Handpainted GI-tagged Cheriyal art on my T-shirt

Feb 5, 2024


Cheriyal art by Dhanalakota family

Cheriyal art by Dhanalakota family

Rakesh Nakash Dhanalakota

Rakesh Nakash Dhanalakota

You have seen Cheriyal art on walls, wall hangings and canvas. Get ready to wear or gift T-shirts with Cheriyal art, done by master craftsmen from Telangana. Artists Rakesh and brother Vinay Nakash Dhanalakota, along with their friend Subhajit Saha, a GI and IP practitioner, have come up with handpainted tshirts with Cheriyal art. 

Dhanalakota at work at their workshop in Boduppal in Hyderabad

Dhanalakota at work at their workshop in Boduppal in Hyderabad

I visited Rakesh’s and Vinay’s home at Boduppal’s Sri Sai Colony in Secunderabad . Rakesh Nakash Dhanalakota, his parents (Vaikuntam and Vanaja) and his siblings are all busy with colours, outlines and sketches. If one has drawn the outline, another adds a dash of bright saffron to the background; yet another one paints the borders, while someone else adds the ornaments and so on.

Rakesh’s is one of the families working to keep the tradition of Cheriyal art alive. This week, their target is to complete over 100 pieces of A5 Cheriyal artwork for corporate gifting. Watching them at work as a unit demonstrates that each one of them knows the art of Cheriyal painting.  

Rakesh painting on a tshirt

Rakesh painting on a tshirt

Striving to keep alive the tradition of this GI-tagged art (Cheriyal painting got the GI tag in 2006, the Dhanalakota family are not only painting the art form but also constantly thinking of ways to make the art form relevant to everyday lives. This is exactly why they are working towards wearable Cheriyal art. 

Subhajit, who initiated the idea, says, “Diversification is the only way dying art forms can remain relevant. Fusion of art in various forms has proved to work wonders for artisans and craftsmen. With Rakesh and Vinay, we are working on thematic, festival-based T-shirts. During Sankranti, we introduced Sankranti-themed T-shirts. For everyday gifting, they are working on rural landscapes. With every Telangana festival, they will come up with a festival theme line.” 

Vaikuntam and Vanaja Dhanalakota, Cheriyal artist

Vaikuntam and Vanaja Dhanalakota, Cheriyal artist


Also read: Cheriyal stories adorn the walls inside the Rashtrapati Nilayam in Hyderabad

Rakesh still had a few T-shirts to complete; one T-shirt with a pencil outline of Bonalu hangs on a chair. Rakesh is not just an artist but also an educator of sorts on Cheriyal art. He quickly switches the postcard he is painting with the T-shirt. He says, “We use watercolours on paper because it dries quickly. On cloth, however, we cannot use watercolours. So we are working with acrylic colours. Acrylic paints take longer to dry and need more than two coats.” 

Vaikuntam and Vanaja with their sons and daughter at work

Vaikuntam and Vanaja with their sons and daughter at work

Vinay adds, “We are painting on cotton T-shirts , and the painting will last up to 15-20 washes. The idea is to make Cheriyal art visible in our everyday lives. Painting on walls and canvas is fixed. One cannot always carry it with them. A T-shirt with Cheriyal art will grab eyeballs, making more and more people curious about it. As artists, we have to evolve from masks and wall paintings (the taditional avenues of Cheriyal art).” 

As Rakesh begins to work on the outline sketch on the T-shirt with acrylic paints, he waits about five minutes after completing one part. Vinay explains, “Art is patience; here we cannot erase or cover up with other colours. With acrylic, we need to be extra careful and see that one part dries fully before going on to the next. Because the outline sketches are small, we must be extra careful.” 

Does it hurt to paint for long hours? Vaikuntham Dhanalakota, Rakesh’s father, who was adding the final touches to the corporate gifting order, says, “Of course my neck hurts. We need to take constant breaks to work without losing focus, especially while doing the fine outlines and ornaments of the women in our paintings.”     


Also read: GI tag to Manipur black rice, Gorakhpur terracotta

Cheriyal artists uses brushes as fine as .0003 for the outlines. The lines painted with these brushes are as fine as the lines drawn with a gel pen. Vinay exlaisn about the these handmade brushes. “They are made with the tail hair tips of squirrels and tied to bamboo sticks. These brushes last for a few months. No synthetic brush provides the smoothness that is provided by the handmade brush. We also make our colours, especially the red colour that is the signature shade of Cheriyal art background. It is made from a seed that is hand-ground at home and then cooked for several hours until the oils are extracted. This handmade paint also acts as a pest repellent on paper,” explains Vinay. 

So, the next time you want to make your gift stand out, get a handpainted Cheriyal T-shirt.

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