Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sonia Gandhi appreciates, 'Indian Saris: Traditions - Perspectives - Design'

Since its International launch the book 'Indian Saris: Traditions - Perspectives - Design' in third week of April, 2009 much appreciation and encouragement has been coming from many eminent individuals and experts from across the continents. These kind words reaffirm our belief that the book is receiving the interest of many. Once again, it is heartening to share that President of Indian National Congress Party Ms Sonia Gandhi --in her message sent to Wisdom Tree, the publisher--has appreciated the book and sent her best wishes for its success.
Indeed a big encouragement for all of us concerned with this publication celebrating Indian handloom weavers and their iconic designs for saris.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Design for Indian Textiles and Fashion: Traditions to Modernity

Panel discussion on the above topic was a part of the event that coincided with the launch of the publication, Indian Saris: Traditions—Perspectives—Design at the Nehru Centre, London on 20 April 2009. The discussion was moderated by Karen Spurgin, a senior consultant designer from UK. The other members from UK included Sophie Roet, Design Consultant; Prof Jimmy Stephen-Cran, GSA; and Dr. Eiluned Edwards, V&A scholar. Shashank Mehta and Vijai Singh Katiyar were on the panel from India. Each panelist initially introduced the approach of textile and fashion design from the point of view of their own country and experience. Besides other important points, the overall view that emerged was for the need to collaborate and work together in the area of Indian crafts and textiles. Some of the panel experts who have had the contacts with India amply lauded the potentials of and possibilities with Indian crafts and handlooms. But they also laid emphasis on the need for endeavors that could go beyond the mere simple design interventions and deal with complex social and cultural issues as well. Many delegates also actively participated in the later part of discussions and shared their insights. All the panel members agreed to further collaborate and continue this dialogue in meaningful ways. The chief guest Lady Shreela Flather also took an active interest and participated in this discussion. A summary of the contributions made by each panel member is as below:

Shashank Mehta
Shashank Mehta articulated various approaches that NID has developed over the last five decades working with the traditional crafts sector in India. He stressed on the significance of sustained inputs and handholding while working with the crafts and craft communities. In his opinion, designers working with the crafts persons in India often need to go beyond providing simple design solutions contributing only to the look and function of the craft products—they also need to take up the priority of improving the quality of life of the artisans through the design initiatives. Otherwise it is frequently seen that design in the crafts sector has been mostly benefiting the designers only—not the artisans working in far flung areas. Many Indian crafts continue to struggle for sustenance and survival. Therefore the focus must be on devising a holistic approach. It has been realized over and over again that the design interventions for the informal sectors and at the grass root level demand much different methodologies than what is practiced for the design and product development in most other sectors of the industry.

He pointed out that now with the overly saturated market conditions, there is a visible demand for the customization of various products and services—crafts provide this opportunity as their inherent strength. Design in crafts, with its intrinsic understanding of the interaction between the object and the user, thus can greatly leverage the traditional crafts to help reach out to the international markets with a clear focus on the needs of target audience.

Shashank also put forth the proposal that the aim of the panel discussion should lead to objective integration of emerging ideas that can further be utilized for the enrichment of Indian crafts and the design profession in form of meaningful strategy. Thereon a situation specific approach for Indian crafts could be detailed out that helps to take them beyond their existing opportunities. He felt that a continuous knowledge exchange with the international design fraternity for the ways to empower the craft communities in India is a much desirable approach today and perhaps the way forward.

Eiluned Edwards
Eiluned lived in Gujarat for several years in the 1990s and have return every year for further research, liaising with craftspeople, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), entrepreneurs and state agencies. For several years now she has been in active touch with these artisans and therefore has been able to closely witness the needs and potentials of the crafts practice in India. In her opinion Indian crafts and their practice offer a viable option for socio-economic development. Rural craftspeople miss opportunities because they do not have direct access to markets because of geography in the case of those in rural areas, and language. She also made the point that NID has never admitted the son or daughter of a craftperson to any of its courses – this may be because of language but is significant. If the country’s premier design institution purports to support craft traditions, and has identified the need for professional design intervention in order to sustain and develop them, it would seem to her that training the rising generation of craftspeople would be an obvious step.

Eiluned also talked about the foundation of Gujarat State Handicrafts Development Corporation and Gurjari in 1973 and their role in re-juvenating craft. She drew attention to the recent work of NID in producing Handmade in India, a compendium of Indian craft, long overdue, which after 40+ years consolidated the admirable craft documentation since 1961 Census. She pointed out the significant role of NGOs in craft development; their sustained input at grassroots has been one of the key factors in creating opportunities for craftspeople, developing training (computers, language, etc) and opening up access to new markets through exhibitions and sales events. Due to the inherent diversity in expression and design vocabulary, Indian crafts are relevant to international customers. Therefore it is important that the design fraternity should come forth to play a pivotal role in bringing in viability and support to the crafts practice in India. Many revival efforts in the craft development have sustained and have initiated many young people in India to take up working with the crafts as their profession. She felt happy that with the intervention of many institutions, revival of many traditional and environment friendly practices such as the use of natural dyes could become possible in the crafts sector. She called for enhanced efforts in such directions through a collaborative approach.

