|First Published, April 2010, Craft Revival Trust|
|My paper is about the great opportunity that lies in the blending of three streams of activities, namely, Education, Design and Crafts with an intention of building creative human resources for the future of India. I am acutely aware of the fact that we will need to define all the terms that we are using here since there is bound to be a host of interpretations for each of these depending on our individual pursuits or our native disciplines. Craft has never been easy to define nor has Design or for that matter Education. However, over the past ten or fifteen years we have internally used a fairly consistent definition of these very terms at the National Institute of Design which I will attempt to share with you in the context of our at NID. Some of these have been tested with our efforts at the education of young designers and in the education and training of young craftspersons at the new institutes that we helped conceive and set up in recent years. Learning and education are not easy concepts to grapple with and in the context of the very young learner, at the school level, I must confess that I do not have the direct experience of teaching or working with the school system to expound on the subject of inputs into the school level education, but having dealt with the products of that education for so many years I feel we need to seriously look into some of the pertinent issues in the context of this conference.
Besides learning about the materials and technologies relating to particular crafts the students in our schools could also be exposed to critical project based situations as well as be placed in direct contact with craftsperson’s and other individuals working in the region through which they would gain insights into the human resource needs and aspirations of the handicrafts sector within the local context. Such an exposure carried out under the guidance of specially sensitized faculty, perhaps local craftsmen, would help develop the broad-based competence that is required as well as instill in the student a capacity to face complex problems and develop strategies for the resolution of these problems. I do believe that crafts education that goes well beyond mere hobby classes or vague introduction to the fine arts at the middle and high school levels can and needs to be innovated to make India a creative and potent force that it was when handicrafts was the basis for our local and export economy in the past. I would like to draw your attention to the educational experiments that have been conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) over the past twenty odd years. Design and technology programmes were introduced into the school curriculum in the UK and over the years it has grown in terms of popular acceptance to become the most sought after programme from amongst all the branches offered in the UK at the school level. I do hope that we move towards such educational innovations that can design and crafts resources of our country that can indeed help make a creative India of the future. This call for change in our educational systems could be achieved quite easily if some immediate efforts are made to experiment and evolve assignments, courses and programmes in a few selected schools across the country with a dedicated group of teachers and experts as the catalysts for this action. The results from such experiments can be systematically documented and disseminated rapidly with the use of new technologies and design strategies that are available to all of us today.
The National Education Policy has the following characteristics that determine what is taught and how this education is delivered. (table 1)
The school system in India trains and educates its young ones to be literate and numerate at a very high degree of competence but they are left functionally handicapped when it comes to dealing with manipulation of materials and in problems solving abilities that does not come from reading and writing form of education that they undergo. Materials and projects are the essence of our professional existence and these very avenues are denied to the young learners from some mistaken pedagogic assumptions that such ventures are to be reserved for post-graduate education. In the extended years of schooling, both these capabilities are left to extra mural or extra curricular areas of the educational system and it is high time that we consider drastic change in the curriculum to include both these as central to the education process.
Besides the hereditary craftsmen and their children, we need to look at a much broader catchments of human resources that can be mobilized to revitalize the whole crafts movement in India and in the process help build a competent and creative India of the future. This broadening of the base would help dilute the stranglehold that exists in the perceptions about crafts being a lowly activity and address the decay that is evident in the caste politics that is still in vogue today. Much of our youth and the students of the modern education systems miss the critical values of crafts that were imparted in the traditional societies in India in the past in our villages. Today the so-called modern education has reached our villages too without any re-appraisal of the relevance of the inputs and the content and capability that they impart to our young learners. This kind of education is frightening and the course must be set right to enable our current craftsmen and the potential young craftsperson’s from being decapacitated by the spread of modern education with its limited focus on language and numeracy.
