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Jun 21

Indian Artisans and Design Education

It was a rare opportunity to meet Judy Frater, the Founder Director of Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV), an institute for artisans’ education in Kutch, Gujarat, while attending Tinkuy in Cusco, Peru, in November, and again the following month on Christmas Eve in Oaxaca, Mexico, where we were visiting friends and weavers. I always look forward to hearing her views on the need for design education among artisans, not only in India, but globally. She not only inspires me but many others to take on this mantle.

Somaiya Kala Vidya Open Studios and Course Offerings
A few weeks ago, Judy emailed me the upcoming open studio schedule and course offerings for Somaiya Kala Vidya. This fall, winter and early spring, SKV offers open studio tours of Bhujodi, a weaving village, and Ajrakhpur, a block print and natural dyeing village, focusing on the traditional essence and individual innovations of contemporary craft traditions of Kutch, for design and textile enthusiasts. The studios are all independently operated by master traditional artisans who have graduated from a design program. Visitors are provided with a map locating the home/ workplaces of participating artisan designers and are free to explore the by lanes of the village for the morning before coming together for a traditional lunch in the home of an artisan designer.

For those who want an immersive hands-on experience, you can Learn with the Masters and take workshops with the artisan designers of Kutch. Workshops include extra-weft weaving on a pit loom, hand block printing, batik block printing, bandhani (shibori), and dyeing with synthetic and natural dyes. Embroidery in Rabari, suf, Jat and pako traditions, patchwork and appliqué can also be taught. This is an excellent opportunity to experience the vibrant culture of Kutch artisans. Workshops can be for the duration of 1 day, 2 days, or 5 days.

Artisans are Innovative Designers
I am reminded that five of our featured artisans are graduates from SKV–Dayalal Kudecha (weaver and SKV faculty member), Juned Ismail Khatri (tenth-generation Ajrakh block printer), Abdulaziz Khatri and his brother Suleman Khatri (bandhani), and most recently Zakiya Adil Khatri (bandhani). They are testaments to the institute’s belief that a sustainable future for craft traditions lies in insuring that artisans can be significantly involved in all aspects of their work, and that living traditions respond, communicate and evolve.

The Khatris are the tenth generation of Ajrakh blockprint makers and are applying innovation to their designs. The preparation of Ajrakh is a demanding technical art requiring perfection; the block carving itself a highly-specialized craft. The finest of these fabrics are resisted, printed, and dyed on both sides of the cloth, with such skill that each side is identical. The Khatri family continues to print the traditional cloth but they also make contemporary designs still using traditional ways. Juned Khatri shared, “Originally only three ajrakh products were made: a lungi, a turban and a shoulder cloth. Now you will find at least twenty ajrakh products… If you know how to balance between tradition and the fashion world, you do not need to think about how to get an order.” At last year’s International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, the Khatri’s presented their new work as part of the new Innovation section of the market.

To Learn More
Learn more here for courses beginning in November. For further information email judy.kalavidya@somaiya.edu

Click here if you’d like to read “Valuing the Unique: Craft Traditions in the Contemporary Market, Re-Thinking Scale” by Judy Frater; presented for the Indian Institute of Management, “Crafting Luxury and Lifestyle Businesses,” February 2016.

Thanks to Judy Frater for supplying information and some images for this blog (text and images copyright Judy Frater, Founder Director.) An Ashoka Fellow, she formerly founded Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya and is a recipient of the Sir Misha Black Medal (2009) and Crafts Council of India Kamla award (2010). Frater has lived and worked in Kutch for over 25 years.

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