Design Training To Phulkari Artisans - USTTAD 2020-21

Textile | Collabs | Crafts

A combined effort to re-establish craft artisans as torchbearers and innovators of their craft

USTTAD is an initiative by the Government of India through the Ministry of Minority Affairs and with National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT, Delhi) under Ministry of Textiles as the PIA for this program. The aim is to impart design training to those artisans who excel in their craft technique. The execution model is 15 artisans per batch x 2 workshops - basic and advanced x 15 days per workshop x 2 such batches. I was commissioned to conduct the 2nd, advanced workshop, for the first batch (2018) and we recently completed the 1st, basic workshop, for the second batch (2020-21). The outcome from the first batch received appreciations from the ministry and the NIFT committee and also the visitors at Pratibimb, an exhibition of the products created at National Crafts Museum, New Delhi and DesignXDesign 2020 where I was shortlisted as one of the upcoming textile designers of the country.

The motive of the USTTAD workshop goes beyond the surface in touching the cognitive abilities of the artisans than can eventually see a ripple effect on the rural economy and lifestyle in the long run. Some of the ideas mulled over are as follows:

1.  Co-design or co-creating - The idea is simple. The artisans are creators of the craft, so they should be empowered to contribute their thoughts, and not just the skill, into crafting the whole product. Hence, I was aiming for them to create completely on their own, and even be independent of any external designers like me. It was somewhat like aiming for the stars and we landed on the moon when they still could adapt to the change in motifs and put thought majorly into understanding the meaning of the traditional motifs and re-inventing them inspired by the modern thoughts.

2. Building sustainable relationships and Developing empathy - With their skills coming in sync with that of a designer, the relationship formation for a longer term was being fulfilled. Designers mostly been remotely placed from the clusters, need to communicate regularly for smooth supply chain and in lack of physical presence jargons come in handy, the artisans were trained in diction. The diction also could help them voice their own ideas eloquently. Over and above the vocal understanding, understanding them as fellow humans and not just craftswomen was enriching for the understanding of culture of Punjab at the grassroots as it exists today vis-a-vis what we’ve read, understood in cities or experienced amongst peers. For this, hearing their personal problems, visiting their home and meeting their families not just helped us get the context to the craft’s current position, but also helped us to acquaint with the life in a village. The multiple roles for these women in a patriarchal setup also put the craft at the back foot, hence building empathy within ourselves became more important than pushing them to adapt to an industrial way of working.

3. Enhanced connection between craft, product and market - The strategy is to practice a combination of skill+design thinking and innovation+consumer taste and preferences. What these artisans make the best, involve design thinking in putting skills together of fabric making, motif design, embroidery etc. and develop products with the foresight of lifestyle of target audience that is going to use it. Alongwith it, promotion of eco-friendly, handmade raw materials by artisans of other clusters became important to pass on the message of collaborative growth, develop environmental and cultural sensitivity to the artisans, who can, as makers of the craft, can in the future take a stand to say no to practices that are not ethical.

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