The second part of my submission about the Indian education system is the need for project based hands-on experience sharing within the curriculum. From the design education experiences with the under-graduate students at NID and the school level experiments in the UK it is amply clear that the project mode of education is both rewarding and motivating to create a platform for innovation and confidence building. Project based learning situations provide integrated learning platforms from which a large number of disciplines can be accessed and today with the availability of advanced Information Technology tools in almost all places of education the time may be just right to experiment with such an approach. The mindless separation of disciplines into smaller and smaller specialisations has no place in the school and not even in the University in an age when we are discovering that all these subjects are so very interconnected and a holistic view of education needs to be found. New developments in systems thinking and the application of these advanced concepts to pre-primary and secondary education in the USA are indicators of far reaching change that can indeed be effected in our education landscape if we are willing to shed the rigid orthodoxy of our formal education systems and learn from the practical ways of our crafts communities and learning by doing can be a workable metaphor for the emergence of a new and dynamic India of the future.
Higher education has been driven by the mantra of specialisation and we need to look back at the sources for such pedagogic drivers in the roots of the modern University education systems that were established over 400 years ago. Specialisation assumes that the knowledge required to operate at the desired level of expertise can be held only if the fields to be studied are smaller and more focussed as the base of human knowledge expands exponentially. All this I believe has changed in a fundamental way due to the development of knowledge networks, tools and attitudes that are informed by the flux of socio-technological transformations that are affecting every single human activity in significantly deeper ways on a day to day basis. Design is perhaps the only discipline that is truly general in its dispensation and orientation being an integrating discipline that needs to draw upon every single area of human knowledge that is required as determined by the context that is to be served. This holds a great significance for the education of the designer and for general education of a population that needs to use design in new and innovative ways for a better tomorrow.
The quality of these institutions and their facilities must not be in any way inferior to the standards set in the Institutions of higher learning across the country and there is a pressing need to encourage craft related and crafts mediated education at many levels in India. India is perhaps the only country in the world that has such an active craft tradition and therefore we need to develop our own models and not find ready-made solutions form oversees. We will need to find the money for this transformation and the business potential of the alone is good reason for this and the other triggers are the hope for sustainable employment and decentralized development across the length and breadth of India as against the explosive development of the metros alone. We need a lot more research into mapping the traditions and opportunities in the sector and for this many areas of expertise needs to be encouraged to engage with the crafts from the perspectives of their own disciplines. The DC(H) could support research at the University level on numerous topics of local and national concern and build a significant body of knowledge that can be the driver of decision-making and investments for the future.
For the continuing education of our master craftsmen we need to establish channels and institutional frameworks that could give them an ability to cope with the changed circumstances. I do not pretend that I know all that needs to be done in this sector but we should be able to look at a variety of models to cope with the huge variety of regional and material differences that need to be managed. The University system can be leveraged to bring design and other critical conceptual skills to the crafts community through special programmes offered to local crafts people during the summer and winter breaks that may be a slack season for the establishments themselves. Recently the award of a doctoral degree by a foreign university honoured one of our master craftsmen in Kutch is an interesting development to examine. Our own national initiatives to set up the Shilpa Guru and Mastercraftsman awards need to be taken well beyond mere recognition to include empowerment and the assimilation of transformational capabilities as well. This process must be very sensitively mediated since our craftsmen are acutely aware of both their strengths and of their weaknesses in all humility but the process of involvement must be with kid gloves rather than through some raw edged and abstract scheme that are developed without their active involvement.
The National Policy for the Crafts have the following overarching characteristics that determine the manner in which Government supports the development of the sector and shapes the directions for the future. (table 2)
Crafts as we know it in India is not merely a form of self expression that is practised in the industrial countries, although this too is part of our scene, but it a varied set of conditions that begin with the skill full manipulation of material to the very thoughtful creation of objects and effects that are the very essence of our culture. From our many interactions with craftspersons it was possible to glean numerous layers of knowledge and abilities that are locked into the being of a craftsman and many of these are not usually visible since the same person is usually seen in a tribal costume and draped in poverty or hailing from a rural setting from which very simple people are supposed to come from, at least in the eyes of an urban socialite who is well versed in the art and politics of sophisticated education and language skills.
