Driving The India Craft Project

In conversation with Saumya Pankaj, a Design Thinker and Communication Designer on her journey through the India Craft Project.

Could you share the start of your journey with ‘The India Craft Project’? What were the intentions of this project in the beginning and why did you feel the need to work on this? How has it developed over time? 

For those lost in the cultural oblivion, what pulls us into exploring our artistic realms beyond our craft? The India Craft Project is an initiative based on a few questions such as these, especially exploring the traditional creative communities of the country. Focused on 'People Currency' and the importance of creative interventions & collaboration.

We have come a long way from observing the crafts, travelling & wandering, to documenting them and building relationships. Exploring designs to making experiences and now we have come to designing experience in this space and making the ‘employable experience’ better in terms of creative exposure.

The reason I talk about this is because there is a need to rediscover the immersive value in the traditional creative spaces of India while understanding 'social infrastructures’. And being on field, made me realize very quickly that a single skill set can’t add enough value to a system. Currently driving The India Craft Project that explores artistic realms through collaborations in rural India to re-imagine craft across clusters! It is important because even though employment generation by handicrafts sector has been growing at about 6-7 % each year, sadly more than 200 crafts are endangered today and each year we stand to lose 10% of our artisans to labor jobs. 

Following a collaborative design process we are driving The India Craft Project envisioning a community that experiences and exploring artistic realms with traditional crafts. Through meet-ups, engaging with craftspeople, content writers, photographers, travellers and designers, even with bikers and brainstorming with them has been an enriching & rewarding experience. We found that it's essential to keep a consistently higher learning curve to empower our craftsmen through creative exposure to keep them professionally motivated as a stakeholder. It’s been valuable to get diverse insights and constructive criticism on different scenarios of this complex problem. Social media has been a great source to reach out, share the vision and invite people to be a part of it in different capacities.

In a country, which is home to more than 7 million craftspeople and is known for its ‘culture’ and ‘diversity’. It's essential at this point to keep a consistently higher learning curve to empower our traditional artisans. In a highly industrialized and globalized world - it calls for a relationship-based approach instead of a transaction-oriented approach alone. 
Here, currency is not just about the monetary measure, it’s the people, the ones driving it and the lives driven by it. Without either of the two, the ‘problem’ remains unresolved. As Seth Godin says, ‘We have to acknowledge that we have finite resources, finite connections, finite time. How should we use them prudently to produce outcomes that we’re eventually proud of’ and in this case, add more value to all stakeholders involved.


How many people were/ are involved in the project? How many craftsmen/ communities do you work with? Is there a focus on a particular or a group of crafts?

The India Craft Project is a volunteer driven initiative with close to 200 volunteers across the globe and a core decision-making team and that’s our humble family. We’re currently travelling, documenting and analyzing observations to design outcome based experiences for youngsters while working on smaller projects we find scope in, in the traditional creative spaces of India. Initiate strong relationships through this stage of the project will be the roots of our initiative of Craft Collaboration. The India Craft Project envisions exploring artistic realms in rural creative communities through creative interventions and collaborations.

This multifaceted, interdisciplinary, collaborative endeavor uses the tools of research, design thinking, scenario building and finding immersive value in spaces and other feedback methods. Social communication also allows porous inroads of new identities and even a personal position on social issues and practices.  It allows the social ‘practitioner’ (our experience consumer) to learn via participation in ethical debates, hands on processes and cultural experiences within a simulated environment in order to achieve a collective or personal goal. Something that adds more value is innovative and rewarding for the all stakeholders involved. 

To master creative processes, with an underlying promise of experimentation and exploration, go on a joyful and enlightening journey, our learning process is designed to be exhaustive and community oriented. TICP envisages a workplace shift to ‘social workplace’ allowing a fresh approach in organizational and community mobilization, progressive collaboration, malleability and connectivity to the bigger vision. We also envision a more cohesive objective that serves the ‘bigger good’ or even the  ‘good of all’ the stakeholders involved. This permits not just micro personal growth but the macro involvement of policy change and It cuts on the ‘monologue’ and encourages collective dialogue.

