The texture of future

Annapurna Mamidipudi's research is based on her experiences with Dastkar Andhra, an NGO that supports livelihoods of handloom weavers in rural India.  

Fine Benarasi cotton muslin with its exquisite woven texture, Mushru fabric with silk warp and cotton weft, Nagaland’s colourful Tsungkotepsu, Bastar cotton, the famous Dacca muslin, Gujarati patola, Baluchari, Shantipuri, Dhonekhali, Kanjivaram silk, Chanderi... Indian handloom traditions date back to the Indus Valley civilisation, and these are techniques nurtured over millennia. Indian handlooms were exported much before software, with ancient Romans, Egyptians and Chinese among our clientele, as revealed by excavations at Cairo’s Fostat tombs and other sites. Even when it comes to the not-so-distant past, Indian handlooms had captured the world’s fancy with our cotton, chintz and other handloom fabric, sought by Europeans. And of course, until the British invasion, handloom was the predominant fabric we wore.

Today, the handloom industry is shrinking fast, and many handloom styles might soon be lost to us, as weavers are moving from the weaving profession.

The answer to reviving our handloom industry might lie with looking at handloom as ‘sustainable socio-technology’, believe Annapurna Mamidipudi and Wiebe Bijker, who are examining ways to sustain and carry handlooms into the future. Mamidipudi is now doing doctoral research at STS (Science, Technology, Society studies) at Netherland’s Maastricht University on ‘Handloom weaving as a sustainable socio-technology, as an equitable economic activity, and as embedded knowledge for sustainable societies’. Her research is based on her experiences with Dastkar Andhra, an NGO that supports livelihoods of handloom weavers in rural India. Bijker is professor of Technology and Society, and research leader of STS.

“Think of it. This industry has survived for 2,000 years. There must be a reason for that. Can we re-conceptualise handloom as a social technology to let it survive into the future?” muses Mamidipudi. The 2010 census found that about 30 per cent of our weavers moved away from weaving. Mamidipudi proposes that we can capitalise on the fact that the exodus from the weaving profession is not altogether a linear migration, but partly one that shrinks and expands in response to various factors.

Apparently, there are over 43 lakh weaving families in India currently, and it is the second largest rural activity next to farming. Unlike farmers, weavers’ distress is not responded to, because weavers are very flexible and move to other professions when weaving doesn’t meet their financial needs. “For instance, weavers opt for other professions during a financially needy time, such as when they have to finance their daughters’ wedding, recovery from illness, college education of their children, etc. Likewise, when yarn prices fluctuate, weaving communities move to construction. Meanwhile, younger weavers move out of weaving in pursuit of ‘aspirational and upmarket’ professions. But many of them do come back to weaving. The point is, if we recognise the social nuances of weavers’ lives and build support systems and systemic interventions that can tide them over in times of need, we can sustain weavers and weaving traditions. To save weaving, we have to save the weavers.”

It doesn’t make sense to evaluate handloom weaving in terms of productivity as hand-weaving can never match a powerloom in speed. “We need to create more space for thinking creatively about handlooms, though Indians still do opt for handmade fabric when given a chance. We also need to build a brand identity for handlooms that will let weavers be respected for the fine craftsmen they are. This will prompt young weavers to take pride in their craft and persist with weaving.”

In parallel, integrating handlooms into widespread and contemporary design ethics will let weavers tap into larger markets and earn enough from weaving. “Globalisation gives new opportunities for innovation in weaving. Now the focus should be about innovating tradition to ensure it moves into the future,” says Bijker. In the process, this will keep alive India’s incredible legacy of handmade fabric.

Further discussions on the subject will be led by Mamidipudi at 11.45 a.m. on April 4 and at 6.p.m. on April 5 at Apparao Galleries, No. 7, Wallace Gardens, Third Street, Nungambakkam.

For details, call 2833-2226.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 4:35:36 PM |

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