A "pineapple" a day keeps hunger at bay for a tribal colony in Kanyakumari

Topics Tamil Nadu | NGO | Instagram

A pineapple sculpture made by Malone. Credit: Instagram
Distance makes the heart grow fonder. A few days into the lockdown, the tribal colony and potters community in a far corner of Tamil Nadu that ceramic artist Kate Malone visited just a month ago were in dire straits with sales coming to a halt and savings drying up.

In early April, once she was back in the UK, she received an email from her hosts who run the Centre for Social Development (CSD), an NGO in Kanyakumari district, asking for support. The email said that the organisation had managed to raise the equivalent of £700 and asked her if she would be willing to match the amount to help the families hit by the crisis.

Malone felt she could do more than just that. That’s when she hit upon an idea. Why not sell a not-so-high priced item created with her signature style on Instagram to raise money to support the tribal colony and badly hit families in the region during the Covid-induced lockdown. Although she knew that she may only be able to contribute in a small way but “something was better than nothing”.

Reflecting what she felt for India and the Indians she’s encountered in her many years of association, she created a carefully crafted, glazed pineapple (a fruit that signifies friendship, hospitality and warmth) in a range of blue and green hues. She decided to price them at £280 and sell through Instagram, an unusual route for her as she usually sells through art dealers and her agent (Malone’s more exclusive pieces sell for up to £100,000). The money raised would be used to finance the needs of the families in the tribal colonies and districts selected by CSD. “Although I had never imagined myself selling through a platform such as this, this seemed like a good way to reach out to a wider audience”, she explains.

The response she received was overwhelming. Within the first few days itself, Malone had dozens of orders and found herself working “day and night” to meet the demand. Many were happy to own an artwork created by the renowned artist but there were also those who were simply happy to contribute to the larger cause that she’d enunciated when she began the sale.

To Malone, each pineapple costs £50 that includes the money spent on clay, the glaze, firing the kilns, packaging and posting and takes three to four weeks to be ready to be shipped. She, however, is remitting the entire amount raised through the sale for the cause: Malone is bearing the input cost and her effort and time is her own contribution. Once she made around 30 (with her own investment of £1,500), she organised the packaging and shipping of the first lot, no mean task during the lockdown in the city of London.

When an art dealer and colleague of Malone’s found out what she was doing, he decided to finance the creation of the first 30 pieces, allowing her to make even more pieces for the effort. The pieces generate almost five times what they cost and when this writer spoke to the artist, she had already raised over £12,000 for the CSD relief effort, which includes distributing rations and food to the affected families.“It may be a drop in the ocean” as she puts it, but in India’s present predicament, she knows every little bit counts.

Although she’s very familiar with India and loves the country, the intensity and magnitude of India’s poverty never fails to baffle her. She says she’s not sure how long she will continue with her effort but once one starts the act of helping others, it is addictive. Further, she feels she and the CSD must support the people who they have begun supporting at least through the crisis so she’s even considering selling a new item or if demand remains brisk continuing with pineapples.

She says she finds each time she ships, receives payment and sends out funds to India, she feels a happy glow. The CSD team sends her many photos and videos of their end of the effort, which keeps her motivated. Malone says a couple of Indian artists keen to contribute have reached out to figure how she’s managed such a direct method of contribution, where she’s reasonably confident that her effort is being put to good use. Malone, however, insists that this has been as good for her as it has for India as being busy has helped her “stay relatively sane” through the lockdown. Her own team is being kept employed and occupied through this difficult phase.

Malone, who’s visited India over 25 times, and has a deep knowledge of the country’s heritage and culture, maintains that she has a special connection with India — so much so that her only daughter’s middle name is “Ooty”, after the hill town south of the Vindhyas. The Covid outbreak has only strengthened that link.


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