Role of Crafts in Crisis

-Prof. Somesh Singh-

The Role of Crafts to Crisis is not just limited to products, but a wider framework of Human & Environmental Crisis. Crafts binds society, culture, heritage, environment, and ecology of a region, and play a pivotal role in dealing with Crisis. The examples/case-study given under are self-explanatory to the kind of ‘Roles & Responsibility’ Crafts play in dealing with different formats of Crisis.

1.     Humanitarian Crisis; India’s Jammu and Kashmir region has been a very sensitive zone for the last few decades due to the insurgency and terrorism affecting the majority of the state population. Majid & Fayaz Mir (traditional artisans of Pashmina Shawl Weaving) were born out of this Humanitarian Crisis. At an early age, these brothers would observe their father and grandfather doing fine Pashmina shawl weaving at home, and they would often ask to learn, and their father would deny telling them to focus on studies than weaving. The tensions grew in the valley during the 1990s, where most of the time schools remained shut. Majid & Fayaz being at home convinced their father to pursue at least weaving when they are forced to remain indoors, and finally got a nod to pursue the tradition of calligraphy weaving. These brothers revived the dying art of pashmina weaving and received various National & International recognition for Craft Revival in the Kashmir region.

They are an example to the world, when youths were engaged in stone-pelting, how a pair of hands can create the magic of weaving in the valleys, showing how the ‘Humanitarian’ Crisis can be turned into creating employment for thousands of people.

2.     Community Crisis; There is a famous saying in Gujarat, if Riots took them apart, the earthquake brought them together. The Kutch region in Gujarat has shown that ‘Craft binds community’ and despite Gujarat Riots where most of the regions were affected, the Hindu-Muslim community that practiced crafts showed a greater level of trust and solidarity. The crafts never let them ‘Be-Divided’, despite such incidents that could have created boundaries, Kutch never witnessed it due to its age-old crafting tradition in Ajrakh, Sufi Embroidery, Bandhini, and many others traditional crafts practiced by both Hindu and Muslim Communities.

Another example of community crisis emerged when the Muslim community in Nirona never wanted to send their daughters to work, Gafur Bhai (Padmashri in Rogan Art) helped revived this dying art by training more than 300-women in 2009 to save this craft from extinction as well as helping daughters to be at home, learning and earning their livelihood. Today village Nirona in Kutch in Gujarat is known for its revival, and the Khatri community is given credit for saving and reviving this age-old form which we almost lost!

3.     Environmental Crisis; The last few years have been a major worry in terms of dumping plastic bottles in the ocean. To solve this crisis, Dhritiman Bora, a native of Assam used the local technique to develop water bottles made up of bamboo, making it completely biodegradable and natural. The bottles are leak-proof and one can easily carry them without much hassles! Similarly, Om Prakash Galav, from Alwar, Rajasthan had developed Terracotta Bottles that are ‘Eco-Friendly’ and help save energy by keeping the water cool during the summers, and warm during winters bringing the basic characteristic of earth. Everyone talks about sustainability, but energy conservation is one of the most important parts of such endeavours that can be achieved through age-old traditional techniques.

4.     Disaster Management; Tsunamika who stands as a symbol of living, was born in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami. Uma Prajapati helped hundreds of fisherwomen to find livelihood helping overcome the trauma of a sudden and violent act of nature.

Uma and her team helped these women artisans to make little dolls out of waste and left out clothes from manufacturing. And these dolls were named Tsunamika. These Dolls were ‘Gifting a Hope’ and became a phenomenon, and were sent from India to Japan during the Tsunami in 2011 as a gesture of solidarity. The Tsunamika project received UNESCO’s recognition and the Tsunamika story book was published in 7 languages, English, German, Russian, Danish, French, Tamil, and Spanish.

Today, Tsunamika dolls are distributed all over the world as a gift that reminds people of hope and human unity. Tsunamika dolls are never traded, they are only gifted. Over 6 million dolls have travelled to more than 80 countries. And wherever she travels, Tsunamika continues to spread the message of love, hope, and ocean protection.

5.     Water Crisis (Crisis of Natural resources); Kayan Joshi, a traditional Phad painter who worked on a water conservation project in JhunJhunu in Rajasthan with IDC Mumbai. The greater scarcity of water gripping all the villages nearby was primarily due to lack of knowledge of water harvesting, wastage of water, illegal borings, and evolution of new crop harvesting not suited to the climate and geography of this village, which consumed 100-500 times more water than what was originally produced there. As a result, the water levels were down by 300 feet and most villages have reached the water threshold. As a result, people started to abandon the villages adding the population elsewhere. The Phad “Narrative Craft” helped in the local way of narration and storytelling of how to save water, recycle and preserve it. This grass-root communication is being done across 10-15 villages near Jhunjhunu, the art work has not only been done on the wall of homes in the villages but has been made also on Phad scroll which would be carried and narrated by Bhopa and Bhopi in all these villages about the importance of saving and preserving water. And in a few months, there has been a great water conservation in the entire region.

