Whether it's a traditional craftsperson or a homemaker taking to craft for that extra income, they are all skilfully adapting to new design demands
When you see a banana fibre bag, what you see is a cool “green” accessory, one that matches with your beige pants. When you see a colourful “ethnic” wound-thread necklace with black metal pieces, you see funky jewellery to go with your kurta. Of course it is. What they also are, are markers of transition. Drop in some time before April 18 at Mother Earth, the indigenous fair trade craft store in the city, and you'll figure out why, if you talk to some of the women demonstrating their skill at the store as part of a handicraft exhibition.
Lali Bai, a Lambani woman from the Minsnal Tanda (group) near Bijapur, has been selling her embroidered pieces on bags, wall-hangings for the last 12 years. Traditionally, her Lambani community was nomadic, travelling from place to place. Today, her family is settled in a village 25 kilometres from Bijapur, and they work in agricultural fields. Ask her why she continues to do the traditional embroidery and Lali Bai says “So that I don't waste time!” and grins. “Otherwise I get equally good money doing agriculture, growing jola.” So embroidery figures somewhere in between working in the fields, running home, and raising three kids.
She sits at Mother Earth in her characteristic heavily-embroidered and mirrored Lambani gear. NGO Sabala has trained over 600 lambani women to make contemporary products that cater to the market demands. The designs are new — provided by NGOs and stores that buy back products. Lali takes a bus or train to reach the NGO's office, 25 kilometres from home, to pick up designs. What these women needle in is their conventional skill.
That's a traditional craftsperson, for whom the embroidery is as much a part of her history as it is of her life today.
Then there are Rama and Suguna from Mandya. Homemakers, they used to crochet woollen sweaters, shawls and wire baskets and bags when neighbours made a request or placed an order, to make that little extra income. They would also use banana stem fibre to make flower garlands and bundle grass. Industree, the crafts group that markets through Mother Earth put the two ideas together and trained them for two years, under a government scheme. Now they get a steady order to make bottle holders, bags, purses and mobile pouches — they are crocheted from banana fibre stem.
They talk as they continue crocheting with a ball of banana fibre thread floating in a basin of water at their feet (it prevents the fibre from snapping as they crochet). “Now the demand for the wool and wire products we made has come down. Moreover, it was an informal arrangement. Now, we get a steady order for the banana fibre products, and so, a more regular income,” says Rama. Their men folk are agriculturists, so in the lean period when the men don't have much income, the women manage to run the house. The bottle holders are a rage abroad.
Phani Bhushan from Mysore does wood inlay work — using various coloured woods that are considered waste — such as fallen silver oaks from estates, wood from which rubber has been extracted, wood that's leftover as firewood. It's carved intricately, machine-pressed onto plywood boards to make wall hangings. Traditional woods have made way for more conventional rubberwood. Instead of using ivory and mother-of-pearl for inlay work they make do with shiny fibre-glass. “Landscapes sell best, because people across all religions and foreign tourists like them. Frames of gods and goddesses Indians buy.”
All these artists are beneficiaries of the Ambedkar Hasta Shilpa Vikas Yojana of the office of the Development Commissioner, Handicrafts (Ministry of Textiles). They are exhibiting their work, along with Kalamkari, leather puppetry, and other craft at Mother Earth, till April 18. Mother Earth is opposite Dell, Koramangala Intermediate Ring Road, Domlur. Call: 65397957.