Home » Featured » DESIGN INTERVENTION AND CRAFT REVIVAL, INDIAN PROSPECTIVE
Usma Jalal & Dar Javed
Millions of people who possess traditional skills and knowledge make a living by producing traditional handicrafts. In India, more than 330 million people are engaged in the informal sector, of which traditional crafts sector occupies a large chunk. Here, it is prudent to define traditional handicrafts before discussing about its innovation and creativity. The following definition of traditional handicrafts can be found in the extant literature in the Indian context:
‘Items made by hand, often with the use of simple tools, and … generally artistic and/ or traditional in nature. They include objects of utility and objects of decoration’ (Definition given by the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India, as quoted by Liebl and Roy, 2003a).
It would also be relevant to state the definition of handicrafts or traditional craft, given by UNESCO/ITC (1997): ‘Artisanal products are those produced by artisans, either completely by hand, 0 r with the help of hand tools or even by mechanical means, as long as the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most substantial component of the finished product. The special nature of the finished products derives from their distinctive features, which can be utilitarian, aesthetic, creative, culturally attached, decorative, functional, traditional, religiously and socially symbolic and significant. ‘
Notwithstanding the importance of and the role played by the traditional crafts, the crafts and the craftsmen have never been given due importance. The role played by the traditional handicrafts in the economy of any country has never been assessed and explored properly. It is needless to mention that traditional handicraft has a tremendous scope of developing the quality of the artifact through innovation, diversification, quality control and marketing.
“Handicraft is the second largest source of employment in the country, after agriculture. Yet India’s hand industries are in a crisis of misunderstanding.” Crafts council of India-2011
“According to the United Nations, over the past 30 years, the number of Indian artisans has decreased by 30%, indicating the need to re-invest in artisans to safeguard history, culture and an important source of livelihood.” William Bissel, MD, Fabindia .
CURRENT STATE OF THE CRAFT INDUSTRY
Today, an argument, an attitude faces crafts and artisans in India. This is the argument of economics, of sustainability, of marketability, which is the argument of financial survival (Crafts Council of India- April 2011) One question is still unsolved and unanswered. What is the state of Craft & craftsmen in India? This question carries a huge and thick question mark at its end. India, no doubt is a very big country. It is big also because of its diversity and racial character. More than 3000 castes, 432 tribal communities, believers of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikh, Jain, Buddhism and Zoroastrian have been living together since centuries. Over 1650 dialects are spoken by the people of India. The harmony among the people of India is worth mentioning. The planners and policy makers of India have been addressing many problems and concerns of this country. They are also addressing the need of the craftsmen and their craftsmanship but probably the issue is so vast and complicated that the issue has not been touched in complete form.( Gandhi National Centre for the Arts- Under UNESCO’s Programme on Cultural Industries and Copyright Policies and Partnerships)
“An estimated 71% of artisans work as family units and 76% attribute their profession to the fact that they have learnt family skills.”Fab India
While crafts received royal and aristocratic patronage during pre-Independence days and played a central role in Gandhi’s independence struggle, they have slowly lost relevance with the advent of industrialization. Currently, the sector carries the stigma of inferiority and backwardness, and is viewed as decorative, peripheral and elitist. This is compounded by the Government’s treatment of crafts as a sunset industry, which has resulted in a lack of well-developed policies and programs to protect and strengthen the ecosystem for artisans. Traditional crafts have largely been marginalized by mass produced consumer goods, which tend to be cheaper due to the economies of scale associated with mechanization. The nature of the crafts sector and challenges faced by artisans reduces their ability to compete with machine-made products .Catering to the mainstream market often necessitates a decline in quality and /or workmanship, leading to the eventual loss of skills over a few generations.
Design intervention is a process that involves designing new products; redesigning existing products, with changes in shape, size, colour, surface manipulation, function and utility; exploring new markets and reviving lapsed markets; applying traditional skills to meet new opportunities and challenges; and the introduction of new materials, new processes, new tools and technologies. It is seen as an interface between traditional and modernity, that matches craft production to the needs of modern living. Design interventions have a very important role in every step of the process in creation of the craft. They should focus on the identity of a craft, its social and cultural relevance to its region, and the processes and materials involved, to incorporate the interventions in the right situations, with efficient expected outcomes and reasoning’s.(Design Intervention and its execution in Crafts of India- Amrita Panda) Design interventions also assist in creating an awareness among artisans of methods, materials, tools, processes and clientele base. In many cases the artisans of a region have lost or rather do not have a documented form of the craft. Traditional crafts are memory based, and only memory is the knowledge bank of their traditional methods and materials (Design Intervention and its execution in Crafts of India- Amrita Panda)
REVIVAL OF DYING CRAFTS : We’re living in a new golden era of good design, and collaboration between designers & craftspeople is largely the reason to be thankful for. As consumers, we’re more aware of materials now – not just their visual and sensual appeal, but also where they come from, why they matter. We’re more curious about how things are made and who made them (The Craft of Design- Joyce Lovelace-2013) Collaborative innovation between designer and craftsperson is a means of expanding the craft vocabulary and tapping contemporary markets. It is also argued that a link between the apparently conflicting tenets of sustainability can be achieved through responsible and strategic design innovation which integrates the social, economic, ecological and cultural aspects. ( Rebecca Reubens 2010) It has now been recognized that indigenous innovations are crucial for any developing nation in order to achieve cumulative growth, both economically and socially. These innovations, as they will be mostly in the form of appropriate modifications in the existing products, will require further critical interventions and hand-holding efforts for their transition into markets. Design intervention can help bring in the much needed empathetic understanding and holistic vision to connect and integrate the various efforts towards a positive outcome. One would come across amazing indigenous innovations in India that can be developed into marketable products and thereby help in creating business success. These could provide vital directions for a country like India, to transform into an innovation-driven economy. ( Ascertaining the Scope for Design Interventions for their Successful Commercialization- Ravi Mokashi-Pune)
While writing conclusion of this i and usma feelinhat perhaps the following quote from a United Nations document gets its place in this write up: “It is truly sad, whereas in Europe and North America, the view is being taken that the future must be handmade (for economic, environmental and social reasons). India is yet to articulate a craft future in a realistic, practical way that respects not just the issue of cultural identity but equally the force of Indian craft in the economy.”we believe that let the traditional craft be traditional but in order to create a niche market the design,new patterns ,change in motifs,innovation is the need of the hour.
Usma Jalal is project coordinator, HELP Foundation srinagar and Dar Javed is a Craft management design graduate.
They can be contacted at [email protected]
 Craft and Design-What’s the Distinction ?, by Howard Risatti-(2008)
 Design Intervention & Craft Revival Harita Kapur *, Suruchi Mittar **