Traditionally, such handicrafts producers deal with local markets with which they had direct links through contact with the consumer, be it a bazaar buyer or a local patron. However, with the vast economic changes that have been taking place, most of these crafts are facing a very bleak scenario by being marginalised by a variety of industrial products, squeezing traditional markets or the margins generated by their endeavor. It is perhaps here that design can help create new products and strategies for innovation of both local use products as well as the better understood role of design in creating value added and diversified products and strategies for dealing with opportunities in distant markets.
The problems of the craft sector are manifold and it also represents a major area of opportunity for development planning in the scenario of the scanty financial resources available in our economy for such a widespread development initiative. Crafts are a great source of employment in our villages and towns. The existing handicrafts sector has massive resources of fine skills and technical know-how which in some cases are products of centuries of evolution and are still active in various parts around the country in the form of traditional wisdom embedded in the fabric of our culture. But not for long! The handicrafts sector is therefore an enormous source of employment, particularly self-employment, for a vast number of people who are otherwise involved in agricultural activities, represents an opportunity that cannot be ignored. In many areas, production of handicrafts is the sole sources of income for the communities for whom it is the only source of sustenance. The crafts sector also has the potential to grow and become a vehicle for local socio-economic transformation that could change the face of India in many positive ways.
This being an economic activity that is exposed and influenced by all the competitive pressures of a dynamically shifting marketplace, our new generation of craftsmen would necessarily have to depend increasingly on high quality market intelligence and strategies design to be pro-active, particularly while dealing with remote and export markets. The generally low level of education that is today available to the average craftsmen adversely affects their ability and responsiveness to such changing needs. This needs to change and change quickly and in the right direction
It should be understood here that the term Crafts is used in a very specific sense to mean those activities that deal with the conversion of specific materials into products, using primarily hand skills with simple tools and employing the local traditional wisdom of craft processes.
Science innovation is driven by the need for cognitive innovation and creation of new knowledge based on assertions dealing with finding and producing evidence normally in institutional or laboratory setting that is open to peer evaluation and acceptance. Scientific provides the “Know Why” kind of knowledge that explains and clarifies our conceptual models of things and phenomena. While this may set the scene for further innovation, by itself it does not produce any new products or processes of immediate value in the marketplace. It is only when these concepts are synthesised into applications and products do they acquire the real value that is potential in the particular scientific invention or innovation being considered
I would like to digress a bit to emphasise the need for a design temper to be brought into our engagement with crafts with particular reference to the introduction of these new inputs into our school level curriculum. In India we have laid a great deal of stress on the building of an artistic and a scientific temper amongst our young learners passing through our school systems. This focus has also permeated all our investments in industry and government over the years and it is time to take stock of the results of such policies. Science and technology as well as art education has been an integral part of our educational landscape ever since the attainment of Independence. Similarly each of these movements has been championed by many leaders both from the academic fields as well as from the arena of politics. However, in India, design is still an unknown or underutilised resource as can be seen from the extremely low level of cumulative investments that have been made in the design sectors up till the arrival of the liberalized economic policies in the past few years along with its accompanied levels of fierce competition that has changed the nature of our economy in many ways.
It is further restricted by the acute absence of capital and the lack of a free flow of knowledge about the competitive shifts that are constantly taking place in this information centered world. While the Know-How (How-to-make-things – knowledge & skills) exists abundantly in the crafts sector there is a severe shortfall in the Know-What (what-to-make – strategies & designs) that curtails the ability of crafts communities to survive intense competition or, better still, develop value-added solutions in the complex economic and social matrix in which they exist. Prof. Gui Bonsiepe in his book has analysed the innovation perspectives in science, technology and design which shows us that the nature of innovation and the objectives and processes vary a great deal from one to the other while all three kinds are needed in an integrated manner to achieve market success. In India we have invested heavily in science and technology infrastructure while ignoring design over the years and for the crafts sector too we will need to correct this imbalance if we are to move ahead. Further the orientation of our institutional investments have been industry focused while crafts have been more or less relegated to self sustaining role with the exception of the very limited funding through the offices of the DC(H). This situation has continued unchanged due to the lack of a coherent plea from this decentralized sector and also based on some unsubstantiated fears and romantic notions that innovation in the crafts would destroy traditional values embedded therein. This is far form the truth and needs to be corrected forthwith. The crafts sector must make political demands on the access to and the use of the existing infrastructure of our national and regional institutions as well as seek to establish new initiatives that are focused exclusively on the needs of the crafts sector.
