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Aug 11

Indian Artisans Design Beyond Traditions

Yearly, ClothRoads goes on the road to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts but it also means we carry textiles to and from the artisans who we represent. It’s our annual time to catch up with our global friends, to hear about their families and communities, and to see what new designs they have masterfully created over the year.

Artisan Graduates of India’s Somaiya Kala Vidya
We haven’t been in to India in a few years and based on the explosion of high quality and innovative work coming from artisans and groups, it’s probably time for another journey. For now, speaking with Judy Frater, the Founder-Director of Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV), an institute for artisans’ education in Kutch, Gujarat, will have to suffice. I am reminded that four of our featured artisans below are graduates from SKV. 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.

From Handicraft to Design Craft
Last October, the artisan design students of SKV participated in the final jury of their eleven-month course. In the evening, a panel discussion, “From Handicraft to Design Craft: Marketing Tradition in the Contemporary World”, took place between artisan designers and craft experts of India. Frater’s opening statement framed the discussion: “We started SKV to take a program to an institute, because design education is important for artisans. We have reached an era where craft is in demand, but artisans, whose heritage is craft traditions, are becoming laborers. So in our education we aim to bring value to art and artisan. When we held our final presentation I saw hope in artisans and their families. As Aslam [Aslam Abdul Karim Khatri, SKV 2015 graduate] realized, craft is not just livelihood. It is cultural heritage. When artisans value this, so will the world.” (Here is the transcript from the panel From Handcraft to Design Craft.)

At the end of the discussion, Reena Bhatia, design faculty member at Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda, asked: “Can we all make a promise? How many of you will promise that you will teach your craft to your children?” An enthusiastic audience responded with hands up.

Artisans are Innovative Designers
Dayalal Kudecha learned to innovate within his weaving tradition and to take creative risks. Over the years, he has grown from job worker to entrepreneur. In 2014, he joined SKV as a design faculty member. “To grow a business, we need to invest,” he says. “We have to balance risk with return. In this course, I learned the value of time and planning, and how to think more of satisfying the customer. I think my business is 60% new design, and 40% business knowhow.” This was his third year participating at the FAM.  He questions, “We always talk about customers’ demands. What about artisans’ desires? Do we ever think what artisans actually want?”

Juned Ismail Khatri is the tenth generation of Ajrakh blockprint makers. Talk about heritage! 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 still continues to print the traditional cloth but they also make contemporary designs still using traditional ways.  During the design panel, Juned 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. Allah has given us brains. We just need to use them. If you know how to balance between tradition and the fashion world, you do not need to think about how to get an order.”

Suleman and Aziz Khatri express their thoughts on the future of bandhani, believing it is very good if they don’t stick to traditional style. Suleman adds, “Artisans must understand the changing needs of the market and adapt. A good artisan must have a constant desire to learn new things and improve his art. Good design is appreciated by customers and enjoyed by the artisan.” Suleman’s and Aziz’s styles complement each other in creating a wide range of excellent traditional classics and exciting contemporary work.

Somaiya Kala Vidya Course Offerings
Somaiya Kala Vidya offers workshops and in-depth courses in textile traditions including weaving, block printing, batik, bandhani, embroidery, appliqué and patchwork. These offerings can range from one day to a 22-day course. All are taught by master traditional artisans of Kutch who are educated in design and business. Learn more here for courses beginning in November.

Thanks to Judy Frater for supplying information and some images for this blog. 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.

If you’d like to read, click Judy Frater-Valuing the Unique in Luxury Markets by Judy Frater; presented for the Indian Institute of Management, “Crafting Luxury and Lifestyle Businesses,” February 2016.

Please share this on to other textile lovers. ClothRoads and the artisans thank you.




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