Saluting the queen of craft
The restoration of the remarkable self expression of our handicrafts sums up the essence of Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay's craft philosophy, says PUSHPA CHARI, in connection with the celebration of her birth centenary held recently.
A celebration of the energy that Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay gave to the field of crafts.
IN the years following Independence, Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay wove the relevance of handicrafts into the very psyche of our society through a passionate journey of craft awareness, revival, preservation and development. As a craft activist and Crafts Council of India (CCI) President Ashok Chaterjea puts it, "thanks to her, craft actvity in the country is unparallelled, with the best of craft of a standard compared to the highest, revered master craftpersons, brilliant disciples, talented designers, committed managers, dedicated scholars, international networks and huge potential markets" alongwith annual craft production of Rs. 6,00,0000 crores offering livelihood to four to five million crafts people.
As the first president of the All India Handloom and Handicrafts Board, Chattopadhyay she set up a chain of cottage industries emporiums showcasing the best of Indian craft skills, instituted the first regional design centres, began intensive training programmes for craftspeople, instituted national awards for master craftpersons, was instrumental in setting up the Export Promotion Council and set in motion the NGO craft movement.
And she travelled to every nook and corner of the country, meeting craftsmen, acquainting herself with their problems, needs and hopes. In fact the government's current year long celebration of the "Golden Jubilee of the Handicrafts Resurgence" is also a celebration of her achievements in the crafts field to which she gave so much and so passionately.
The CCI's celebration of her birth centenary from March 3-8 in Bangalore encapsulated the strides made in the crafts field. These were showcased at the "Kamala 2003" exhibition of innovative quality craft in media as diverse as stone, grass, new age steel, glass, wood, bamboo and paper. Mastercraftspersons and craft activists were honoured at "Kamala" with awards, citations and medals. A special "Kamala Collection" consisting of the best of craft products developed by the CCI and the State councils and a natural dye exhibition entitled "Rangeen" were the highlights. "Rangeen" had exquisite examples of natural dyes, fabrics and basketry from India, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh. The "Navodit" exhibition showcased the works of outstanding young inheritors of the craft tradition featuring examples of Sanjhi work, stone craftsmanship and Madhubani.
Revival of old and dying craft traditions, another area of Kamaladevi's concerns, was celebrated in the Delhi Crafts Councils "Chamba Rumaal" exhibition featuring reproductions of the embroidery craft of the Chamba Valley in Himachal Pradesh. A scintillating exhibition on Kamaladevi's life and works focussed on her collection of puppets, masks and costume jewellery. And the final event was a two-day seminar on "Indian crafts for the New Generation", an exercise in introspection and a search for new directions in crafts future growth.
Leading crafts activists, NGO's and mastercraftsmen from the country as well as representatives from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Khyrgystan participated in a seminar which was held against the background of India's diminishing resource such as mastercraftspersons, the inability of mainstream education to perform the task of meaningful cultural transmission, the inability of designers and academicians to communicate in the language of craftspeople and changing market forces.
Many novel innovative and path breaking suggestions were aired. These included, very briefly, alternative support systems for young craftspersons, new models and definitions of craftsmanship and craft education in schools and colleges, a review of government schemes in order to assist access of craft communities, the need for social security such as pensions and medical insurance for craftspersons and so on. Enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights in view of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime was another area examined. And in the area of craft intervention, it was suggested that NGOs understand the heritage and commercial implications of their decisions and develop strategies which see them as complementary.
Post-independent India was the first country to have an official policy and programme for handicrafts and handlooms. Hopefully, a relook at the craft scenario which unfolded at the seminar will set the tone for the next century of vibrant craft development..
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