By Bela Shanghvi
Bela Shanghvi talks about her first-hand experience with craftsmen in Mizoram, India and enumerates the impact of an organised awareness program on socio-organic design...
Closely observing the lives of craftspeople in North India, one realizes that while skill sets are fairly well interpreted, craft is more a way of life and livelihood, rather than a well-thought-out vocation.
My journey to the scenic Eastern Ghats of India, specifically Mizoram, was orchestrated as part of a design workshop, culled to realize the inherent talent of these craftspeople for a contemporary mass-appeal produce.
When I began working with these craftsmen, I realised that although their skill-set swerved from good to excellent, and was accompanied by an eagerness to perform, it cried out for guidance – an organisation and prioritisation of ideas and activities. And the key to accomplishing this was not by refuting their way of working; but by subtly introducing them to ‘better’ ways of doing things.
From ‘harmonics’ to ‘perspectives’, I guided workshops that better equipped them in understanding form, quality, value of raw materials (eco-friendly and bio-degradable properties of cane and bamboo) and their management. My sessions with them included waste management, recycling processes, and cleanliness in workplace. They began to open their minds to rejuvenation in product range, contemporary marketplace needs, cross-cultural aspects, value for tools and introduction to new tools and technology. I capped these with the all-important lessons in timeliness and the ethereal beauty of simplicity that could be manifested via the perfect ‘finish’.
Their mindset began to be impacted upon and they understood the significance of a ‘fine finish’. The result: a campaign that realized products with an amazing finish, so much so that the profit margins showed a marked increase. More positively, the consumer walked away with a feeling of ‘worthy purchase’, while the craftsman beamed at his extra buck.
Such an exercise that worked at sustaining a rejuvenated creative environment that could translate into commercial viability in the long run, taught the craftspeople by example that the creative process necessitates evolution, and this alone is their path to success.
Instead of removing or rather uprooting their systems, I ‘tweaked’ them so that the craftspeople did not feel jolted out of their comfort zones. No outright rejection of their ways of working; rather a gentle introduction to new ways. This to my mind was the singular most important facet of making the whole project a resounding success.
And there was just one new thing that I introduced – the skill of carving. This naturally led to them discovering new proportions and methodologies. Through this project, we were able to focus upon and successfully accomplish certain ecological solutions as well as bring to fruition a sustainable social agenda and economic wherewithal, ensure participation of women as mainstream craftspeople and develop rural commerce resulting in the encouragement and stabilization of rural growth.
Bela Shanghvi is a Mumbai-based Design & Business Re-Engineer, Textile & Craft.