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THE CRAFTS COMMUNITY TODAY
ATTITUDES THAT COLOUR OUR PERCEPTION OF THE CRAFTSPERSON
The first reason for the poor status of the crafts community lies in our understanding of crafts and the role of crafts in our society. How do people view the craftsperson: Is he an artist or merely a labourer? Was the Taj Mahal built by an artis or by the crafts community? Is craft mainlymanual work or is it a skill-based activity that brings together the hand, the head and the heart? The attitude today towards crafts and the crafts community is the first stumbling block hindering the progress of crafts in India.
Where women have chosen to embroider for a living, they make a clear bifurcation between commercial and traditional handwork. The two are different entities, and do not directly overlap. Rules and standards for each are distinct. Yet, working with the market does affect how a woman feels about herself as an artisan and as a member of her society. The first and perhaps the biggest impact of commercial work is the separation of design, or art, and craft, or labour. Artisans are asked to make what someone else tells them to make, rather than work from their own sense of aesthetics. When presented with a set of four alien coloured threads, Rabari women baulked. If we use these, it won’t be Rabari, they said. In traditional work, there is no distinct separation of colour, stitch, pattern and motif; these work together in units. Design intervention separates these elements and juxtaposes them in new ways. When design is reserved for a professional designer and craft is relerelegated to the artisan, the artisan is reduced to a labourer.
CRAFT AND THE MACHINE
The term for art and craft were synonymous in India before the colonial period. In India the crafts community was recognised as a crucial and important part of society on whom the development and enhancement of life depended. In Europe, with the introduction of machines, the role of the crafts community dwindled and crafts completely disappeared. Household utility items that had once been made by the crafts community are now mass produced by machines. Work done by the hand was con sidered inferior to intellectual w ork. M achines replaced handiwork that was seen to be both demeaning and backward.
Two individuals who alerted the world to this tragic misconception were William Morris and John Ruskin. Their denunciation of the machine as “destroyer of th joy of hand-work” in the 1850s led to the commencement of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England. They wrote extensively to remind people that human begins are fundamentally creative and that machines were taking away the joy of life. Their writing greatly influenced many thinkers in India thus causing a new interest and study of craft traditions in India.
Owen Jones’s book, The Grammar of Ornament, 1856, documented the principles of good design in which there were examples of Persian, Indian, ‘Hindoo’ ornaments. Jones was also involved in arranging the great exhibitions i n L o n d o n i n 1 8 5 1 i n w h i c h t h e b e s t a n d m o s t extravagant of Indian crafts were displayed to “help E n g l a n d t o im p r o v e t h e p o o r q u a l i t y o f B r i t i s h craftsma n sh ip th at w as s u fferin g th e d amag es o f industrialisation.”
The notion that India was an uncivilised country with a stagnant economy, with a traditional way of life that had not changed for centuries was sought to be dispelled by such exhibitions and exposure of the British public to great Indian crafts. In turn the exhibitions held in England led to greater interest in high quality Indian crafts. Fortunately, during this period some British officers undertook the documentation of traditional skills, tools, workplaces, objects; encyclopaedias were assembled; census, mapping and surveys were conducted. These records proved priceless resources for contemporary Indian designers and for craft revival programmes inpost-industrial India. Despite the detrimental effect of the colonial economy on Indian crafts, the documentation o f c rafts b y B ri tish o fficers d u ri n g th i s time h ad important consequences.
1. H o w can craftsp eo p le reco ver th eir statu s an d esteemed place in the present economic situation?
2. Write a short article about harmful child labour keeping in mind the following:
long working hours
loss of educational and recreational opportunities
h ealth h azard s—accid ents, illn ess, vio len ce, harmful effects of chemicals
abuse and exploitation—emotional and mental.
3. Write a speech on ‘Disappearing Raw Material’ for the local communiy. Describe the contributions of crafts to your state in the context of Indian culture. Describe the reasons for the loss of raw material and the consequences of the loss.
4. Ivory, shahtoosh and sandalwood are all banned items. Design a strategy for a ‘sting operation’ to expose this illegal trade.
5. Develop a lesson plan for the primary school for children of craftspersons that would help them to learn a literacy skill like writing or arithmetic. Link family craft in an interesting way.
6. The close connection between the craftspeople and the raw material they use is reflected in several local traditions. Research and describe one such tradition/ ritual/ceremony/festival in detail.
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