Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Having lived fully the two prior phases of life as prescribed in our philosophy – the student phase & the householder phase – it is time now to enter the Phase of Life of ‘Social Contribution’.
As I complete 50 in the month of August 2015,and as I come to the completion of responsibilities of the Gruhust stage, I will celebrate my entry into the next stage of life with the launching of the ASTITVA project. “Astitva” means identity and in this case, it is a palimpsest of two symbols – my own identity being shaped through the project that will preserve some textile traditions that are signatures of identity of some tribes.
Over the past decade, in my journeys pursuing traditional textiles of vanishing cultures, I have come across several textile cultures that are breathing their last breath.
Mothers are not passing on the skills to their daughters as the time spent on these skills is now being consumed by other interesting things such as television or other more financially rewarding things such as small jobs. As the urban world around them gets closer and closer to their habitat and as their desires expand, the first casualty in the hurry to catch up with the rest of the world, is their traditional lifestyle. And the most time-consuming non-essential aspects are the ones to be given up first. This includes the substitution of traditional textiles by factory made clothing leading to the eventual extinction of skills.
As an outsider I have watched and lamented. And felt helpless as it was only natural for them to want what others have. Who are we to stop them from switching to the consumption of new mass-produced products.
But over time it became clear that they might still continue with their old traditions if a) they are made to feel pride in their old lifestyle and b) continuing those traditions offers equal financial rewards as any other occupation.
This has been seen in some communities and with external intervention by change agents, this devastation has been prevented.
So beginning this year I have resolved to be that change agent and try to make a small difference. If over the years I can rescue several traditional textile art skills, that will be great, but if I can rescue even one and make it survive until the next generation, I will consider this project successful.
MISSION: To push back the extinction of traditional textiles skills of vanishing cultures.
THE TARGET GROUP: Vanishing / Endangered Cultures in India
THE TASK: To make it lucrative for the older generation to train and the younger generation to produce their traditional textile artworks that are appreciated and valued.
THE PROCESS: A pilot project to work with a small group of trainers from the senior generation, followed by evaluation in 6 months and then roll out to a larger domain.
Within a group whose culture is being threatened, to create a program that will allow the textile traditions to live on. The steps are:
– to recruit knowledgeable trainers
– to jointly lay down standards of “traditional” production – natural dyes, handspun materials etc
– to persuade them to teach the next generation their textile traditions
– to reward participation in the training program with monetary incentives
THE PILOT PROJECT: To be conducted with a small group of Lambanis
a. The seed fund will be provided by me personally.
b. Expansion of the project will be funded by a part of the profits generated from future sales of textile artworks commissioned through WOVENSOULS.
I am armed with passion and purpose and have begun gaining real-world experience. There will be hits and misses and I expect the journey to be as my mentor said once “Problems came … and we went on solving them”
At this stage this is a personal effort and not an NGO or charitable organisation or not-for-profit etc as those require some study of local laws and boundaries and barriers for operations & funding. It may or may not evolve into an organisation … right now it is important to walk along the path taking one small step after the other!
UPDATE FEB 2016
Using the one point of contact I have with the people, I proposed the idea to a few people from the village K.Tanda. The response I received was a rude awakening to the reality …. they were not interested.
The money supply to the group has increased over the years in several ways. More government subsidies, greater capability to apply for and receive these, for major expenses like building houses give this marginal group a major financial relief. Further, the increasing job opportunities for working as casual labor in the nearby urban areas, disincentivises the entire group to pursue skills of the past – such as their textile arts. ” Who will do it for so little money” was the answer. They were unmotivated and I was demotivated. So for now I have stalled the idea of working with this group.
There are also other factors at play … the young do not necessarily want to proclaim their identity to the world – they would much rather be invisible and not stand out than to be identified with the tribe. This may be another reason for the failure I encountered.
[True that I have only tried through one access point and that maybe other people of the tribe / people in other villages might think differently – but it is also true that the objections raised are valid. But instead of pursuing the same group again and risking defeat a second time (one that might prove fatal to my solo spirit for this project) – I decided to turn away ad look elsewhere.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2016
I have begun working with another tribal group that I have become close to over the years.
Even though there is prosperity, they have a sense of pride in their identity and the work will begin soon.
UPDATE JAN 2017
The work has begun and the preliminary details are as follows:
1. Structure of the Project
Number of Villages: 4
Number of Teachers: 1 per Village
Number of Students: Max 4 per Village
Only married women were invited to join the program. This ensured continuity as younger unmarried women are likely to move to other places either for studies or on account of marriage.
The lessons would be conducted in the home of the teacher.
2. Goal of Phase 1:
Teachers to teach the students the basic embroidery stitched on a Sampler
Teachers to work with the students to create 1 embroidered garment per student
3. Resources Provided
-Salary to Teachers for 2 months of classes
-Attendance Incentive for Students to attend learning sessions
-Materials – basic cloth & thread
Motivational talks were held at the start of the program by respected members of their community to explain the goal of strengthening their sense of identity through the teaching and learning of textile traditions that are a signature of their community.
A community level contest for the end-product was announced to kindle motivated engagement and result in excellence in the final output.
4. Results of Phase 1
Completion of project and detailed report expected in Spring / Summer 2017