6.     Partition Crisis; One Craft, Two Nations. And the Craft of Phulkari and Kantha shows how it united and helped people settled across the border using these embroidered forms, that helped women to overcome the Trauma and Shock of partition. Phulkari was practiced in Pakistan as well as the region of Punjab in India, it was the common link between the women in Sindh before the partition. When the partition happened these craftswomen helped bring the identities to a ‘Common’ form, that showed ‘tradition beyond borders’ and to build connections between the families that remained on both sides of the borders. The same happened to the women in Bangladesh when the nation got divided, the only link that remained was ‘Kantha’ embroidery, which helped these women express their daily stories or anguish in the form of embroidered stories to overcome parted families and societies they were living in.

7.     Saving Animals; Bhajju Shyam, Jiva Shoma Mashey, Kalyan Joshi painted elephants in Tribal and Folk art as a part of the Elephant Parade which took place in Mumbai in 2018.

This public art collective was aimed to generate funds to secure 101 elephant corridors across India for the endangered Asian elephant. The 101 painted elephants created a striking spectacle of color and showcase the nation’s most creative folk & tribal artists to help endangered elephants, and created a national movement against the crime happening against ‘Gaj-Raj’ (Elephant).

8.     Gender Equality; Crafts are known for Women Empowerment, while the majority of the male population were engaged in Agriculture, women helped families by engaging in Crafts. It became a collective activity to support women to contribute equally to social and cultural development. One such example can be seen with Madhubani Paintings, where the largest women population is engaged in ‘Folk Art’, which is inspired by the events of Ramayana (especially Lord Rama’s wedding with Sita). Today the entire range of Mithila region practices this Craft, and every woman in the village is engaged from generation to generation making these paintings, not only supporting their families but also bringing laurels to their community and society. Everywhere, in Craft ‘Madhubani (Made with Love)’ is the largest example of ‘Women Empowerment’ and ‘Gender Equality’, where women came to the forefront through their folklores bringing parity.

9.     Pandemic; Two examples; Art is always considered ‘An expression of Time’, and during the lockdown, Craft Village initiated an idea with Tribal, Folk, and Traditional artists to bring expression through the pandemic. The same artists who were struggling with crisis sold more than INR 5-Million of paintings during the period, found a great Media Coverage and recognition worldwide. Be it Phad, Madhubani, Gond, Patachitra, Kalighat etc. Another interesting example is Indian Yards, which began to mobilize Toda embroidery women artisans from Nilgiris and created masks. Indian Yards sold more than 40,000 masks since the lockdown. Their basic hand-woven masks ranged from ₹15-95 helping everyone to buy masks when most of the population could not afford masks available in the market for Rs 350-500. These women got 75 percent of the revenues generated through the sales of their embroidered masks.

10.  Identity Crisis; Craft is also a greater medium to connect the urban population with their ancestors and regions, with most of the population coming from various communities that have been practicing some of the local crafting tradition. It helps them revisit their past to the lineage most of these people coming from, and build a strong bond. Most community behave similarly, be it Luhaar (iron-smith), Sunaar (gold-smith), bhil (hunters), Jats (agriculture), Marwari (engaged in various business activities), (such occupation-based caste system are integral part of ethnic group constituting 80% of current Indian population). It is seen that during the campaign VocalforLocal, there has been a greater connection of all the urban centres with their home-town, villages, and regions. Suddenly, a massive surge has begun in consumption of local crafts, as people started talking about their forefathers, people, community, etc engaged in their region practicing the culture and heritage ranging from food, performing arts, costumes, rituals, and everything that culminated their daily lives, and one can see that these ‘Cosmopolitan Population’ have found back their long-forgotten roots and an identity that they proudly associate with.

11.  Reducing Migration & Urban Rural Conflict; The Lock-Down in march saw a massive migration of laborers from Cities to Villages walking thousands of kilometres, perhaps one of the saddest episodes of pandemic effect in India. As per the UN Report, these laborers were originally engaged in craft production before the 1990s. But with diminishing income and in absence of recognition, these people became migrant laborers. This shows that if the Craft is strengthened in a particular region and in general, it would help reduce a major burden on cities, as well as help preserve a legacy of skills achieved over thousands of years. Similarly, a new research by Psychologists at Goldsmiths, University of London demonstrates that traditional toys & dolls could work best in helping UK and immigrant kids’ friendships to reduce racial conflict. Similarly, Kathputli dolls in the Indian context can act as a great connection between urban and rural kids, one may need to work on character/game design that can connect traditional sensibilities with urban forms.

