Thursday, November 19, 2009

Design for Nuapatna Weavers

Nuapatana - a village in the Cuttack district of Orissa is a home of skillful, fun loving people. The village carries with itself an 800 year old history in Ikat weaving. Traditionally produced and managed by craftsmen themselves, these products were either consumed by the local population or by people from closeby regions. Today these traditional craftsmen communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the challenges of changing socioeconomic realities brought in by an array of ‘emerging lifestyles’. One way to empower the craftsmen to handle such a challenging situation is to reorient their design skills with quality consciousness and market intelligence. This project “Design Intervention in Hand-woven ‘ikat’ Fabrics at Nuapatna, Orissa” was initiated by the department of Handlooms & Handicrafts, Government of Orissa .The project formally began in November 2007 through the 'International Centre for Indian Crafts' at NID and was for a carried out for a period of over 8 months. The challange was taken up by Anup Choudhary, a Textile Design student at NID as part of his final project.

After the initial research, the primary focus was shifted specifically towards improvement of fabric quality rather than just the development of new design range for saris. Training programmes were initiated to make the weavers understand the necessity of new quality parameters besides paying minute attention to details like color matching, edge finishing, etc. These training sessions provided new insights into the weavers' lives. The interactive sessions gradually extended to deal with the issues and problems from micro to macro-level.

The project did have its share of up and downs. Sometimes work had to be completely stopped due reasons such as yarns getting stuck to each other due to extremely hot summer in the region, while on some other days people would simply not work on account of a ceremony in the village. The most crucial challenge was to build a self sustaining work force, where weavers would also spend quality time thinking and not just executing designs as instructed by the designer.

With changing times many elders in the weaver’s community felt that the value of a hand woven cloth is diminishing. Unconvinced with several other design projects done in the region, there was strong apprehension for any more new design projects. It was a tough task to identify a few expert and dedicated weavers, initiating sampling and prototyping, building new networks with select markets and thereafter persuading other weavers from the community to get involved in making new designs that promised better livelihood opportunities. Anup tells that it all was part and parcel of the work but certainly a great learning experience.

Anup's work was displayed at NID recently for his evaluation jury. The range of saris done in double ikkat technique is very exciting. After completing his academic requirements, Anup has committed himself to work as independent design entreprenure with the same group of weavers. He designs and markets his double ikat saris to many retail stores. The quality of work and Anup's level of involvement fairly demonstrates the potential and possibilities of founding new creative directions for traditional but disadvantaged sari weavers. I take pride in sharing a few pictures from his project on this blog. Complete project document is available in Knowledge Management Center at NID.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pictures from Delhi Launch on 11.11.2009

After the wonderful success post the London launch held earlier in April, whereby Indian Saris : Traditions - Perspective - Design has caught the fancy of art, design and fashion lovers across UK, Europe and United States – not just the visitors at the Manhattan Barnes & Noble Bookstore but also at the museum shops like the British Museum Bookshop – Wisdom Tree and NID launched the book in Delhi at a glittering event co-hosted by the Craft House and Chivas.

The young generation of achievers – Bhavana Reddy, Monisha Gupta, Nida Mehmood and Ruchi Goyal Kaura wore their favorite saris and shared their special relationship with it, providing an interesting take on the future of Indian saris.

Shilpa Das, Head - Publications at NID conveyed the vote of thanks.

Maharani Chandresh Kumari, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha launched the book in the presence of well known fashion designer Ritu Kumar.

Vijay Singh Katiyar, the author of the book added, “My engagements with the handloom sector as designer and the first hand insights derived, necessitated me to do this book. Design and its comprehensiveness play a vital role in the growth and development of the handloom sector. Usually the sari and its traditions have been studied and described more from the socio-cultural perspectives. Holistic understanding of sari as a product and its tacit relationship with the user is the focus. My endeavour is to present the sari and its nuances afresh from a designer’s perspective for the benefit of common audience. Design elements from the traditional practice of sari can contribute immensely for the future growth of the creative industries in many innovative ways. This book has been a labour of love for me and I am humbled by the amazing response readers have sent from across the globe.”

Leading fashion designer Ritu Kumar stressed about the need and approaches to carry forward exceptional traditional skills and vocabulary in meaningful ways.

Maharani Chandresh Kumari also brought and showed some exquisite textiles from her royal family collection. The gesture was applauded by all present.

Commenting on the interesting co-publication Pradyumna Vyas, Director NID stated, “The success of this book and the acclaim it has received has encouraged us to give a renewed impetus to our publishing program and you will soon see many more beautiful books emanating from NID. It has been a wonderful experience working together with Wisdom Tree and we look forward to a long relationship with them.”