It is in this climate that handicrafts flourish – changes take place by degrees – there are moments of violence but the security is in the status quo.
Technology innovation is a form of operational innovation usually dealing the creation of new materials and processes with the development of instructions and standards through usually in a process of trial and error usually carried out within companies and research laboratories searching for technical viability of the innovation in question. Many a times the technology infrastructure is only capable of testing and validating material compositions and process viability with little or no innovation involved in each of these actions. There is usually a preoccupation with the setting of or for meeting an established standard, and in the case of bamboo we need innovations before we freeze on standards. While standards are very important in mature industries many sunrise industries need a greater emphasis on innovation before a mature standard evolves from the acceptance of these competing innovations in a regulated and non-monopolistic marketplace. Technology innovation is usually satisfied with the demonstration of viability at the pilot plant level. Technological innovation provides us with the “Know How” kinds of knowledge resources relating usually to new materials and processes usually through trial and error based investigations and we have a huge number of laboratories carrying out such investigations in our country. Here too the end result is not a complete product that can stand up to market assessment that goes well beyond technological parameters for finding acceptance with the discerning consumer. Therefore technological innovations are passed on to entrepreneurs who are expected to do the rest of the actions needed to convert the new contraption into a marketable product, and in many cases this is where they fail. This has been the standard path used by our technology heavy investors in the Government and industry sectors and that explains why we have so few products of Indian origin in the Indian market.
Design innovation on the other hand is based on a socio-cultural model that deals with processes of assessments of alternative scenarios that helps produce coherence in a market reality and is tested through the mechanism of market and consumer satisfaction alone. Design innovation produces numerous tangible concepts and strategic models that are usually path-breaking and of the “Know What” kind that is a sort of direction finder that can be used by the policy maker and other stake-holders to determine the trajectory of further investments and research in the area being investigated. Without this preliminary design exploration that can make visible future potential like no other kind of research much of the investment in research remains esoteric and disconnected from the context that it is to serve. Many large and successful international companies have shown us that as little as a five percent strategic investment in the design innovation stage, at the leading edge of our new product creation efforts, determines more than 70 percent of the price perception of the product. New products are needed n the competitive markets that we are headed towards and the imitation and reverse engineering route that we had followed in the past is no longer tenable in the globalised arena. All other inputs can only pare down the competitive margins in the remaining thirty percent, resulting in a game of diminishing returns even after heroic efforts at the manufacturing and marketing stage.
The potential for bamboo has been known for long and local communities have used the material in many ingenious ways. However if we are looking for the rapid expansion of applications that this wonder material can be put to use, in order to meet contemporary needs, we must look at design at the strategic and creative levels to create the solutions for the future that will find acceptance in the markets that we wish to serve. While all forms of innovation have a role to play I do believe that the leadership must come from design innovation that can set the agenda for the other tasks that need to be done. The three forms of innovation that are at many times confused with one another are explained below to show the essential differences between them and to reinforce the central arguments of this paper. The need for this argument is due to the fact that over the past fifty years India has spent more than 95 percent of its R&D budgets on science and technology type of research while ignoring the critically needed investments in design research.
While all three kinds of innovation are required, the sequence in which the developed and innovating nations of the world use these, are in the way in which all three are covered irrespective of where the original trigger may have come from, that is any one of these may be the initiator, but the full range of innovation typologies must be covered to harness the full value of these innovations in the market. This factor shows that Design must be used to produce marketable innovations that are satisfying to the user and consumer if value latent in any application can be unfolded and brought to the development process. The crafts sector too has to connect with this reality in order to survive and re-invent itself to face the challenges of the globalised economy. We have great strengths in this sector and we now need to build sustainable linkages with a broader population of highly sensitized and creative youth if we are to build a creative economy that is rooted in innovation and that draws on the strengths of our traditional wisdom that is the hallmark of our living crafts traditions.
