For many in the Indian crafts market, crafting is a legacy that is passed on from generations to generations. Many of the craftsmen talk about their forefathers who started the business and how the family learned it, to sustain their daily income.
I got involved in a work documenting the life of handloom silk weavers in Southern India (in cities and villages like Kanchipuram, Sidlagata, Ayyangarkulam, Channapatna etc) and had the opportunity to listen to some of the stories and challenges faced by these weavers. Many of them consider their work “an art”, “a sense of joy” and continue doing it with the same dedication that their forefathers possessed. Most of the weavers work from morning to night,with little break in between, and yet get paid a meager amount for the toil and labor involved in weaving a single saree or a dress. The current generation of craftsmen talked about how the art of handmade crafts is dying due to the advent of machines like “power loom technology” in silk weaving. They do not want their children or grandchildren to carry on this work considering the low income and hard work involved in this work.
BBC Pop Up traveled to India and unraveled the same kind of story at Varanasi where the cottage industries on handloom were fighting for survival. View the story below.
I had a chance to partner with Pamela Kaplan, former VP of IBM, an ardent traveler to India and a person who admires handmade products, to work on the silk story narratives and translations on the life of weavers in the Southern part of India. I talked to her about her visit to the different villages and towns across states, the process of weaving, the complexity of the handmade designs, the skill required to bring the uniqueness in the weaving process and was awed by the stories. Her memoirs cover the stories right from the farmers who raise the silkworm, the reelers who extract the silk threads from the silkworm, the sellers in the cocoon markets, the weavers, the middlemen and retailers who buy from the weavers to sell it to consumers. She quotes:
“Art of hand-weaving is a dedication for many of the artisans, it is the magic of the skilled hands that create the unique designs and nurture the beauty of the saree. Yet…it is a hard life for the workers who spend hours together straining their eyes and body just to earn enough to sustain a daily living”
She further says that while for an outside person, it is just a saree embroidered by hands, but the adeptness, the elaborateness of the weaving process and the sweat of the workers are not visible to the end-consumer. She is now trying to help the artisans explore how technology can make them better informed and more collaborative and enable them to earn value for their work. View videos, photo essays by Pam Kaplan on her website Silk Stories. Do not miss the “The Silkworm” video which beautifully unravels how a silkworm spins its cocoons!
As I hear the stories, I see what a difference it would make if the end-consumers recognize and appreciate the worth of handmade products and encourage artisans to preserve this heritage and expertise.
Go for handmade products, protect the legacy!
Blog contributed by: Arthi Sridharan, Marketing Professional, North Carolina and Pam Kaplan, Former VP IBM, Traveler, and Author of Silk Stories.