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A Diary of #onevoiceforcraft — Chapter 1: INDIA

Updated: May 6, 2020

Day 1: New Delhi

Day 1 of #onevoiceforcraft — Chapter 1:India — also around day 330 since I first got in contact with @_arunachawla and @lavanyagarg  We are turning our chats, calls, dreams and plans into reality. First time the 3 of us are together in real life. The warmest welcome to Delhi.  #culturalsustainability #india #culturalip

Day 3: Ahmedabad

Our matching outfits are non-intentional — it was meant to be! I spent Day 3 of #onevoiceforcraft — Chapter 1: India with one of the world’s most gifted Master embroiderer and designer Asif Shaikh @asifembroidery  We spent the day in Asif’s atelier, his home. I saw the artisan embroiderers at work, I saw yarns and fabrics, designs of embroideries like I have never seen in my life before. Everything is handmade and is done in house. We turned an interview into a conversation on the values of a life worth living and the majestic power of craft to transcend boundaries. Asif’s latest collection: A confluence of birds — does just that — 50.000 h of work for 18 outfits. I have so much to share about this encounter! Cheers with my first glass of sugarcane juice!  #onevoiceforcraft #embroidery #ahmedabad #thankyou

Day 4: Ahmedabad

Today I cried. Today I was ready to see the masterpiece. On Day 4 of #onevoiceforcraft — Chapter 1: India Asif @asifembroidery showed me „A confluence of Birds“. The freedom of the bird to reach beyond any mountain peak and into the infinity of the sky, the mastership of fine embroidery, the soul of Indian craftsmanship and design vision. An act of #culturalsustainability that will inspire the world. Luxury craftsmanship in its purest form.  #culturalsustainability #culturalintellectualproperty #embroidery #india

Day 6: Khavda

We’ve spent Day 6 of #onevoiceforcraft in a heart full family of ajarakh block printers — 7th generation — one of the last 2 remaining families in Khavda still practicing the craft.

Cross-generational transfer of knowledge. Sharing of stories from the past and dreams for the future.

They talk about their craft as a a gift sent from above.

We spent more than 8 hours together. We ate together, shared laughs, played with the youngest.

As I got home in the evening, tears invaded. I learned today what tears of gratefulness feel like.

I couldn’t have spent my birthday in a better way than this — doing the work I love.

Day 8: Bhujodi

On Day 8 of #onevoiceforcraft Kuldip and I visited Haresh and his wife Rasilaben. A beautiful young couple from Bhujodi, Kutch.

Haresh comes from a family with great faith in the divine and heritage of weaving. The two are interconnected and according to his grandmother — inseparable.

We had a deeply inspiring conversation about dreams today. Haresh’s biggest dream is to be Aaradhi vaani (singer of devotional songs from Gujarat). This is music is honoring the divine. He listens and sings to it when he weaves. Rasilaben is so proud of him.

Day 11: Dhamadka

On Day 11 of #onevoiceforcraft I visited Abdul Jabbar Khatri and his son Adam at their studio in Dhamadka. Jabbar started learning the craft at the age of 8 and by 13 he was developing perfection. He works exclusively with natural dyes and it was his grandfather that revived the natural dyeing in a time when synthetic dyes had become the choice of many due to financial constraints.  Jabbar’s Ajrakh is known worldwide for its complexity and attention to detail. What he loves most is to create his “special works”. He talked about how he found inspiration in the architecture of Mecca, after accomplishing the Hajj. He has worked with many designers and his works are acquired by collectors but his biggest dream is to set up a studio where everything is done the traditional way — the heritage of Ajrakh in its purest form. There is more than the printing processes that this knowledge entails. Large scale commercialization is dangerous for the craft he says and the biggest challenge for his son Adam will be to keep the balance between the modern requests of contemporary market and keeping alive the traditional Ajrakh knowledge. 