Its active and collaborative learning was an exciting experience, working in groups as an integral course design strategy. Not only did it enhance the depth of learning and individual engagement, one also experienced the added benefit of improving communication, interpersonal leadership, diplomatic and teamwork skills and the shared bonhomie and stories made the grueling hours so bearable. Eventually I evolved individually and dramatically as I opened to diverse opinions, ideas and styles to better my own understanding on various subjects, and to enhance my facilitation and communication skills while trying my hands at various branches of design.

For far too long now we have focused on quick solutions for the excitement of short-term gains. And we’ve been content to count instead of measure. Now that might work in some cases but approaching ‘complex problems’ requires re-thinking and welcoming a sobering perspectives and discovering shared strengths. That’s where we step in, for strategy and design in this sector.

A single person or an executing agency if we talk about a system does not have the expertise to exercise the various specialized interventions for problems layered with complexities - design development, skill up-gradation, technology support, marketing, finance and infrastructural support. And even when multiple people/organizations come and work together (in the face of parallel schemes in this sector) often times experience a lack of synergy between them, clashing individual goals & different work processes. This is where teamwork and collaborative efforts need to be paid a close glance at to arrive close to solution. Not a ‘one shoe fits all’ approach, since each craft cluster has a different set of weakness and strength. And that’s the beauty of it too.

 Design was never a subject that could be taught or contained within the walls of the elite institution, but more of a ‘philosophy’ and the approach had a liberating effect and that’s what we wish to imbibe in The India Craft Project initiatives as well. A reason why there’s no ‘founder’ and multiple driving forces through collaboration and only people ‘driving’ it.

To master creative processes, with an underlying promise of experimentation and exploration, go on a joyful and enlightening journey, our learning process is designed to be exhaustive and community oriented.

Since the project started how have you been able to facilitate collaboration with the craftsmen? Give us examples of projects etc.

The India Craft Project was founded in 2017 with the idea of bringing together craftsmen and their community in order to foster deeper relationships and help preserve the traditional history of our country. With this project, TICP hopes to impact the two communities in little ways and increase exposure on both the consumer and the craftsmen ends in order to facilitate a unique experience for both.

With the Bikers in Jaipur project coming up this January 2019, we aim to bring together two wildly different communities in order to bring about an exchange of ideas and foster creativity and community. In the first of many chapters, this project is all about exchanging culture and building relationships. Craftsmen and their community engage in a space built for learning, creativity and fun. 

These set of bikers get to experience the joy and knowledge of creating a leather piece and engage with craftsmen who are otherwise removed from us. We wish to bring out colors of community; culture and design, interwoven into an exclusive experience that will be then formed into a video story and further engage different communities into a similar experience.

It is not known to most that craft, second to agriculture, is the biggest occupation in India. Mohammad Faruq and his sons, Abdul Wahab and Abu Bakkar, of the Khatri Community in Kutch, practice ajrakh block printing. They’re family not just by blood but also skill. Explaining to The India Craft Project Team, the ingenious process of Ajrakh Block Printing, they spoke about being the 7th generation of the family working out of the current workshop, which is nearly 200 years old, adding on why they still do what they do.

Understanding that is important and precious to our process, because even though employment generation by handicrafts sector has been growing at about 6-7 % each year, sadly more than 200 crafts are endangered today and each year we stand to lose 10% of our artisans to labor jobs. In a country, which is home to more than 7 million craftspeople and is known for its ‘culture’ and ‘diversity’. 

Assam, bamboo cluster.JPG
Saurabhji, master craftsman.jpg
It is not known to most that craft, second to agriculture, is the biggest occupation in India. Mohammad Faruq and his sons, Abdul Wahab and Abu Bakkar, of the Khatri Community in Kutch, practice ajrakh block printing.

Read more about the Indian Craft Project here.

To participate write to us at sayali@cocoaandjasmine.com

The Craft Project wishes to document tangible anthropology i.e material culture of a place and comment on its relevance in the contemporary space. We also wish to bring together a community of cultural travelers and craft entrepreneurs and create a collective of common motivation. The Craft Project celebrates Diversity in culture through objects, folk arts, crafts, and design.  Through this project, we will be conducting community-sourced primary research and publishing about crafts and will involve brands, NGOs, collectives, makers, designers, curators, thought leaders, other publications etc. We also are interested in topics of Adornment, Sustainability and world crafs.