Crafting a Creative Nation

A nation requires creativity from the local ecology, and Crafts supports the largest creative ecology in the world, bringing the best of Creative and Sustainable Practices.

-By Prof. Somesh Singh, Co-Founder, Craft Village–

In 2020, the world has experienced an event of the century, a Pandemic, that has changed the global equation and future course of action. If the world has seen the lowest ‘Market Index’, Craft Sector has witnessed the highest ‘Creative Index’. The global lockdown gave a pause to reflect on where the world is heading, bringing back in focus Sustainable Practices, reducing Carbon Foot Prints, Circular Economy and Responsible Making & Consumption. The renewed emphasis on Aatmnirbhar Bharat & Vocal for Local by Govt. of India gave impetus to Craft Sector.

India still practices the largest living tradition of Crafts, and the sector employs 50-million people directly and 250-million people indirectly, making it the second-largest employment providing sector. India’s cultural legacy is 5000-years old; and we have tried to retain most of them passing from one generation to another.

Pre-pandemic, the Indian Handicraft Exports was around USD 3.39 Billion (less than 2% of the Global Handicraft World Trade) and the domestic market (Organized & Unorganised) at USD 7 Billion, post-pandemic this “Creative Industry” holds the largest potential to grow as there is a growing demand for sustainable, organic and slow objects. The way forward is to give it a definition of the Creative Industry so that it can tap the future potential of USD 5-Trillion; where Creative Goods are growing @14% and Services @18% per annum.  These sectors/industries are considered important sources of commercial and cultural nation-building, with an interface between Creativity, Culture, Economics, and Technology and have enough potential to generate income, jobs, and exports while promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity, and human development.

“Cultural Industries + Creative Industries = Creative Nation” 1

Post pandemic, the initiatives by DC(H), Craft Museum, and other eminent organization such as Craft Village, Dastkari Haat Samiti, British Council, World Craft Council etc has been able to help Artisanal Community, by providing enough opportunity locally so that migration to cities can be stopped by giving them dignity of life and employment. The pandemic however has brought six major directions/indicators that can have a long-term impact on Craft Sector;

  1. Collaborative

Like any crisis, a pandemic brought industries & people together to find a solution. It brought everyone back to the drawing board to think ‘Creative’ and ‘Re-Start’ by looking at a New Normal condition. Industry has seen a strategic shift from traditional ‘Supply Chain’ to new ‘Value Chain’ that has a lot of local integration to avoid delays and catastrophe caused in an event such as a pandemic, and to create a robust mechanism to produce and deliver through collaborative network of Manufactures, Buyers and Retailers.

India’s Hand-made and Handicrafts sector contributes to 0.5 % of India’s GDP, as India’s GDP shrunk almost 24% in the first quarter, the road ahead was full of challenges. To bounce back and grow at 2-3% in exports and 10-12% in the domestic market is a major challenge now, but crisis brings opportunities as well. The most significant shift has been momentum in the e-commerce space with India Craft Week, Amazon, Flipkart, Jaypore, Tribes, Etsy, and other large global players connecting at the speed of light with Artisans and creating digital shops.  In a few months it has resulted from huge income generation and unlimited reach, saving cost of traveling, exhibitions, inventory, packaging etc.

On the other hand, there has been a migration from traditional selling to new selling by Artisans and Craftsperson engaged using digital tools such as Zoom, FB, Instagram, Twitter, websites, WhatsApp, and other Mobile Apps like Telegram to reach out to their database.

Bigger export houses innovated digital solutions for presentation such as e-fairs, marts to connect with overseas buyers using 3-D modelling, Virtual walk through, AR/VR presentation. It was much faster, easier, and way below the cost they would have incurred in physical fairs, exhibitions, and presentations. The technology adoption that could have taken another decade was adopted in just a period of 3-months.

  • Experiential

One may not realize but pandemic has made all of us ‘Digital Natives’ seeking experiences that are ‘Digital/Virtual’. It would mean that Craft Tourism will have to wait for many more years to normalize. Craft Tourism supports major Livelihood to millions who are present at heritage sites, cultural destinations, and craft cities (such as Jaipur). In 2019, 10.9 Million Foreign and 220 Million domestic tourists have travelled across India, with a growth rate or 2-3% and 15% respectively.

Tourism supports the buying of local crafts mostly as memoir or souvenir and is an important means of income in the areas that are dependent on tourism. Most of the family income of the entire year depends on a few months of tourist seasons. During the Pandemic this year is almost wiped away, making an uncertain future. To create a parallel opportunity Craft Village has proposed Google Arts & Culture to re-align ‘Craft Tourism’ with Google-Maps, like Google Street View that can take a visitor into various heritage sites through digital experiential modes. This experience is enhanced through VR-AR technologies enabling virtual walk at Various Heritage Sites and interacting with the various craft forms and artisans in real-time. The aim of such a project is to build ‘Virtual Craft Tourism’ that is seamless and fast.

  • Sustainable

Last year there was a global outrage on the plastic ban looking at what it did to marine life, India generates nearly 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day, making it the 15th biggest plastic polluter globally. Even during the pandemic PPE kits, Masks and other medical toxic have become a huge worry to dispose of, and as usual, the world is struggling with most of the products at the end of life cycle management. Interestingly, Craft products always work at the beginning of Life Cycle Management, which means recycle or reuse is not an afterthought, but taken care of even before products are being conceived.