Commenting on the success of the book, Shobit Arya, Publisher Wisdom Tree said, “Indian saris is an epitome of Indian ness and this brilliantly illustrated and thoroughly researched book does full justice to the great Indian fabric which has draped the beautiful Indian woman for hundreds of years. Deservedly, it has already gone into a reprint even before its first India launch.”

Indian Saris lends a new dimension to the way the traditional Indian sari is looked at, and upholds it as an epitome of holistic design with a unique creative expression. In the backdrop of Indian social-cultural and economic ethos, the book unfolds the mesmerising woven yards of the sari, the quintessential piece of garment that has draped the Indian woman since time immemorial.

The volume, with over 892 visuals, aims to delight and enrich the aesthetic experience of the reader with information on a wide range of saris from both the past and the present and ultimately introduces the contemporary design initiatives taking place in the sector. It enumerates the fascinating accounts of the sari’s traditional significance, the diverse styles of weaving, design vocabulary, and even the myriad styles of draping found across the sub-continent. It is indeed a glowing tribute to the magic flowing out of the deft hands of the Indian weaver and to the undeterred artistic spirit of the sari.

Wisdom Tree is an independent Indian publishing organisation that believes in creating books that are Indian in essence and global in appeal. Wisdom Tree books reach across the globe having been translated into several foreign languages and being sold in all the English speaking countries of the world. Eminent and acclaimed writers who have chosen Wisdom Tree to showcase their work include Karan Thapar, Shubha Mudgal, Kapila Vatsyayan, Amit Dasgupta, Ashwani Lohani, Suresh Oberoi, Jaya Jaitly, Bharat Thakur, Sonal Mansingh and H.Y. Sharadaprasad, among others.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Author’s Speech at the national launch of ‘Indian Saris: Traditions – Perspectives – Design’ in Delhi on 11.11.2009

Maharani Chandresh Kumari ji, Ritu Kumar ji, Director - NID, distinguished members from design & art fraternity and 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 many of you have been contributing significantly to the crafts 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 of India.

There could be no better place than Delhi for the national launch of this book, as the city is home to a large number of creative professionals. Policy framework for the development of handlooms in the country is also determined here. I wish to share my experience and intent to engage in a renewed dialogue with people and institutions to initiate meaningful partnerships for sustenance and growth of Indian textiles.

The idea of globalization and dealing with its issues is not new to India. Traditional Indian textile industry down the ages has amply shown a resilience to deal with it through innovation and dynamism. If we discount the dynamics of power and politics of our history, the foreign intervention and business interests in the region have had some positive impact on the profile and structure of the Indian textile industry. The reputation of Indian textiles reached far and wide to many new shores which, were not necessarily dealt with earlier by the Indian textile communities. New elements kept being assimilated in our design vocabulary. The concept of production line was established. Many new varieties were developed specific to the interests of new markets. The interaction amongst the artisans across the production centres improved.

The situation was to the gain for all stakeholders till the introduction of the detrimental diktats of British rule. It was this period when many exquisite crafts got extinct. However, we could overcome such adversaries through the Swadeshi movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and post independence craft revival movements. But, it is important for us to note that it has been to our great advantage that many foreign artists, scholars and surveyors, since their very early visits to India documented many exquisite textiles and other crafts in detail. A great deal of revival initiatives in the twentieth century for some exquisite Indian textiles by heritage conservationists could only be attempted due to the availability of such records — especially for the textile traditions that had languished under the impact of machine-led industrial revolution of the nineteenth century and also due to the sharp decline in the demand of many varieties during the two World Wars. In the era of intellectual property driven global society, we need to learn lessons from our past and rightfully claim our heritage and indigenous knowledge through quality research and publication programmes in the country.

Foreigners in pre-independent India did not find a trade interest in the sari. So, its existence and continuity remained interwoven with the successes and declines of other major varieties of Indian textiles — particularly, in terms of its design, production and styles of draping. The Indian sari could out-survive other major trends in Indian 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 Indian textiles which a traditional pit loom was originally fine-tuned to and engineered for. The day Indian handlooms stop producing saris, the very existence of handlooms in India will have no music. They shall lose the inherent identity that we all love and cherish.

In India, for a practising textile designer, it would be a rarity if one did not get an opportunity to design saris. Today, when I look back, I consider myself fortunate to have got such an opportunity right from the early part of my career as a textile designer. Since 1987, I was happy designing hand woven saris—it was always like beginning to work on a new canvass each time where opportunities for creative expression are comparatively much higher than any other commercial category of textile products. One could simultaneously explore and design inexpensive but colourful cotton saris as well as rich and exotic silk varieties at the same time.

