Catalyzing Craft

Art history/ Historiography, Crafts, Handlooms, Art, Policy

Catalyzing Craft: Women Who Shaped the Way

Sethi, Dr. Ritu

Mahatma Gandhi’s powerful call of Swadeshi and Swaraj to his fellow Indians not only created the radical shift that led to the crumbling of imperialism in India, the call was equally a beacon to the spinners and weavers, the makers by hand, spread across rural India. His vision for a self reliant, free India closely linked to its resurgent village industries and its village roots laid the foundation stone of women’s leadership and empowerment in the craft movement. In parallel in Bengal the visionary Nobel Prize winner, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore initiated a search into the indigenous roots of culture, setting the bedrock, inspiring others to follow.

Over the almost seven decades since India’s independence, many women contributed to change, walking the long road to try to convert the vision of a revitalized crafts and handloom sector into reality. While hard to single out names as their histories are largely unrecorded, the aim of this brief essay is limited. It is first, to briefly examine and identify those women who led the way shaping the journey, creating invigorated patterns of impact and influence. Whether working pan-India or in localized spaces, these authors of development created and empowered the crafts1 and craftspeople2.

The second aim is to signpost the changing mandates that lead to directional change. Models of development which whilst rooted in a similar ethos, metamorphosised and adapted to fit the rapidly evolving social, cultural, poli...

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