Day 13: Bhuj

On day 13 of #onevoiceforcraft Kuldip shared with me his vision of cultural sustainability: nurturing and transmitting traditional knowledge as a lifestyle, building community and fostering social cohesion. In his multicultural Kutch, transmission of craft and traditional cultural expressions to future generations are part of this lifestyle.  And he teaches this to his son everyday.  Kuldip is a cultural ambassador: a voice for craft himself he founded a grassroots project that unites artisans in Kutch from various communities — weavers, printers, dyers, embroiderers — under a powerful United Artisans of Kutch. Recognition, empowerment, self-sustainability, trust and opportunities to experiment with craft are the pillars of United Artisans of Kutch, a holistic project in the heart of Kutch. #culturalsustainability #kutch #craftcommunity #selfsustainability#beyondculturalip #india

Day 15: Godhra

Will the craft survive?  On Day 15 of #onevoiceforcraft we drove close to the Arabian Sea, to Godhra, to meet Ramji, one of the few people who still practice and master the craft of handloom Mashru weaving — also known as satin.  Sacred silence when Ramji is weaving. The atmosphere of a temple. The ease, the grace, the care with which Ramji weaves impresses me deeply.  His son Hiren is 11 years old and learns with his father. The craft is traditionally passed on to the male descendants in the family. Setting the loom for the Mashru weave is the real art. Hiren still has to learn it. It all depends on how much he wants to learn Ramji says. But Hiren wants to finish his studies and get a modern job. And how to motivate him to cherish this knowledge and heritage when we all are often too busy, too blind, to focused on modernity to treasure the value and magic of this kind of knowledge?

Day 17 — Ajrakhpur 

Dr. Ismail Khatri is one of the gentlest and kindest souls I have been blessed to encounter. His energy is healing. His wisdom grounding. He lives and breathes Ajrakh. After the earthquake that dramatically affected Kutch in 2001, Dr. Ismail Khatri was one of the founding fathers of the village Ajrakhpur — literally meaning the city of Ajrakh. An entire life dedicated to the knowledge and craft of Ajrakh Dr. Ismail Khatri is at once a custodian and transmitter of traditional knowledge and an innovator of the craft. Today he dedicates his energy to the revival of Ajrakh symbolism and semiotics. Here he recounts the story block-printed on a lungi belonging to a community of herders from Kutch and Sindh. The symbols tell us that people had to confront strong winds on their way to a deep well where they could bring drinking water from. Before the use of any form of writing people were sharing important information through textiles. A map of their world. #onevoiceforcraft #traditionalculturalexpressions #traditionalknowledge #culturalintellectualproperty #craftcommunity #ajrakh

Day 20 — Great Rann of Kutch 

A cultural sustainability journey from the people on the ground to haute couture catwalks.  It‘s Day 20 of #onevoiceforcraft and tomorrow morning I will be boarding on a bus to Delhi. It is difficult for me to leave Bhuj. For the past 15 days I have been in the best company I could have ever imagined. Kuldip is a key individual for this field study. Without his knowledge and guidance I wouldn’t have been able to get so close to the hearts, dreams and realities of the artisans. To him these people are family. With Kuldip I understood the complex circle of cultural sustainability — how, for example, the kettle herders are and have been key actors for the development of Ajrakh printing and with growing industrialization of the region their lifestyle and ecosystem is in peril. How the cultural identity of the Khatris — the community of Ajrakh printers — is still under threat due to mass production and synthetic dyes. What is the solution and how can the fashion industry positively contribute to cultural sustainability in Kutch?  Now that we found each other and believe in a common mission Kuldip is joining the Cultural IP Rights Initiative as cultural ambassador of Kutch and together with United Artisans of Kutch we will be working on a series of cultural IP actions — the first of this kind in India.  #culturalsustainability #culturalintellectualproperty #traditionalknowledge#artisans #custodians #kutch #india

Text by Monica Boța-Moisin, 2019

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