But, the excitement of the initial period could not last long. One was soon to feel concerned by a number of issues that were beyond the obvious or the market success of new design collections of the sari. There are a host of issues such as, poor socioeconomic conditions of the weavers; survival and continuity of the icons of cultural identity in design that is constantly being influenced and invaded in modern India; tension between traditional ethics and tenets of globalisation. Of course, the sustainability and continuity of diverse traditions of the hand woven sari that continue to offer meaningful employment opportunities to millions of Indians, outgrew the otherwise simple design brief and called for meeting the larger challenges.

Earnest attempts were made with the interdisciplinary support systems of the National Institute of Design to address the needs of handwoven saris with a new perspective in order to meet the challenges of socio-cultural responsibility in design interventions. 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. The unique concept of ‘technologically-enabled-design-studio-on-the-move’ worked much better compared to traditional ‘remote-control-approach’ of the designers. Long term commitment and hand holding of the producer communities was meticulously embedded in the design methodology. Working for the handwoven sari sector in India now calls for many new capabilities that were traditionally not considered by the textile designers. The book, ‘Indian Saris: Traditions – Perspectives – Design’ derives considerably from such ideas and first hand experiences. The deliberations call for equilibrating the needs and aspired priorities of the sari weavers, designers and the users in a well considered design process. An approach that not only creates the products that will sell but also nurtures the indigenous practices and identities to flourish. The initial chapters in the book articulating the history and typology of the Indian sari traditions from the point of view of skills, materials, techniques and innate human creativity and people centricity, provide a backdrop to the reader to understand this new approach of Indian design in the traditional sari weaving sector of India.

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. With over 80% of these artisans being inhabitants of rural areas, the industry continues to remain the second largest provider of alternate employment after agriculture in the rural economy of India. Most importantly, with items made by hand using locally available materials, often with the use of simple tools, most crafts practices are sustainable and environment friendly. Unlike any other form of dress, the saris of India frequently function beyond their basic role of ornamentation or utility. The inherent innovativeness and diversity of the sari traditions exemplify that the sari weavers continue to have tremendous amount of 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. This book is a tribute to the great Indian master weavers.

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. With the changes in socio-cultural and economic profile of consumers, there needs to be a reassessment of the original objectives of design in this sector. While many of the problems from the past may continue to exist, new environment calls for a difference in approach and methodologies by designers and policy makers. The attempt of this book is also to establish new connections between our age old traditions and the advent of modernity. I am hopeful that the effort to demystify design through this book to make it understood by a larger cross section of people in India and across the world will be rewarded through your valuable feedback and suggestions.

Before I conclude, I wish to share that putting together this book was a long and arduous task. Two individuals who constantly motivated and encouraged me in this initiative are Shobit Arya and Shrikrishna Kulkarni. I stand enriched with a redefined friendship with both. My sincere gratitude to both of you present here. I thank everyone at NID who actively supported this work particularly, the Director - NID, and my colleague Shilpa Das who is heading Publications at NID.

Thank you very much.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

India Launch of 'Indian Saris: Traditions - Perspectives - Design'

After a very successful International Launch in London in April this year, Wisdom Tree, New Delhi & the National Institute of Design(NID), Ahmedabad is happy to announce the national launch of the publication, “Indian Saris: Traditions – Perspective – Design” at the Metropolitan Hotel, New Delhi on 11th November 2009. Maharani Chandresh Kumari, MP - Lok Sabha has kindly given her consent to be the chief guest. The book will be released in presence of Internationally reknowned fashion designer Ritu Kumar. Other dignitaries expected to be present at the function, to name a few, are dancer Bhavana Reddy, fashion designer Nida Mahmood and Monisha Gupta and Ruchi Goyal Kaura. The young achievers will be wearing their favourite sari and sharing their special relationship with it.

The book on Indian saris celebrates the meaningful engagement of contemporary Indian design with the traditional handloom industry of India. This visually delightful publication rediscovers the hand woven sari, an iconic traditional product of India for its conceptual strengths that are relevant to the contemporary markets. The book has been published by Wisdom Tree, New Delhi in association with NID.

We all at NID, and Shobit Arya - the Publisher, hope that the event will immensely motivate the designers and everyone else related with heritage and handlooms to further the cause of handlooms and the contemporary Indian design. The event is expected to be attended by a good number of people from the design fraternity and the Government.