Craft and Globlisation : A Contemporary Place for Traditional Practices

Title image. Basket base in the making, using bamboo splits for warp @ Virnoda, Goa, India. Photo by Garima Aggarwal
Second image. Bamboo women artisans at work with typical work benches made of bamboo, Tripura, India. Photo by Garima Aggarwal
Third Image. Outcome of design workshop conducted by Garima: Traditional weaves, alternate products @ Virnoda, Goa, India. Photo by Garima Aggarwal

Craft is a very complex unorganised sector within industry. Many crafts originated with the need for objects of daily use and were made out of materials available within close proximity. It was in many ways a beautifully structured work model that has been increasingly challenged, and distorted by the forces of globalisation.

If we know the feeling of pigeon hole office cubicles, or of long production lines from huge factories that detach the worker from the rest of the production process or even just the long commute to work everyday, many may agree that we went wrong somewhere.

Crafts utilised local materials (which limited the carbon footprint), made products relevant to a region in tandem with agricultural produce (reduced transportation), the craftsman/woman worked at a pace which was humane (low stress levels), was located mostly in households (did not distance family and limited the number of people travelling every day for work), sold in local markets by the craftspeople themselves (craftsman got customer feedback directly without middlemen getting most of the profits) and most products had a definite end (which means they degraded into the soil and created the demand for more). Craftspeople hence saw the process from the beginning till the end of the product’s life cycle.

If we know the feeling of pigeon hole office cubicles, or of long production lines from huge factories that detach the worker from the rest of the production process or even just the long commute to work everyday, many may agree that we went wrong somewhere. The lack of land resources, water, food and the advent of financial crisis led people to unhealthy life-styles or unwanted migration patterns, but much of this has its origins in the day-to-day pressures and societal structures we are rapidly developing and encouraging. Therefore, trends that mislead people into believing that popular opinion is the correct opinion or half knowledge about the positive effects of the latest trends has led to damaging consequences to sustainable models.

New generations need to know that there is craft beyond cross stitch and Christmas tree decorations.

Awareness of the fundamental issues associated with craft is critical to the successful navigation and transitioning of the craft practices into a more competitive trade environment. Whether it be the adoption of education systems, use of natural or synthetic material, food culture or just the aspiration of outshining thy neighbour in all ways possible, having complete knowledge and questioning is an on-going process which can’t stop midway, especially not when we are talking about issues touching the lives of so many. We need to question what the international brands offer, how do they coexist with the indigenous handmade craft and how does it affect our environment and livelihood. On the positive side, responsible FDI (foreign direct investment) and a well supported craft industry functioning in a well-regulated environment may also gain access for its wares in international markets through the supply chains of the MNC’s

An average buyer who doesn’t make an effort to know a product well before buying is likely to consume more than needed, buying products that are cheaper and pollute the environment because as long as discarded objects can be handed down to the lower economic tiers of society, the impact can never be known to the buyer. A positive consequence of such a phenomenon could also be shift in buyer’s choices from external influences. These could work in favour or against the indigenous crafts. For instance, in the case of Ayurveda and Yoga, an international audience enthusiastically adopted the two concepts creating a new patronage that had some affect on the revitalization of the practices in their home culture.

It is extremely important to set the stage right for the craftsmen; this would mean dealing with the craft with utmost dedication and sensitivity. The craftspeople are the foundation of this industry, and it is important for NGOs, governments, design houses, funders and the end buyers to encourage their personal growth and interests. Like the crisis that agriculture has faced in the recent past at the hands of ‘Green Revolution’, craft is facing similar symptoms. The new generations don’t see a promising future in craft. The craftsmen are loosing their faith and pride they once held for their work. The cause behind this is the alienation of the craftsman from the end user.

Today craft is being revived to serve urban markets. When the craftsman does not understand the end user, designers sometimes step in to develop products that would sell better but separate or alienate the craftsmen from the design process which was originally an important part of their work. Although the designers may have good intentions to bridge the gap between fast moving global markets and the craft community, the model has not always had positive impact.

A fast growing economy with foreign investment is a reality. FDI is inevitable and protectionism might lead to the disconnect of the craft community from the global reality. However, the craftsman cant stay disconnected from this reality but a return to the dignity of craft may avert unnecessary social migration as workers move from craft to industrial occupation or urban work that may not turn out to be all that it promises to be.

There is a definite need to develop industrial entrepreneurship, to assist in the tasks of employment and income generation. In order to not let the craftsman turn into industrial labour, we need to encourage entrepreneurship through education so he takes the task of decision making into his own hands. Indonesia for example, seems to be the forerunner in retaining/reviving craft and has been able to do so because children are taught craft at home and schools. Indonesia also seems successful in finding global markets for its craft products.

If craft becomes a part of the curriculum like fine arts, performing arts, social sciences and sciences, the new generations will probably have a fresh point of view. There has been a considerable shift in opinion over alternate career paths in India. The young ones are taking up art, sports and careers in design with much more seriousness than in the 70s or 80s. Craft syllabus desperately needs serious revisions. New generations need to know that there is craft beyond cross stitch and Christmas tree decorations. The two processes of education and entrepreneurship need to kick in fast so the craft community can open its horizons to investment and growth and the true potential of indigenous craft is realized.