Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
In the craft-rich region of Kutch, western India, and the historical sari weaving town of Maheshwar, central India, two institutes are providing design and business education to traditional artisans. These are Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV) and The Handloom School (THS); they form case studies for my PhD research. SKV encourages students to focus on their traditional designs believing them to be their unique selling point, but to innovate upon these traditions making them relevant to contemporary markets. Graduates face challenges of balancing the maintenance of the traditional aspects of their craft, their identity and integrity, with urban and global market influences and demands. THS invites weavers from all over India and encourages them to become entrepreneurs to spread the education benefits in their community. However, having little capacity to focus on each students’ weaving heritage runs the risk of their practice becoming standardized as a big part of their market becomes fabric yardage for the high fashion industry. This paper will focus upon the experiences of some of the weaver-graduates of each institute, gathered from ethnographic research, to tell their story and highlight their successes and challenges. Drawing also upon the disciplines of craft development, anthropology, design history and education, this paper will explore the following questions: How does design education fit the local context? Who owns traditional and other designs? What is the value of craft from the viewpoint of the artisan-designer as well as that of the market? It also explores how traditional methods of learning to weave compare with learning and applying contemporary design concepts. I will provide an assessment of the effectiveness of these institutes in nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship, equipping artisans with the skills and confidence to make authoritative decisions in design partnerships and business transactions, and presenting handloom as a viable and desirable occupation.