Few centuries ago in India, ‘Design Education of Craftspersons’ would not hold much meaning as it holds today. For Craftspersons were already practicing as professional Designers!
“Craft” as a creative expression was not so stringently defined to exclude so many other artistic activities which today we separate in names of ‘fine art’, ‘folk art’, ‘design’ and so on – depending either on the product utility or sadly most of the time on basis of the social class of the producer. (Kak, 2002)
Apart from these handful fancy labels for creative professionals, there are millions more artisans who are excluded from being called a craftsperson by the narrow definition of ‘crafts’ stone-etched in our govt. policy documents.As we all know, Design Education is much recent phenomenon in India, which developed following the western model of design needs, subconsciously almost establishing in our minds that India never had a tradition for design, ignoring the fact that the same work was done by the craftspersons in India since the known beginning of Indian civilization. The question here is – how can we get back the respect to these million Indian illiterate craftspersons – bring back their status as that of a designer? The colonial rule and the modern education system has contributed to build a strong wall between a professionally qualified designer and a traditional illiterate poor, rural, ignorant craftsman, which makes it practically as well as rationally difficult for these two groups of people with similar creative professions to stand on the same platform.It is well established that India has the largest no. of traditional designer – or craftsperson’s population in the world, has both cultural as well as economic importance in the developing or at least in maintaining the well being of the nation. Thus there is definitely a need to put efforts to bring down the great wall between the millions of traditional designers cum producers and the handful of trained designers – which indirectly will mean ensuring social and economic well-being of a major part of population in India.This could happen only if the system accept few changes towards the craft and design education system. Though it appears to be utopian dream but there has been few proved examples in different parts of world where the policy makers did understand and gave due place to craft in education system. One such example is the Finnish Education System did since 1866 – where craft is combined compulsory subject for all pupils in the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education for fifth to ninth grade. (Pollanen, 2009)However mere reflection of the concern about it, as it is even present now, is not sufficient. This also requires a ‘new breed of people committed to this task – they need to be trained first’ (Kasturi) The situation is difficult to change till the crafts keep being taught as a negotiable “hobby” subject in schools by the teachers who are themselves a product of a biased colonial education system, trained to protect the strong wall. (Kak, 2002)There have been numerous efforts by individuals and non-govt. organizations to act on this concern with modest change in system, however there is a clear need to implement the change in curriculum to include craft-design as part of curriculum in schools countrywide – and give chance to this age old traditional profession still followed by millions to be a respectable profession of literates apart from creating new first generation craftspersons just like the first generation designers, doctors, engineers and so on.Not just in schools, but even the existing design schools needs to revisit their core philosophy of existence. As Prof. Arvind Lodaya1 calls this – a crisis due to not valuing crafts as cultural asset:
When craft dies, it’s not only the artisans and their business that dies. With it dies an entire history, a legacy, a tradition, knowledge. This is where modern design academies have failed it – by their inability to unearth this wealth in a responsible way, and feeding it back into the mainstream as well as the community. Indian design schools, with their received models and concepts of design (rooted in the modernist/Industrial paradigm) have to question their very basis and locate craft at their centre.
This is not a revivalist argument, but it does suggest that the location and practice of “design” needs to be opened to questioning and experimentation rather than being regarded as unproblematic and beholden to industry.
While the problem is complex and has varied facades, it needs to be solved through various mechanisms working on all dimensions independently but simultaneously. This paper narrates the story of one such attempt to break the code of this problem from one of the dimensions through an intervention envisioned to give design trainings to embroiderers, tie-dye and stitching – women artisans – in small villages of Bikaner district in Rajasthan – by Sumita Gose and her organization ‘Rangsutra Crafts Pvt. Ltd.’ – a unique community owned SRC of FabIndia.
I have been closely associated to this project – “Rang-shiksha” since Jan 2011, working as a consultant for the curriculum development for one-year-long course for the new artisan-design schools in different villages.
We are currently running in the 1st year of these schools in 5 villages of Bikaner district. The schools in Lunkaransar, Napasar and Rajasar villages started in August 2011, school in other village started in September and in November in Daily Talai village; after teacher trainings of the local teachers from respective villages through a residential camp at Rangsutra, Bikaner.
Starting from the study of various such attempts by other organizations in past – putting them in the right mix and modifying them to suit requirements for the artisans in Bikaner, we worked on developing a design curriculum for Rang-shiksha schools.
Some of the curriculum studied, whose reflections can be seen in the new curriculum are as follows:
After study of the above interventions, I along with two dedicated team members from Rangsutra – Anjuman ji and Babita – started the process of understanding the needs and problems faced by women artisans in Bikaner. Anjuman ji has more than 10yrs of experience in community mobilization for various developmental works with Urmool, while Babita is fresh graduate in arts from polytechnic college in Bikaner with expertise in various embroidery, tie-dye and stitching techniques. Three of us as a team tried to understand the requirements of the women artisans in the villages to create a probable solution and implement it in the schools practically.
We started with a broad aim to empower young girls and women who are already practicing some craft (mostly embroidery, or sewing) by giving them design perspectives. The overall goal was to provide education and practical skills that will improve the quality of their lives and their work.
