A team from Zimbabwe comprising artisans and craft managers visited India to learn new techniques and designs at a workshop hosted by NID, Ahmedabad. They headed back home feeling enriched and contented

Cultures only get richer when exchanged in the light of knowledge and awareness. A motley group of participants from Zimbabwe — comprising artisans and craft managers of various institutions — must feel that right now. After all, they have gone back to their country loaded with better insight and craft techniques. The National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, hosted a craft manager’s workshop with the aim of not just connecting different markets to different products but also exposing them to different models so that they could learn from it. The craftspeople in the group were taught new techniques. Trained as trainers by NID experts, they are expected to transmit the knowledge further.

“I personally liked the model of Gramshree for its developed channels of communication, the branding of their products, established costing, their labels and tags. The visit to Gramshree was an eye-opener. Only if we could adopt this model…” says Hildegard Mufukare of Lupane Women’s Centre, Zimbabwe, finishing her lunch at Central Cottage Industries Emporium (CCIC) at Connaught Place. The last two days of the group were spent in Delhi visiting the National Gallery of Modern Art, Dilli Haat and various markets as part of their exposure trip to the Capital.

Back home, the economy is on its way to recovery and these women want to pass on the benefits of it to the craftspeople of their country. “During the economic slowdown, craftsmen had disappeared from the streets but it is getting back on track now. Fabric work, appliqué, tie and dye, weaving… crafts are thriving now,” says Doreen Sibanda of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, an independent initiative like Lupane Women’s Centre aimed at promoting crafts and empowering the artisans.

Basket weaving is one of the most important craft traditions in this African country and the nine bamboo and nine sison weavers were taught how to make new products using different weaving techniques. There was emphasis on newer designs as it will enable the women artisans to access new markets. “We are vying for the international market but we also hope to get a slot in India,” reveals Hildegard.

Ninety-five per cent of the women Zienzele Foundation works with are widows. “They are mainly rural women for whom the craft of basket weaving is a means of survival. When we entered the picture it was a charitable exercise. We became their market and we gave the school fee for their kids. So, from means of survival we are now trying to take it to another level, which is self-reliance,” explains Prisca Nemapare of Zienzele Foundation. The workshop devised by Sandeep Sangaru, a well-known furniture designer, for 19 craftspeople — nine bamboo weavers and nine sison weavers — Prisca informs us, taught them things they had never done before. “Like, to create two colours with one fibre. They were taught to make lampshades. Sison is a green leaf which is first scraped by hand to get the fibre, then washed and dried. The way they used to do it was quite time-consuming but the new technique taught them to do 10 leaves at a time,” says Prisca, adding how the artisans have been given “homework” to make their own creations in sison weaving and also create samples using the techniques and designs taught here. “The NID team will visit us in October and check that,” says Prisca.

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