Craft Series | Errol Pires and Somesh | Craft Village
The Craft’s village is a space bringing craftsman and artisans to cities to preserve their crafts in its purest form as well as spread the craft techniques to people who are curious to learn.We spoke to the co- founder of the craft’s village located on the outskirts of Delhi, to understand the conception, story, purpose and future projects of the organisation. Somesh, the co-founder told us that Iti,the founder of the organisation had been working for the last 20 years in the craft sector where she travelled to craft clusters for government projects to bring her design intervention and to look at technical issues faced by these craftsmen. Soon she realised that it was impossible to reach out to so many clusters, artisans and villages. There was a problem in hand.The Craft sector is the largest employment sector currently employing 7 million people directly and 200 million indirectly. 40% craftsmen have left their craft to become daily wagers in the last couple of decades. The products are not marketed well and are not consumed and craftsmen don't understand the taste of modern consumer, market trends and design. It's not the artisans fault but she had sensed the gap of access of supply and less demand.
Somesh explains that ‘It is not right to work just at the backend like NGOs by trying to change their sensibilities, somethings they have nurtured for 100 years and reskill them. This will generate a hybrid skill, its not authentic and loose the original essence and still cannot compete with modern markets. We didn’t want to re skill, upskill or new skill them. The solution lied if try to preserve the skill, same as preserving a heritage building and not make a mall out of it’.The craft village started to organise activities with the aim that the people of metros should understand the relevance and connect with them first hand. They hold 60-65 workshops in a year and have trained 6000 people from the urban population, government officials, professors from institutions and designers from companies like Fabindia, Jaypore, Wills Lifestyle. This has helped them to reconnect with the craft and eventually, the Industry is coming closer to craft and policy makers understand the ground reality. The effect is that the people understand the value of it after making it and what goes into it and hopefully will not anymore bargain with an artisan. There is awareness now and people are buying more crafts products. Creating a demand without changing the artist’s narrative resulting in a pool of conscious buyers of crafts. Somesh says that ‘this model is sustainable as craft trading can only last a generation but we focus on craft training so it will pass on. This is how we are different from Dastkar. The legacy will pass on with storytelling. It’s a chain reaction and it will spread’.Some of the challenges faced by the village were in the initial days when people wanted to learn drawing and pottery and thought of this as a hobby class. However, now there is more awareness and workshops are sold out and sometimes it is even oversubscribed. Most people know about these events from the Facebook community. The crafts village also has an artist residency in collaboration with Res art and Residency unlimited where they receive applications from 60-70 countries every year.
When asked about his thoughts on initiatives by Organisations like NEST and other NGOs he says, ‘People are sending volunteers to the craftsman, but this, unfortunately, will only work on the supply side, and not on the demand side. By telling untold stories, building the brand, creating an audience capable of spending we will be able to tackle the demand side’. He adds that ‘European crafts are seen as a luxury but why not the same in India? We need to position the products in the right manner to reach the right audience. Also, foreign organisations are sending volunteers with the purpose of teaching, however, I believe that the artisan knows what they are doing and it cannot even be matched by learning the craft at any school. So the approach has to change and the support has to extend beyond teaching.’Another flaw in the system addressing the current movement of everything artisanal is that Designers are talking artisanal products but they don't give credit to the craftsman. There is no law for the IP protection of craftsman. There is no fair trade as the major chunk of the money earnt from this product goes to the designer or the exporter. He gives an example of Padma Siri Gajam who makes ikat for all renowned designers but no one even knows about him. Building a culture of fair practice has a long way to go. Fashion without guilt, a campaign by Sri Lanka can be inspirational. He does give credit to Fabindia that has done a great job by bringing the craft to the people. However, a lot of implementation is still due. Brands abroad are able to sell and value crafts products due to the awareness in the end consumer, and this is lacking at large in India. The end consumer needs to educated to appreciate that. Schools and colleges need to re-approach their education system by creating faculty training programs. Students should be encouraged to work with crafts rather than easy sourcing from wholesale markets in the city. The pressure of an end job at a factory will only produce similar work with no creative development.
Speaking of the Future, Somesh shares that they were invited by the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore to be part of a forum to create a policy for the craft sector for macro-level projects. They are aiming at National and International recognition by organising an international craft day. The Objective is to build a brand that people aspire to buy from. International craft awards were introduced last year and this year they will be launching the India craft week. He shares that activities are planned that will set an example for the world. Our job is to a built strategy for the sector, and help it gain momentum by making policies in favour of the artisan. He wishes that younger people would join the initiative to make a larger change and they wish to expand the village to more cities or even international. Craft’s Village is thinking of adopting a village and set a model village or a right village that could set an example for others. Somesh shares that ‘Village of Year’ category will be added to the awards to encourage the villagers to work on this model. He comments, ‘Japan is doing it right, where traditional and modern can be balanced with a futuristic and sustainable approach. Italy has also done it right through its ‘Design for District’ campaign. ‘
We further spoke to Erroll Pires, master weaver of ply-split braiding, ex-faculty at NID and advisor at crafts village to understand his journey and opinion on the current state of affairs.He shares, ‘I graduated for NID in 1975 and after 9 years of working in the garments and textiles industry, I started to teach in 1984 at NID. I wanted to research a particular craft and wanted to pick something that hadn’t been done before. Camel belts was suggested by a colleague. I found someone who made them on the outskirts in Jaisalmer, and after a few trips from Ahmedabad, I found my teacher. He gave me three tips that became the backbone of my craft:
Be Generous and teach this craft to others
Do not work for name, fame and money. If it’s in your destiny it will come but enjoy the journey
He started to experiment and made a seamless garment that was introduced at NID, followed by making jewellery, bags, belts with the same technique. He says it has been a slow journey but a fulfilling one. ‘It’s like like meditation for me’ Even after retirement he gets invited to schools like Srishti school of art and Pearl academy Delhi and villages for workshops. LLDC Museum outside Bhuj has acquired his works and it would be open for people to see. He hasn’t sold to individual people and is happy that all his works could be in one place. He shares that more younger people should engage with this craft as it allows them to use their fingers and mind and any tactile activity will keep them away from the digital exposure. It is a way of therapy almost and also a way to stay closer to our culture. He also wishes that teachers could participate in these workshops to be able to introduce it in their courses and use in in application of their design projects. Errol participates in the international conference in Manchester in 2013 looks forward to the next one in 2019 in Japan and meet fellow braiders. Media has declared him as the ‘Last Master’ which he says is lot of responsibility. He says, “This is my story but people have to find their stories”.
Lastly, I asked him the preservation method we could use for dying crafts, he says ‘
We need to look at hidden masters, and in some way we need to celebrate them. Not by giving them an award but find a way on how can the state get them the market and a fair price of the products. Exporters will squeeze them dry and make the money’ He gives an example of Japan, where the Craftsman is put on a pedestal almost, and the state supports them and they are not at the mercy of an exporter. They need to be assured of basics and livelihood. The application of crafts cannot be mass produced, hence live demonstrations and workshops like these is a way to preserve these.
KNOW MORE ON www.craftvillage.org.in