Most of the craft products are Sustainable, they use local & natural resources, self-sustenance for community consumption and doesn’t end up generating waste, and has re-usability. Just to quote an example Sujani from Bihar, OR Kantha in Bengal shows how a saree translates afterlife into meaningful baby products. Even terracotta, bamboo, metal, wood, and such materials are all biodegradable. A universal design quoted by Charles and Ray Eames shows how a Saree and Lota, due to its multi-functional aspects have helped in creating senseless products that are dumped later back to the planet, even though we have 2 shirt and a trouser per capita even today.

The greater embedded value and emotional quotient e.g. sarees or lehengas as a part of marriage tradition, gifted by dad/mom, on the birth of baby, karvachauth, and many other such occasions created minimalism approach. Post pandemic, there has been a major thrust on ‘Slow Fashion’ and ‘Sustainability’ with Minimal but meaningful consumption.

  • Preservation

“Craft Trading can be limited to a generation, but training would empower many generations” Iti Tyagi, Founder, Craft Village

India has more than 220 Craft Clusters, these clusters are either Community based Craft Clusters, Craftsperson Centric Craft Clusters, OR Industry Based Craft Clusters. The focus of the Government has been on Re-Skilling, Up-Skilling, and New-Skilling, however, through the Guru-Shishya parampara, Crafts of India is already been into institutional mode of skill transfer from one generation to another to ensure that the dexterity and precision achieved over thousands of years are not lost. Even schemes of Govt. of India such as USTAAD by Minority Affairs and SFURTI by MSME have special focus laid on preserving the skills by training the Gen-Next using the master trainers Craftsperson. This process helps in retaining the originality of Crafts, as most often people confuse crafts with techniques.

The origin of crafts has manifestation of sense & sensibilities of communities, rituals, festive, education and so much more embedded into them, that it would be unfair to look at them only as material based or technique-based crafts. For example, the color and composition, motifs (if phulkari is geometric without tracing that is the core of that craft or Raas, Hunting, Chauser are the core of Chamba Rumaal they bring a legacy, where Phad painting is about Pabuji and Devnarayan), base materials (Kalamkari still uses Kacha milk to treat the fabric for color fastening), the technique of making, testing (In Bidar in Karnataka artisans still taste soil to gage whether it is fit for Bidri metal work OR in Molela in Rajasthan Artisan only use a specific clay from one lake that the key characteristic for making 3-D tiles). It is of paramount importance that these originalities are not lost in translation and in a desperate move to modernize, otherwise we would lose the original indigenous language of crafts to the next generation.

And the Craft Sector instead of calling it an unorganized sector, needs to be termed as a self-organized sector, and traditional knowledge will have an edge

  • Co-Create

One of the significant developments during the pandemic is the ‘importance of Human Beings’ and everyone realized that they need to take care of each other. Hence, bringing back Co-Creation into focus. This means where the artisans’ work ends, the designer’s work begins without interfering with the language of ‘Craft Forms’, and hence each stakeholder at the end adds value to the entire process.

In the age of creative economy, and post-pandemic when consumers are looking at ‘Conscious Consumption’, they are looking at the real source where the goods are being produced creating ‘Fashion without Guilt’! This phenomenon has mend working way for the designers and brands to be more conscientious, taking them into Co-Creation mode. Leading designers like Donna Karan, New York practices this under ‘Soulful’ economy, where the designer and the African artisans are equal partners, and share equal profits. It has helped change the definition of artisans from ‘vendors’ or ‘suppliers’ to co-creators. Rahul Mishra despite the lockdown ensured that his ‘Co-Creators’ are not deprived off and created them, partners, into the process. This shows how responsible thinking can help new and meaningful partnerships. At India Craft Week the faculty and students of pearl academy have helped Co-Create Pashmina Products by reviving a 50-Years old technique, where the yardage of Pashmina is converted into an ‘Apparel Product’ and upholstery in Furniture to help energy conservation in cold countries. Similarly, Miniature Pottery Button for ‘Sustainable and ‘Slow Fashion, from Ramgarh has helped in creating a biodegradable alternative to plastic, nylon, and polyester buttons. For Chamba Rumaal, a book library cum partition for the living room as well as the hotel lobby, has not only added a great piece of art, but also a great purpose for room partition.

  • Celebration

Crafts are a celebration of life, and the pandemic has brought back the emphasis on celebrating life every moment, and since ages Crafts has been an integral part of any ritual, festival, OR community celebrations. Garland Magazine, Australia initiated a project titled Uphaar; objects of love to creates stronger bonds binding by rituals. The project explored the festivities of India in bringing the joy of crafting objects of desire. The performing arts, feast, cuisines, dresses, make-ups, accessories, the sets and so much goes into preparing an elaborate set-up that adds to the visual and multi-sensory experience.

India is the land of celebration, to rejoice human emotions/spirit that helps in bouncing back by coming together. Be it Diwali, Holi, Pongal, Durga Puja, Navratri, Eid, Baisakhi, Christmas from Rangoli’s in-home to jewellery and adornment, to home decoration, lighting is part of such celebration of Craft and Craftmanship. Most Folk/Tribal/Fine art reflects this celebration in their paintings as well through storytelling, showcasing joy, happiness, and celebration of life in India’s most vivid and colourful forms. Therefore, Crafts are the timeless celebration of India and represent ‘Unity in Diversity’ through a gamut of the finest skills and creativity that shows India’s rich culture and heritage.

In Summary, Crafts are the most essential tool to connect life with change, they are strategic than just decorative objects, and the only answer in building a sustainable future!

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  1. Equation given by Dr Darlie Koshy, Former Director, NID
  2. Principle given by Rajeev Sethi, Craft Curator

Craft Village

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