Traditions for today
Revival of a craft heritage is not just about practising an old artform. It’s about making it relevant in contemporary times with absolute creative freedom and keeping the process sustainable. That’s what some brands are offering to artisans from rural Rajasthan
Last year, a colourful rug called Sawan ka Lehariya shot to fame after it won the prestigious European Product Design award 2019 for Artisan Original Design. The award, which recognises unique design experiments from across the world, was won by Parvati and Bhagchand from Kekri village near Jaipur. Members of the traditional hand-knotted carpet weaving community of the state, the two created the vibrant carpet inspired by nature around their desert home. The couple say that this was the first time they were given absolute creative freedom and having received so much adulation for a design that they created has given them courage.
However, Parvati and Bhagchand are not alone. They are members of the weaving community supported by Jaipur Rugs India (JRI), a four-decade-old brand that is synonymous with the preservation of the age-old textile traditions of India. There are several more like JRI, that are supporting rural artisans to practice their heirloom crafts and thrive. Another group working towards keeping alive Rajasthan’s vivid artistic traditions and the practising families is Nila House. “Every traditional craft community has a sense of pride and belief in their way of life and if we use these values for any form of intervention, they are more accommodating and accepting of change,” says Juhi Pandey, the head for artisan development at Nila house.
Making it easier
Organisations today have accepted that allowing creative freedom to artisans allows for unique results. Take for example the work done by the Doorstep Entrepreneurship programme by JRI that delivers not just raw materials, but necessary equipment like looms, yarn etc along with quality vocational training for women in a weaving household, to the artisan’s doorstep. The finished rugs are picked up and exported worldwide and the benefits are transferred directly to the weavers, weeding out middle men. “Direct procurement also helps us offer design inputs from across the world to the artisans,” adds Pandey. Nila House follows a two-pronged approach. One function is to work on direct design development and production, generating business for the artisans. The second, is the exhibition space at the Nila House centre in Jaipur, for artisans to showcase, promote, publicise and exhibit their works.
The next step
Some believe that revival as a process is aimed towards simply bringing to life an art, or a craft that was practised decades ago. However, others say it is important to alter the craft for it to thrive in contemporary times. “The key to preservation and sustainability is the translation of these crafts for today’s world. This requires patience, understanding, commitment and the passion for both the traditional form as well as what we can achieve from it today,” says Anuradha Singh, who heads Nila House. Adaptation also includes global exposure. In this regard, organisations are collaborating with artists from around the world for a creative exchange that provides local communities a wider stage for their crafts and also helps them understand design sensibilities which otherwise would never have made their way to the remote corners of India where they reside. Matteo Cibic, a well-known Italian designer, collaborated with JRI on a design experiment to create a collection of avant-garde handmade carpets according to European design sensibilities. Named Jaipur Wunderkammer, the rugs woven in traditional Rajasthani style depicted the state’s architecture and traditions. “These rugs are works of art. I want people who look at them and use them, to understand the sensibilities of a land that is so rich. I want people to appreciate the hard work that has made each one of these perfect,” Cibic says.
Interestingly, what also mattered to Cibic was the community development outcome of his work. “I like to work with people who believe in sustainability; both socially and ecologically. My focus has been on giving a new look to Indian crafts.”
British luxury wear designer Anna Valentine, who works extensively with textile artisans in Rajasthan, too vouches for sustainability. “As we become more aware of our environment it makes us more conscious not only of what we buy and where it is made but also how many times a piece of textile will be used,” says Valentine, who has worked with Indian artisans for almost 30 years, and recently collaborated with Nila House on a collection aimed to showcase traditional techniques of handweaving and natural indigo dyes. “The diversity and quality of the artisan’s work is both inspiring and exquisite. When Lady Bamford told me about a Centre for excellence in Jaipur to promote the crafts of India, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to support Indian artisans and also learn and exchange ideas,” explains the designer, who was introduced to Rajashtan’s crafts by Lady Bamford, who heads the Lady Bamford Foundation. The foundation works with communities around Jaipur and Udaipur to enhance sustainable production and business efficiency for 100 artisan units across five districts of the state.
Today, in rural pockets of Rajasthan, artisans are encouraging their children to study and practise their craft. “I interact with international designers. I create unique fabrics and my children are studying. Today, it is a matter of pride to be associated with crafts, not like the early days when we used to prefer working as labourers,” says Asha, a rug-designer from Itawa, Rajasthan. Motivated artisans, sustained livelihoods and an innovative support system backed by the government is ensuring these crafts are propagated and preserved. Corporate initiatives towards being more socially responsible have now diversified, they are concerned about building rural economies. Rural communities need a voice that understands them for the external world and organisations today are becoming facilitators in this process of connecting our country internally and externally.