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Up the Craftworkers! Promoting the voice and products of artisans: WCMT sixth blog [Feb. 20th, 2016|08:17 am]
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My Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travel fellowship to India concluded four days of (mainly) meetings in Delhi. Alongside the meetings, I also visited Dilli Haat (a village-market-in-a-metropalis) and the Crafts Museum, and also visited a couple of mass-market craft brands' shops.
The two main focii of my interest can be summarised as finding out more about what is being done to document crafts, and what is being done to ensure they survive for at least one more generation.  Most of the NGOs I met this week do at least a little of both, some more of one, some more of the other. In all our conversations, the voice of the craftsperson was a recurring theme: whether it was as a creator of the documentation of a craft or as a promoter of their products.
Our discussions explored the potential of collectivisation - a word I don't think I've ever heard in connection with craft in the UK) - and the spiritual source of craft, which again I had not heard about in the UK, but expands our understanding of the value of crafts for identity and well-being.  More familiar were areas including  cooperatives, fair-trade, literacies, supply chains, accreditation of prior knowledge and much more. I am travelling home tomorrow with a full notebook. My self-declared interest in the preservation of craft _skills_ seemed a little step away from the viewpoint of those who I talked with, all of whom focused on the craftsperson and their communities - a term which stretches from the family who assist in production to the international consumers.

Crafts museum:the external walls of the shop/restaurant building are painted in different regional styles, some with illustration of craftspeople:
In one part of the museum, craftspeople are selling their work.Sadly, only a few (a miniatures painter and two men making pottery animals) were demonstrating. There is a whole village of houses/courtyards typical of many regions, and obviously set up for demonstrations, but with the exception of a pair of dogs, these were deserted.
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A place for craft - fifth WCMT post [Feb. 18th, 2016|04:59 pm]
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I had only a short time in Lucknow, flying in on Saturday afternoon, having Sunday as a tourist, and visiting another part of SEWA on Monday before flying in the evening to Delhi.

SEWA Lucknow is like other SEWA organisations, lead by social mission.  It concentrates on a single craft chikan embroidery. The act of embroidering is chikankari (which sounds to my ear exactly like "chicken curry" - something I haven't eaten here as I am following my Diabetes Specialist Nurse's advice and eating only vegetarian food).

During my day off, I noticed many SEWA shops through the town, and our rickshaw drivers were all taking to us about SEWA chikankari as something we should divert to see.  Sadly, I learned that SEWA has lost control of its brand, and virtually every shop and workshop in Lucknow claims to be SEWA. Bindiya asked many interesting questions about the architecture and use of space in the British Residency (destroyed in the Indian Rebellion of 1857).  I felt that a small investent in interpretation would enhance the place a great deal.  We later visited the Bara Imambara (an Imambara is - according to Wikipedia - congregation hall for Shia commemoration ceremonies), so another place of rememberance.  It was built as make-work, during a famine.

At SEWA Lucknow, we talked about craft and tourism, and identity-creation and sense of place as two of the values which a craft may posess. They have some exiting plans and new developments in this area, which could grow to include the monuments, bringing creativity into the tourist experience.


Chikan shop (not claiming to be SEWA) in the street outside Jama Masjid Mosque.
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Conversations on Design - fourth WCMT blog [Feb. 18th, 2016|03:19 am]
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Also while I was in Ahmedabad I had meetings with present and past staff and students of the National Institute of Design, and with Adhaar, an NGO which supports craftspeople in various ways, including a fiilm festival and access to low cost, high quality graphic design.

'Innovative' craft here doesn't mean what it does in the UK.  Here, using an embroidery technique historically used for saris, on new products such as table-runners is innovation. In the UK, innovation is synonymous with "cutting edge" ; a paradigm shift is 'innovation', a shift in response to market demand, supply of raw materials or similaris not enough of a paradigm shift.

I learned a lot about the history of intervention in craft in this part of my visit.  At one point, I decided that I should have asked the WCMT if they could provide me with a time-travel component, as the India I reall should be visiting was the India of fifty or so years ago, when craft was seen as a major component of the new state, and treated accordingly.  But soon I realised that today's India is the one which I can learn from, although the passion of a state for its own living heritage is something which could hope to have.

I have been imagining that - away from the politics of India's future - Gandhi and Churchill chatted about their shared love of crafts: Gandhi congratulating Churchill on mastering flemish bond, Churchill asking Gandhi about regional variation in hand looms. In my creation, the differences in approaches to craft of these two men lie under a friendly conversation.

No images from these meetigs, but here is a foretaste of my next stop, Lucknow.  This is part of the British Residency, showing damage from the first Indian Mutiny.

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Conversations on Design - fourth WCMT blog [Feb. 17th, 2016|05:23 am]
muuranker
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Also while I was in Ahmedabad I had meetings with present and past staff and students of the National Institute of Design, and with Adhaar, an NGO which supports craftspeople in various ways, including a fiilm festival and access to low cost, high quality graphic design.

'Innovative' craft here doesn't mean what it does in the UK.  Here, using an embroidery technique historically used for saris, on new products such as table-runners is innovation. In the UK, innovation is synonymous with "cutting edge" ; a paradigm shift is 'innovation', a shift in response to market demand, supply of raw materials or similaris not enough of a paradigm shift.

