Crafting a new future with traditional tools

Crafting a new future with traditional tools

Beautiful and dying: Usha Krishna believes that only a massive crafts movement can save traditional Indian crafts from obscurity.

India is the flavour of the moment, we are discovering again and again. This time, in the form of the World Crafts Council's presidency. The World Crafts Council has appointed an Indian woman as its president for the first time. Chennai-based Usha Krishna is now the president of the World Crafts Council.

It is ironical that a country like India, with its incredible plethora of crafts traditions, and despite being a co-founder of the WCC, should get a chance to hold the presidency after 44 years of the council's existence. "Well, better late than never", Usha voices. The WCC is the only International NGO working in the craft sector and is affiliated to the UNESCO. 
Usha will be coordinating craft activities in Africa, Asia-Pacific (this is where India fits in), Europe, South America and North America. “Sometimes, I get surprised seeing the similarity in crafts in far-flung places.

For instance, take our Kasuti embroidery, Greece has something similar to it,” she remarks. And Usha will be holding the presidency for four years. “I thought it was too much, something like the American presidency! But I understand from past presidents that it takes time to settle down, establish a secretariat, understand the nuances and get the projects rolling, and then, when you look up, it would be the end of four years.”
Not that Usha is any stranger to craft councils; she has been an active member of the Crafts Council of India (CCI) for the past 35 years, and served as vice-president of CCI for three terms, during which time she had coordinated many of its national and international events, including the famous grass-to-gold workshop.

Corporate-craft tango

A curious combination, this. As director of TVS Upasana, half of Usha Krishna's day is spent at the corporate world. The remaining half is packed with craft. But Usha denies that the corporate world and the world of handicrafts look away form each other.

"Everybody can get involved, in whatever way they can: the media, retailers, educationists, and of course, individuals", Usha says.  Leading by example, her company sponsors the Upasana Craftspersons awards, given to deserving crafts persons every year. So what does the lady plan to do as president? Spells out Usha, "The tragedy for crafts persons is that they lack a voice. All kinds of workers have a union which takes up their causes.

But crafts people have no such union to give voice to their needs. So, consequently, nobody takes up their causes. My priority is to get them to establish a network and find a voice.”  The lady also plans to create a scenario wherein crafts persons are respected. The fact that they go nameless also bothers her. They are artists too, and their stories must be told, she feels.

Craftsmen need to tailor their products as per customer needs, Usha concedes.  “And to ensure a future for crafts, we need to sensitise youth,” she adds. So Usha is looking at schools in a big way and is willing to network them with crafts people so that children may learn about crafts that don't normally come their way.

Unlike in countries like the US, India and several other countries have a hereditary crafts set-up, wherein skills are passed on generation through generation. The alternate scenario is the studio arts scenario, where the craft pieces fashioned are one of a kind, and the craft is taken by choice rather than through heritage. In India, craft pieces are produced en masse, but the pitfall is that there is no standard quality, and this puts off foreigners from importing handicrafts from India.

A crafts movement

If crafts die out, our world will become a staler place; with factory-made identical objects, each one no different from the next. Imagine such a world of identical objects, without variety, the spice of life!  The appeal of a handicraft, utilitarian or otherwise is awesome. But if crafts are to be preserved, crafts people need our support. "We need to provide a better future to the craftspeople of the world,” Usha says.

What is needed is a crafts movement that will bring back crafts to the forefront of our lives in the utilitarian sense too, rather than relegating them to be objects of the exotic and the redundant. Only  then will our handicrafts resume their rightful place in our lives.

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