
Right now I’m not doing it. Maybe in the future. I just tell them to look out for my next piece. It’s not purely a money making scheme I’m running. I do this because I love doing it, and if people want to buy, then please buy it.
What sort of price range are we looking at here?
It does depend on time and effort, cost of material and framing. I use very good quality frames with premium non-reflective glass. But my labour is more expensive than the frame. The prices start at US$100 or Rs 5000/- going up depending on the piece.
Would you do pieces on a commission basis?
If it appeals to me I might. You know I actually have pieces that I started but was never able to complete. A friend of mine in Dubai asked me to create a Green Celtic Cross for him and I started the piece based on a design I picked. But I gave up; I picked it up, folded it and put it away. If the inspiration or mood is not there then the piece will not get done. It’s happened on a lot of pieces.
Where do you get the designs?
I do look at the Internet for source images for my drawings and then use them or adapt them for my work.
If you were so fussy or particular about it then how would you progress with the business?
Which is why I tell people to pick them up while they’re still around because I don’t know how long this product will be out there! I don’t know if it will be a long-term thing. The inspiration has to be there, my eyesight has to be good, and my cervical problem shouldn’t act up. While I enjoy doing it, I will. Making loads of money out of this is not my primary objective; I don’t need it to butter my bread. I’m selling them because people appreciate them and want to pay money for them.
I’ll tell you another funny story: A friend of mine had wanted to pick up one of my pieces and he called me and he said, “So Anuja, your Ek Onkaar is still available for sale on Facebook. I’ve wanted to buy one of your pieces but they sell out so quickly. So since this piece hasn’t sold as yet can I buy it?” I just said, “No. I won’t sell it to you.” I explained to him that he is a Marwari boy and you have no affinity towards an Ek Onkaar (a Sikh symbol), it meant nothing to him, so no, I would not take his money. But that’s only because I knew this boy.
Sounds a little insane to me!
All artists are insane, right.
Would you consider doing other things like cushion covers etc
Not yet. I think the sanctity of the piece gets spoilt then.
How are you promoting Temple Art?
Currently, it’s only on Facebook. Every Like, Comment and Share put a smile on my face.
How long does it take you to do a piece?
I’ve finished one in a day and some have taken me a month to complete. If I’m using sequence, I’m stitching in each one by hand and that takes dexterity. You have to feel that the hair is flowing, or the dress is flowing so you have to get that in your stitching.
You can check out all Temple Art pieces and see if you’re lucky enough to grab hold of the next creation when it goes up on the Facebook page here.
Temple Art Gallery
Check out Temple Art India’s Facebook page here