I learned a lot about the history of intervention in craft in this part of my visit.  At one point, I decided that I should have asked the WCMT if they could provide me with a time-travel component, as the India I reall should be visiting was the India of fifty or so years ago, when craft was seen as a major component of the new state, and treated accordingly.  But soon I realised that today's India is the one which I can learn from, although the passion of a state for its own living heritage is something which could hope to have.

I have been imagining that - away from the politics of India's future - Gandhi and Churchill chatted about their shared love of crafts: Gandhi congratulating Churchill on mastering flemish bond, Churchill asking Gandhi about regional variation in hand looms. In my creation, the differences in approaches to craft of these two men lie under a friendly conversation.

No images from these meetigs, but here is a foretaste of my next stop, Lucknow.  This is part of the British Residency, showing damage from the first Indian Mutiny.

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Women's Work - third WCMT blog post [Feb. 14th, 2016|06:47 am]
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One thing several people told me in Shillong: looking after (intangible) culture is women's work.  The intersections of crafts (and other heritage) with gender, class/caste, ethnicity, and other aspects of diversity are very strong, and providing much food for thought.

In Ahmedabad I visited several parts of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA).  This originated as a Trade Union then created a co-operative bank, and other co-operatives followed.  In addition to visiting offices, I went for a day to the semi-desert Patan region of Gujerat to see the Hansiba museum established by embroiderers / embroidery training centre, and to the SEWA Design centre in Ahmedabad, which has training facilities and plans to establish a library/archive for use by craftspeople "becoming their own designers". The Design Centre is in a newly restored and protected building, and sees SEWA moving into closer alliance with the mainstream heritage sector.  Historically, the focus has been on women's rights rather than heritage protection.




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What is lost if a craft is lost? - second WCMT blog post [Feb. 13th, 2016|04:21 pm]
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Dr Erik de Maaker asked at the INTACH conference I attended in Shillong “What is lost if a cosmology is lost”.  It is a key question which gets to the heart of many of the debates we are having about craft in the UK, and more generally Intangible Heritage / Living Heritage in the UK.  Asking this question in the setting of North East India places it in a very different context: one in which craft, cosmology and other cultural practices are seen as inherently belonging to the indigenous tribes(1). A possible answer to the question came from the suggestion by Prof Galla later in the week that we should explore the use of indices of wellbeing in evaluating museum practice – perhaps we should be looking at the survival of craft skills, among other aspects of living heritage, in this way.

One speaker talked of designers ‘adding value’ – something which is commonly said in the UK, and underpins the funding which goes to support design and innovation.  In this context, however, perhaps we should instead talk about design as ‘replacing value’ or ‘refreshing value’ – either value which has previously been lost, or value which is actually there already, but not in a form which is wanted by the end user (or, to put it another way, the value inherent in living heritage is one which is often not the value of the dominant culture and a designer from the dominant culture is needed to mediate).  In this way, the insistence on the ‘bottom up’ approach – that culture should be defined by communities(2) and protected by them – means that the dominant discourse of the people of the plains / globalisation / authorised education is allowed to both wash its hands of its own domination and place the responsibility for dealing with the effects on the survival of culture with those who have least access to resources.

Dr Oinam Hemlata Devi presented a very interesting paper on the use of insects as medicine. She noted 5 ways that foods are classified, including a food/not food division which in India is profane/sacred (as for example Brahmins classification of food into vegetarian / meats) but in the West as natural/synthetic foods).  Reflecting on this, I wondered if Intangible cultural heritage was similarly divided: many speakers assumed a profane/sacred division in other areas of living heritage (e.g. ‘this is a sacred dance’ ‘this is not a sacred dance, but a dance for guests’).  In the West, for crafts, there is a chimera of ‘real crafts’ which are (a) handmade, (b) rural, (c) timeless/old-fashioned/rooted in history/unchanging (d) made of natural materials which are profane (suitable for everyday use) but objects which are factory made from synthetic or exotic materials and have new-to-us designs are not ‘suitable’ and should be eschewed as bad-to-use every day - in the eyes of some people.  Others have it the other way round.

Just some first thoughts ....

(1) Erik de Maakar noted that 'indigenous' and 'tribes' are "death trap" terms.
(2) Another "death trap" term.

Today's photos are of the Shillong Charter outside the Don Bosco Museum and some baskets for sale in a market in Shillong. They are not here yet due to broken internet .....


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An Unexpected Encouter with Dung (Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to India, part one) [Feb. 5th, 2016|04:28 pm]
muuranker
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[Current Location |Shillong, Meghalaya, India]

My trip started with the East Coast Mainline suffering from storms on 29th January.  Fortunately, all I had to do to do that day was reach King's Cross.

Following an event for Free UK Genealogy on the Saturday, I headed off to Heathrow at 5pm, arriving in Delhi the following day.  I will largely be concentrating here on the topic of my fellowship - ways of making heritage crafts sustainable - but I will just note here that my experience of my first week in India is that it is very difficult to see.  Delhi Airport was so foggy/smoggy that I could not see the runways from the terminal building.

