Innovation and technical evolution of craft is often considered a dilution of the authentic and traditional. I am uneasy with perceived dichotomies of traditional/modern, ethnic/contemporary, because they imply some judgment - traditional and ethnic is considered old or bad while modern and contemporary is believed to be good. Rather, tradition must be understood as living, growing and changing. Traditions always evolve appropriately to their socio-economic context, or they die.
In the craft-rich region of Kutch, Gujarat, evolution is exemplified in folk art traditions – crafts made for use within the artisans’ own world. I have also observed trends in Kutch crafts largely precipitated by external forces due to increasing production for commercial markets.
Fast Embroidery: the Rabaris of Kutch
Women of the nomadic Rabari community of Kutch have continued to embroider for their own use - for dowries and personal adornment. Their embroidery styles have changed dramatically over the 4 decades that I have been able to observe them. Each generation of Rabari women looks back and says, “embroidery is going to the dogs,” while the current generation is enthusiastically innovating according to their own strong, but entirely internal, sense of fashion (not much different from our “contemporary” world).
Artisans today welcome technical innovations—for the same reasons that we all do. In order to balance decreased time for hand work with increased demand for new fashions, in the late 1980s, women of the Kachhi subgroup of Rabaris invent...
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