Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Author’s Speech for the occasion of the release of ‘Indian Saris: Traditions – Perspectives – Design’ - (full text)

The Right Honorable The Baroness Flather of Windsor and Maidenhead, Esteemed experts on the panel discussion, members of design & art fraternity in UK and the distinguished delegates,
The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you' for having taken out your time to be with us this evening. Your presence is a demonstration of solidarity that you have in your hearts for the cause of Indian textiles. I am well aware that some of you have been contributing significantly through your research and professional work to the traditional handloom and handicrafts industry of India. For me, it is an extraordinary privilege to be in your company and share some insights gained through my close contact with the handcrafted textiles of India — with particular reference to the saris.

There could be no better place than London for the very first international launch of the book, ‘Indian Saris: Traditions– Perspectives – Design’ as long standing exchanges of UK and India in the field of textiles are unique from many points of views. Since the first contact established with India by the East India Company in 1606, British people found a special interest in Indian textiles. By 1618 itself, the company was successful in establishing its trade activities from both east and west coast of India. There is historical evidence that in subsequent and the early period of this era, an active trade of Indian textiles was established with important traditional textile centres like Agra, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bharuch, Bombay, Madras, Cuddalore, Masulipatam, Patna, Balasore, Malda and Dacca.

If we discount the dynamics of power and politics of that era, the British intervention in the region has had many positive impacts on the profile and structure of the Indian textile industry. Reputation of Indian textiles reached far and wide. Volume of production for many varieties was scaled up as artisans could find new market avenues. The interaction across the production centres was improved. New varieties of textiles specific to the interests of European markets were developed. The situation was to the gain for all stakeholders till the introduction and popularization of mill based production.

As you all are aware that oral instructions and rigor of apprenticeship were the only means of continuity in the traditional Indian crafts. It has been to a great advantage for all of us today that many British artists, scholars and surveyors, since their very early visits to India documented many exquisite textiles in great details. A great deal of revival initiatives in twentieth century for some languished Indian textiles by the heritage conservationist could only be attempted due to the availability of such records.

Though sari has never found a trade interest by the foreigners who dealt with pre-independence India, it could out-survive numerous trends in textiles and fashion due to inherent tradition bound continuity of certain ethos and values of Indian society. It remained one of the core products from the family of uncut-and–unstitched range of textiles to which Indian pit loom was originally fine-tuned and engineered for. The day Indian handlooms will stop producing saris; the very existence of handlooms in India will have no music. They shall loose the inherent identity that we all love and cherish.

In India, for a practicing textile designer, it would be a rarity if one did not get an opportunity to design saris. Designing hand woven saris offers creative opportunities much deeper than any other commercial category of textiles. But one would soon be concerned by a number of issues that are beyond the market success of new design collections. Host of issues such as, poor socioeconomic conditions of the weavers; survival and continuity of the icons of cultural identity that is constantly being influenced and invaded in modern India; tension between traditional ethics and tenets of globalisation; and of course the sustainability of diverse traditions of hand woven sari that could offer meaningful employment opportunities to millions, and so on; outgrow the otherwise simple design brief and call for meeting the larger challenges.

Earnest attempts were made with the interdisciplinary support systems of the National Institute of Design to meet the challenges of socio-cultural responsibility in designing saris. The design teams increasingly became multifarious and the collaborations in the field grew much deeper. Relationships with the market forces were redefined. Focus was brought to the empowerment of all the stakeholders from raw materials to production to distribution. Long term commitment and hand holding of the producer communities was meticulously embedded in the design methodology. An approach that not only creates the products that will sell but also nurtures the indigenous practices and identities to flourish. All this requires many new capabilities that were traditionally not considered by the textile designers. This book derives considerably from such ideas and first hand experiences.

At the turn of the 21st century, official records show that there are 6.55 million handloom weavers in the country. Nearly half of them are engaged in sari weaving itself. Further, a sizable number of people engaged in activities like supply of raw materials, sales and marketing gain from the industry. In addition to simple, sustainable innovative and environment friendly practices the diverse sari traditions exemplify that the weavers continue to have tremendous imagination and creativity. Each tradition in itself is such a relevant concept that it lends many ideas to set-up new formats of creative industries for much needed economic progress in the region.

The premise of this publication is that the emerging issues and problems related to the sustenance and development of Indian textiles and fashions are very different from what they were in the past. The new environment calls for a reassessment of the original objectives, approach and methodologies of design in this sector. The attempt of this book is also to establish new connections between the traditions and the modernity. I am hopeful that the efforts through this book in demystifying the role of design for saris to make it understood by larger cross sections of people in India and across the world will be rewarded through your valuable feedback and suggestions.
Thank you very much.

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