While Anjuman ji and Babita started identifying the villages where we will be setting up the design schools, I started work on formulating curriculum for these. The selection of villages was done on basis of data from surveys conducted by us to find:
The process for curriculum design started with insights from discussions with Judy Frater, Prof. M.P. Ranjan and Jogi Panghyal, inspiration from other curriculums mentioned above as well as from the primary research work done in few craft clusters in Rajasthan as well as study of NGOs in this sector while doing research work for the research-project ‘Interventions in Craft Sector’ at IIM Ahmedabad with Prof. Ankur Sarin.
I started to frame the course modules with the generic assumption that the two major problems this education needs to solve are that of:
Considering the case with women working with Rangsutra, the market linkages were already in place, however, Rangsutra had to put constant effort for quality check and design inputs.
The second assumption was that the Design education will also help in developing confidence in the women which would help them take their own decisions and be aware of their environment & surrounding and be able to respond to it according to the needs. Though later as we practically implemented the course in schools we had to add more independent courses and activities for confidence development, as that came out to be a pre-requirement for us to impart design training.
Objectives of the design curriculum were as follows:
Who are the Students?10
Women and girls working for Rangsutra – who are already traditional/skilled artisans, thus assuming that participants have certain level of expertise in their respective crafts, mostly involved in embroidery. Each batch is expected to have around 25 students.
For proper understanding of the prospective women students we conducted surveys in the villages and a data bank was created to answer the following questions:
Who is the Faculty?
We planned to have visiting faculty from design education background (academicians or working professionals with relevant experience from NIFT, NID, IDC etc.) to take short teacher-training modules for 3-7 days and serve as guides to the permanent faculty as and when required.
Permanent faculty is from the village itself that is trained to teach according to the curriculum – someone who has basic level of education and has ability to train the women in design.
Orientation week :
We started the course with an Orientation week. While planning this I remembered a statement said by Kelvin Murray12:
It is a common practice in agriculture to ‘turn the soil’ before planting new seeds.
To help ‘aerate’ the relationship between artisans and designers… during orientation, we aim to create a good rapport with the artisan women and develop their confidence in us. The orientation week aims to make the school, the teachers and the environment accepted by the women.
The activities in the orientation week can roughly be defined as:
The course in one year will constitute the following Seven Broad Subjects:
Details of the Design Development course:
Course 1: Color theory: learning from nature, surroundings and traditions
Chart, Drawing book, sketch pen, poster colors
Assignment: Embroidery on product
Course 2: Basic design and Theme based collection development
The session can begin with a review of the USP of each textile tradition. Seeing pieces from Rangsutra’s collection will assist the artisans in viewing traditional work graphically. They should be encouraged to analyze and critique in detail, and explain the choices that artisans (of the samples under discussion) had made in cultural context.
Then, beginning with line, they should be taught how to use elements of design to understand symmetry, asymmetry, balance, pattern and rhythm
Course 3: Market orientation, Costing, Concept
The course introduces the importance of the end user in design, and of innovating to fit the client’s taste.
The course can began with the women talking over the kitchen for a day – using familiar analogy to discuss the importance of planning and costing.
A field trip should be arranged to nearby largest city – probably Bikaner in this case. Before going for this trip, the students should be briefed to develop criteria for critique of their experiences. This can include an introduction to costing, materials and the USP of each craft. If possible they should also be taken to shops that sell hand crafted products, like Bandhej, Anokhi, Fabindia. They should study product display and costing as well as quality since many of them would not have had experience of the stores in which their products are sold.
They should be shown magazines like ‘Inside-outside’, ‘Society’ and other interior design magazines to discuss the tastes of their buyers and understand their life-styles. They can be then asked to select one house-hold each and design three different products for these clients.
Course 4: Concept, Communication, Projects
The course can begin with a review of design-work done till now. The students discuss on and critique each other’s design work with perspective of market orientation, costing and concept. They discussed traditions to bring out the concept of “story” or theme which exists in their original work. Discuss on what colour palette they followed and what mood and clientele are their individual products representing.
The professional theme boards should then be studied taking examples from books. These examples should be studied until the students perceive stories related visually. Trends should be discussed.
Instructor should then guide the students to choose a theme from the season that inspired them most. Using Poster color and magazine swatches – theme board needs to be created individually by each student. In small groups and then individually the artisans can re-define the themes in their own local terms.
In the second phase of this course, students should begin to think in terms of products. They should brainstorm about possibilities, and finally short list collections they would like to make. They can create motif banks and layouts. The concept of sampling must be introduced as getting an idea of how the final design might appear. Students should be left free to work in their respective media.
Course 5: Merchandising and Presentation
The class can begin by creatively utilizing the presentation of homework to role play shopkeepers and customers, thus introducing the importance of presentation. During the class, students will learn to edit and to express in non verbal manners.
Brand identity and logos should be introduced. Each student can work on a symbol that could relate to his work, and then a name for his company. Each student can also create her own portfolio.
The second half of the course should focus on display of collections. Display and oral presentation should be practiced several times. The students should be asked to make presentations in the classroom, and finally making an exhibition for the final display of the course. For the final presentation, all students’ family members should be called. This will also serves as an important link to the community, who often don’t know what the students have learnt and can do.
Some Pictures from the schools:
(Photos – Babita)
Work done by Students:
Teacher Training in Bikaner:
(Conducted by Babita – Rangshiksha team, Ruchi Tripathi – Rangsutra’s Designer, Sujit Jha – Rangsutra team, Megha Agarawal – Project Consultant)