Sophie Roet
Sophie recounted her experience working with the Indian artisans in Kolkata where she had utilized available crafts skills for development of new range of products suited to the taste of the western markets. Her designs are showcased by Victoria & Albert Museum as well. She reaffirmed the continued interest for traditional Indian handicrafts and skills in the west. She however felt that the issue of quality in design and workmanship, crucial for crafts to succeed in the market, is a priority area that should be strengthened in a focused manner. Maintaining the quality as part of craft production and product specifications should be a key concern of designers working with Indian crafts sector. Often one finds the quality parameters fluctuating with the levels of wage compensation given to the artisans. While the artisans should be offered reasonable rewards for their labor, devising capability enhancement support systems and their effectiveness is also necessary to achieve desirable level of quality.

Empathetic approach to crafts and the environment within which artisans operate can help designers to effectively perform their much needed mediatory role to connect traditional crafts with the contemporary markets. Development of new collections using design vocabulary of Indian Crafts—using available skills and fresh ideas for a product—could also offer meaningful possibility for socio-economic development. There should not be any conflict of commercial and social development goals in the context of crafts in Indian sub-continent. Overall, Sophie felt that there is much better promise working with crafts persons in the region when compared to hand production in China. Innovative craft-based products and quality could be produced better in India with adequate inputs and supervision by designers. However the norms of payment to the crafts persons must also be justifiable.

Karen Spurgin
Besides moderating the panel discussion, Karen also contributed her own perspective on the subject. She recounted the design sensibilities and prerequisites that are necessary for making good quality textiles using handicraft techniques and resources. She richly embedded her perspective with own experience of developing new design collections for a US based company called Dosa. A good amount of production for Dosa takes place in India involving artisans from many regions. In a situation like this when the market, the designer, and the production are located far apart, there are many unique issues that need to be constantly addressed and resolved. Therefore a careful synthesis of market intelligence and the possibilities from a traditional craft resource must be realized by the designer for the product to be viable and successful in the niche markets.

Karen stated that variety of hand work needed in many design collections for Dosa can’t be done in UK. Whereas there are people in India who still continue to practice unique craft techniques. There is a good range of skills and diverse design resources that the crafts have to offer. With her specific experiences, Karen feels that the work and skills from the country are of good quality—it is worthwhile to work with Indian crafts. There is indeed good potential and opportunity that continues to exist in international markets.

Jimmy Stephen-Cran
Jimmy reflected on several ideas and made interesting observations. While appreciating the possibilities of weaving he questioned if designers of tomorrow are really interested in weaving. His observation was based on a visible trend amongst a large number of students who graduate from textile and fashion schools in Europe. The students often find weaving repetitive and cumbersome. Most of them after leaving the school do not weave. He also reflected on his concern about learning preferences of Indian students coming to UK for study. Many of them try to disassociate with their own cultural roots and want to orient themselves more towards the western ways of doing things. Jimmy felt that such tendencies create a visible division with conflict of Eastern versus Western in learning and knowledge—whereas the preferred approach should have been complementary.

While appreciating the Indian heritage of crafts and design and its contributions to the rest of the world, Jimmy pointed out a few examples of design elements and concepts for their relevance in contemporary world. Paisley motif from India was overwhelmingly appreciated and adopted by people of UK. He candidly said that now it is payback time for the design fraternity from UK through their creative contributions for the further development of Indian crafts. He added that future is all about integration of globalization with sustainability—wherein, to his opinion, India seems to have an edge due to its traditional and other cultural practices. Recycling is one such example. Take the concept of sustainable fashion—India does it better than Europe. Knowledge of vegetable dyeing in India is far better than anywhere else.

Jimmy emphasized the need to rediscover the relevance of traditional textiles and fashions with a contemporary context. There could be ample research and development interests common to the design fraternity from UK and India under this broad topic. Parallels could be drawn between kilt from UK, a traditional Scottish highland dress, and Indian saris while reinventing the cultural context and ideas for sustainable practices for textiles and fashions of our times. Both these traditional products have rich legacy and strong links to regional identity.

Vijai Singh Katiyar
Vijai gave an overview of the breadth and depth of Indian textile industry as a whole and the specific contributions made by the handloom sector from socio-economic point of view. He talked about the increased relevance of handlooms and handicrafts as means to providing sustainable means of economic activities in the era of globalization. For a country like India diverse strategies in socio-economic development are required with multiple forms of culturally deep-rooted creative ideas so that a large number of people in remote corners of the country could find alternate source of meaningful employment without getting displaced from their roots. Prevailing scenario of cultural practices, social structures and local resources in India are inherently conducive to diverse forms of craft practices. In most cases where the crafts are ailing it is due to improper connect between traditional knowledge and influences of modern lifestyles. The need is to rejuvenate the crafts through the contemporary means of design and customized support of policy conducive to growth in most cases. Due to their diversity Indian crafts offer a reservoir of creative energy due to merits of core ideas, creative concepts and sustainable processes.

Towards the end, Vijai called for enhanced future collaboration between art and design fraternity from both, UK and India, especially for the cause of the Indian crafts. He felt that many formats of associations and collaborative initiatives should be concurrently carried out for Indian crafts through design research and knowledge creation; customization of knowledge and its dissemination; exchanges, networking and support systems; and creation of market linkages and promotion.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Indian Saris: Traditions - Perspectives - Design" is now available in United States of America

Shobit Arya is back from the US trip. "The response to Indian saris has been very good.", informs the publisher. Besides many other online stores including Amazon where the book is already available, Barnes & Noble bookstores will maintain an inventory across their appropriate large stores.