While researching for my diploma project which is about developing interior elements from the handicraft industry and aims at developing the industry and the markets for the Lac-turnery craft of Channapatna, Karnataka, I came across a research paper by Sharmila Wood.
In the paper, Sharmila wood, who is currently a consultant at New Delhi, who has worked with the creative and cultural industries in India and has also written and edited the Designers meet Artisans for UNESCO and Craft Revival Trust, examines the current state of craft sector in India, exploring how a growing interests of consumers in ethical and sustainable materials, processes and objects, is impacting Indian artisans and craft workers.
The paper brings out various aspects of the craft industry like the resources use and availability, the growing fondness towards handcrafted products among the urban consumers, the feeling of the artisans in terms of backwardness, importance of training women in the craft for their wise use of the livelihood and also the importance of the aesthetics or beauty of the handicrafts as compared to the technological copy of the same. All these aspects have been brought out by the arguments and quotes of various people associated with the craft industry like Jatin Bhatt, Jaya Jaitly, Maggie Baxter, Lucy Donkin, Ashoke Chatterjee, Mayank Kaul Singh, etc.
Ever since I started involving in the craft industry which is not long but a couple of months ago, I kept coming across all the aspects mentioned above but one, which took me aback. I never thought about the crafts that way.
In the paper, Jaya Jaitly has been quoted extensively and one such quote acquired my attention. As Jaya Jaitly has observed; ‘In the area of handmade goods, both crafts and textiles, even as countries like India are learning to convert their weaknesses into strengths, in China mechanization is efficiently organising itself to imitate the hand work of India to encroach upon the market for India’s special skills.’ In contrast to industrial production, the handmade qualities of craft, suggest a deeper engagement between, the maker and his or her product, a relationship in which the artisan has a personal history, and is materially aware of the processes, and techniques of production.
Jaitly argues that this aspect of craft should be emphasised in marketing discourse. She says: ‘Handicraft and handloom bazaars should not be popular just because we get ‘arty’ things at a fairly inexpensive rate but because health, environment, education, self value, exposition of cultural diversity and other such vitally important areas are linked to the need for sustaining crafts.’
Jaitly uses the example of how, if the government adopted a policy where the kulladh – the earthen cup made by potters all over India, was to be used in all government institutions, and services, has both employment and environmental benefits. She writes: ‘The mud of the kulladh goes back into the earth without harming it. Hygiene is maintained by ensuring that it cannot be reused. Paper is saved and non-‐degradable plastic is avoided.’
Proponents of the Indian craft industry, such as Jatin Bhatt argue: ‘Handicraft is a production process and a wonderful, indigenous technology, not an outmoded tradition. The raw materials (cane, cotton, clay, wood, wool, silk, minerals) are not only indigenously available but also environmentally friendly.’
The sense of being environmental-friendly and entering the craft industry not only for developing markets and creating livelihoods for artisans but for sustaining the craft and nature and using natural material for crafts was inculcated in me. The reason for using naturally available products in the various products of the craft industry is now known to me. I had never looked at the craft that way – was only engrossed in the beauty of it.
This thought and learning will never let me fall towards solutions which involve toxic material use or non-environmental friendly technologies.
I am happy I cam across this paper when I have just started with my craft association.