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Updated: December 13, 2013 19:56 IST

Caring for the crafts

Harshini Vakkalanka
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Designers and artisans on board Kevin Murray. Photo: Murali Kumar K.
The Hindu
Designers and artisans on board Kevin Murray. Photo: Murali Kumar K.

Australian curator and writer Kevin Murray says the challenge in boosting the crafts is to find a way to recreate the connection between the consumer and the producer

Australian curator and writer Kevin Murray decided to initiate, the Sangam project, that sought to develop fair standards in product development to enhance craft practice with art and design.

“I started believing that this was important in our world because it brought together people from different parts of society, those who have had a university education and those who were illiterate. A key to building fairer society was to make those relationships more ethical, so the idea was to go back to the source, the origin of Gandhi’s ideas here in India, to seek wisdom and council from people about how to bring together the traditions of craft with the nature of the changing world we live in,” says Murray.

And so the Sangam Australia India Design Platform, managed by the Ethical Design Laboratory of the RMIT Centre for Design and supported by the Australia Council and the Australia India Institute in partnership with institutions like the National Institute of Design, is designed to promote partnerships between artisans and designers in different countries, building a set of principles from theory that, Kevin says, are grounded in reality.

Over three years, the Sangam Project has held events in Delhi, Ahmedabad and recently, Bangalore, exploring issues about carrying the names of artisans on their products and copyright issues for designers.

“This year we focused on the interest of the consumer which is often overlooked because they don’t seem to play a creative role in the process. But increasingly producers are attempting to have inputs from the consumer whether it is liking the Facebook page, customization or crowd funding,” says Murray.

“Here we looked particularly at how consumers can get information about the product, who made it and who it is made for, in e-commerce. Over the last three years there has been a rise in this platform, which promises to bring the intimacy and charm of the corner market internationally through website. So we have been looking at whether this is something that is good for craft and setting guidelines so these platforms can be advantageous.”

But what’s important according to Murray, is to develop a professional network of designers and artisans who seek to work together.

“This code is then going to be mandatory for those who want to belong to it. There are already some Craftmark and Fairtrade charters which play a role, but crafts are diverse. So it’s hard for one standardised code to represent them all. Many issues that we are talking about don’t come up in those codes.”

Kevin says India is now the largest source of migrants to Australia, with Punjabi being the fastest growing language. “Australia is slowly becoming more India. There will be much more that we do together in the future. This project draws on all the activities that are currently going on in both countries. What we will produce is a professional network so people can gain access to these skills and expertise in crafts and design for product development.”

This means an exchange of ideas that could result in products like saris designed using aboriginal motifs.

This programme largely focuses on the fashion, textiles, jewellery and ceramic sectors.

“We are keen for potential partnerships of Indian designers to look at the skills of Australia in some of our unique areas like glass and also fibre crafts. So these will be products that people will wear, bring into their homes but particularly cherish as gifts because they have a very strong story, that’s the key.”

Kevin says the programme also seeks to add value to the craft by enhancing the story it tells.

“I think when craft comes to the retail shops it is very hard to know anything about where it came from, so we look to the cheapest. Whereas if we visit a village and see someone making something, we are more likely to pay a higher price for it because we see how it’s made and we have that connection. So the challenge is to find a way to recreate the connection between the consumer and the producer.”

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