12.  Emotional Crisis; Craft is the largest celebration of Human Emotion, and the same is reflected always in rituals, celebrations, festivals, and part of our daily lives. That is why these craft products were always Sustainable. These products possessed greater value of responsible consumption, e.g. sarees would be a part of marriage tradition, gifted by dad/mom, on the birth of baby, karvachauth, and many other celebrations, occasions and festivals making it a huge emotional asset. Hence, even with a limited number of garments, the satisfaction level was much higher as compared to present conditions where 80% of clothes in our wardrobes are either worn once or never (clothing life has become as long as one’s memory). Now companies are coining new terms like ‘organic’ OR ‘slow’ fashion etc. without realizing that ‘Slow Manufacturing’ is not the ‘Slow Fashion’ but a ‘Slow OR Holistic Consumption’ with Emotional Quotient can elongate the ‘Life-Cycles’ of products many times, enabling a connection between the person buying them and wearing them. Most craft products deal with emotional crises, creating them as ‘Timeless Memories’ that bring joy, happiness, and the stories that celebrate the dimension of life & time.

13.  Craft Democracy; Craft liberates people, and the same can be seen during the Khadi movement in India, and very recently in Jawaja in Rajasthan. Despite the 21st Century, a liberation from a suppressed social structure to self-reliance, Jawaja has redefined the ‘Crafting Movement’ in a more integrated, holistic way. The Jawaja project was one experiment that integrated many aspects of craft: heritage, culture, social structure, design vocabulary. But it was not a craft project; it was a development defined as self-reliance for those who have been the most dependent in our society. Ravi Matthai explained self-reliance thus: Can people do something for themselves tomorrow that others are doing for them today and they should be released from that dependence? Ultimately, Jawaja taught us that the whole is about people and you have to attend to people first and last or else nothing you do will be sustained.

Although not the intention, we took the craft route and consequently were able to demonstrate what an enormous force the crafts can be in this country. Craft is the strength inherent in our people. They know what they do with their hands and there needs to be a market for what they make. The move towards self-reliance forced us to tap the considerable design energies of the community. We went to Jawaja being told that there were no resources, but instead found people with an extremely good understanding of design and an ability to innovate their designs. We decided to create craft products that the local power structure, the moneylenders, knew nothing about. It was not an option to make traditional products to sell in markets controlled by the power structure. This route had to be bypassed. To exercise this option, they could not make colorful Juttis and footwear that were in the control of the people they were trying to escape from; they began to serve a market that the power structure had no control over. Now they are independent of the power structure, and helped men, women’s groups doing embroidery on leather Juttis creating a more liberal and independent society.

14.  Economic Crisis; Most of the craft forms are alternate income generation to ensure that even the non-agriculture season and the family members who are engaged in agriculture can create ‘Alternative Goods’ that helps in generating the family income. Most of the embroidered tradition in India is a testimony to how ‘Crafts’ were undertaken by women to create their own ‘assets’ for marriage and later if the need arises, it was sold to help families stride over financial crises. One of such examples is of ‘Phulkari Embroidery’ of Punjab, Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that phulkari was traditionally produced primarily for its use-value, Punjabi families were well aware that phulkari head coverings and other articles could be sold if money was needed in an emergency, creating the embroidered piece more valuable than gold.

15.  Caste System; Patachitra is a ‪traditional ‎art from Orissa. It is painted on the Palm leaf Pattachitra (or Tala Pat in Oriya) or a canvas scroll. The paintings were originally substituted for worship on days when the temple doors of Jaganath Puri were shut for the ‘ritual bath’ of the deity. Later, it also becomes a tool of prayer for the caste that was not allowed inside the temples, and every community could offer prayers in front of their deities in this manner. There are many interesting crafts like Mata-Ni-Pachhedi, Pichhvai, etc. that helped in bringing god and goddess to homes of people so that wherever social restrictions applied, they were not deprived of offering prayers to their deities and faiths they practiced for centuries.

Crafts have been one of the most essential tools to connect life with change, that have resulted in superior products, processes, people management, change management and many other aspects needed by leaders or managers of today to run successful companies. They just need a bit of humility to understand and deep dive for effective use of lessons on how “Crafts are strategic’ and not mere poor looking decorative objects, to save Crafting Tradition: India’s greatest contribution to the world for building a sustainable future!


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