At the airport, I met up with Bindiya my companion for the next three weeks, and we flew to Guwahati in Assam.  Which was dark by the time we arrived.  We stayed for one night in a bed-and-breakfast, where the owners were interested in my purpose in visiting India, partly because one of them is the creator/founder of Elrhino paper (http://www.elrhinopaper.com/).  So my first interview with a craft entrepreneur was totally unplanned.


Elrhino Paper is an excellent example of how a craft's value can derive from its position in a supply chain.  In this case, because the products are made from materials which would otherwise be waste: elephant and rhino poo, cotton waste from a local underwear factory, and otherwise inedible / unusable plant materials.  The economic value derives from providing employment, and from the profits which are used to conserve the elephants and rhinos.

I will be gathering together full reports on each meeting, and will put a link to them when they are up.

The following day we left for Shillong in Meghalaya (for those struggling with geography: Guwahati and Shillong are in North East India: the bit that is above/to the right of Bangladesh. Guwahati is on the Bramaputra River which flows East-West along the bottom of the Himalayas).  To the south of the Bramaputrah is the Shillong plateau).  We left at five (just getting light) and drove straight into the clouds which give Meghalaya its name ("the abode of clouds").  Of which more, later ...
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WCMT - part two - India [Jan. 28th, 2016|09:26 pm]
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Off to London tomorrow morning, early, to avoid the Doom that I always inflict on the East Coast Mainline when I have a conference to organise on a Saturday.

After conference ... off to Heathrow, next stop Delhi, then flight to Guwahati, overnight and then a taxi up to Shillong "the Edinburgh of India".
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AKICOLJ [Nov. 7th, 2015|11:26 am]
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As all knowledge is contained on live journal....

does anyone know where I can buy replacement elastic bands for a clothes horse (airer)?
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Tristan, part 2 [Nov. 6th, 2015|09:37 pm]
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There are 96 berths on the ships which make scheduled runs from Cape Town to Tristan: the SA Agulhas II, the Edinburgh and the Baltic Trader.

These berths are in high demand.  First, there is medivac and returning medivac.  There seem to be two births a year, so that's 4 of your 96 gone, before anyone gets ill.  Then there are government officials and workers, who come on 3, 6 or 12 month contracts. The UN nuclear monitoring person (12 months). And professionals who come for shorter visits: our boat had, for example, a Dentist, a Dental Technician, an X-ray technican, an opthalmologist, someone conducting a child protection audit, a team from the RNIB and someone to service the UN's monitors. People on Tristan go overseas to work, to study, and for holidays.  And people from the Tristan communnities in the UK and South Africa come over for holidays - all of which means that the number of berths available for tourists is very, very small.  There were four tourists on our boat: ExMemSec and myself, Marmite Andrew (to distinguish him from Child Protection Andrew) and Tomaz.

The three boats are very different. MS Edinburgh is a fishing boat.  MS Baltic Trader is a cargo boat.  SA Agulhas II is a scientific research ice-breaker.  About half the berths are on the Agulhasa, which is by far the most popular, because she has a reasonable turn-around, and helicopters.  People have gone to Tristan, and returned to Cape Town, without being able to get on shore, as the swell there is massive (no continental shelf!) and there are frequent storms, and the little Calshot Harbour is tiny, and does not offer great protection.  It was a very calm day when we arrived, but even so, some of our luggage arrived wet.  We went by helicopter.

It was my first time in a helicopter, and I was a little apprehensive, but it turned out to be quite disappointing.  I was expecting to have more sensation of flying than one gets in a small aircraft, but it was quite the reverse. The ground appeared at angles which were quite unexpected, as if felt as if we were flying along straight.

The Agulhas is owned and run by South Africa's Environment department. She makes an annual trip to Tristan, and then on to Gough Island, another island in the group but about 200 miles to the south.   She has about 150 berths: 50 are crew, 50 are for Tristan to allocate, and 50 are the team of 9 who are going down to spend a year on Gough, and those going for 3 weeks.  The nine are a leader/doctor, an electrical engineer, a diesel engineer, three metrologists and three ecologists.  Their support team of builders, and more ecologists of various kinds make up the other 40 places.

The Agulhas isn't a cruise ship: she's new (this was only her second year on the trip) and overall has the air of a quite nice student block.  There are lectures each afternoon from the scientists on board.  The food is generally good, but throws up some weird combinations.  The evening meal often has very little carbohydrate (2 roast potatoes is not unusual).  As the days go on, fresh fruit and veg get very scarce - 'choice of salad' at lunch turns into pasta salad vs egg in chilli sauce vs rice and pea salad.   There are no hot drinks (or alcohol) with meals.

We had sort-of assumed we would be sharing a double cabin, but on the way out found ourselves in a four-birth with the dentist and his wife.  This turned out, on balance, to be a good thing, as I think it involved us more in the community than we would have otherwise.  Plus they gave us some black plastic sacks which meant we could protect our luggage somewhat for the boat transfer.  On the way back, we luxuriated in a cabin the same size, but two beds rather than two pairs of bunks.
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