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 India today, artisans are considered skilled workers who can realize the concepts of designers. But traditionally, craft was designed, produced, and marketed by artisans. As traditional artisans aimed for new markets, designers took on the role of “interventionists” to bridge the gap in familiarity with new consumers and bring craft into contemporary markets. While this works, unfortunately demoting artisans to worker status results in minimum value for their work, little to no opportunity for creativity or recognition, and waning interest in traditions. Co-design has potential to restructure the relationship between urban designer and artisan. However, often what is called co-design is simply urban designers giving their designs to artisans to produce, with the value addition of naming the artisan who worked on the design. The barrier to genuine co-design is the mutually perceived power imbalance. Designers assume that artisans can’t think creatively. Artisans assume that they cannot dialogue with designers. A difference in methodology reinforces this perception. Urban designers prepare all specifications and then have the design produced, while artisan designers work out design specifics during sampling. Representing Somaiya Kala Vidya in the co-design project with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I guided the artisan designer participants. Their overriding design challenge was to innovate the traditions without losing the essential identity. I observed the challenges that each artisan faced in communicating his or her tradition and ideas using imagery and minimal English, and finding a common design language. The distance and electronic communication served to diminish power differentials. The participants learned about American culture and style, found creative ways to bridge gaps in communication, and learned to appreciate their partners’ capacities to solve design problems. Learning by doing, the artisan designers had the opportunity to experience complex thinking and create fresh approaches to their traditions.