Design is a critical resource that needs to be used along with science and technology to achieve dramatic results. In India however design has had to take a back seat ever since Independence and it is only now that the country realising the importance of the discipline as liberalisation increases and our markets are no longer protected to permit the survival of non-competitive products and services. This is a factor that has not been taken into account either by government or industry until quite recently. The role of design in making the bamboo sector viable and vibrant in the future cannot be over emphasised. However we still find policy makers in both sectors clamoring for more technology and scientific investigations as a panacea for our lack of market penetration in International markets or who take the route of touting marketing and advertising as a cure for poor performance in the global marketplace. I would like to submit that neither route is capable of delivering the required results unless these stalwarts espouse an adequate level of investment in design. Let me explain why I stress the need for design innovation at several levels in the bamboo sector as in many other sectors of our economy. In recent years we were able to get supports for our sustained efforts in the bamboo sector and this has helped us to demonstrate the power of design in no uncertain manner. The crafts sector too has used the tools and resources of design and the results are quite remarkable whenever the use of design is at the strategic level and not just at the level of making cosmetic changes.
This explains why design is now becoming so important to the practice and in the very survival of the crafts sector. I have heard many NGO representatives and master craftsmen quibble about the dominance of the designer in the crafts arena. All I have to say at this stage is that they should shift their focus from the designer to look at the language, the mind-sets and skills of design in an attempt to appropriate these capabilities for themselves. Design is a very old human capability that has been forgotten by the mainstream educational systems and the traditionalist alike. Both these streams need to reestablish contact with the discipline if we are to face the vagaries of change that is upon us from all directions. Design is here to stay. The craftsmen have got dislocated from their stable milieu of village-markets and live user-contacts in predictable social settings by the rapidly expanding rings of communication that is both imploding and exploding at the same time bringing with it new competition and uncharted change, all at once. It is here, in a climate of chaos that the designers thrive; in their ability to map patterns of the emerging trends and fashion alternate scenarios in response. The language of design is the substance of complexity and of the management of a multiplicity of factors in a mode of synthesis rather than by analysis. Designers’ work in teams with methodologies drawn from over a hundred disciplines and creative solutions are crafted and delivered in real time or almost, in some cases ahead of time if we are lucky to have a visionary in our midst. The design language that I am speaking of needs to be explained and defined so that it is not confused with the bizarre offerings that come by the labels called marketing hype, style or even interior decoration. It is indeed a very different kind of activity that needs to be at the core of society and it has been a core human activity known to man ever since the beginning of civilization. However, now this activity needs to be done in tandem with dramatic change, with leaps of creative imagination and with equally rigorous testing for it to be credible and acceptable. It is as different from science as it is from art and it uses the tools and methods of all of them in a contextually determined manner. Design can be studied and the capabilities can be acquired along with the required mind-set change that takes it to different vantage from both art and science. It is this kind of assimilation of the design language that will make for the renewal of the crafts traditions and ensure the sustainability of our living crafts legacy.
Many people have looked at the concept of convergence from a technological perspective of interconnecting networks since it is true that media that is digital now transcends the channels that were established by the conventional distribution and production methods that kept them apart when analogue means ruled the roost. However a far more significant transformation of our social and action landscape is overlooked since Design is perhaps the only discipline that is able to significantly benefit from this phenomenon of knowledge explosion and its dissemination through the Internet and knowledge networks of the future. For this to materialise new attitudes and skills are required to cope with this opportunity and design is favourably placed to extract the full mileage from these developments and repositions itself. Let me explain how this perception is transforming design education at NID and the redefinition of design itself that is taking place here to face the challenges of the future with new and significant roles for the design community that is able to flow with the tide and adopt the underlying principles of convergence.
The course that I teach at NID on Design Methodology has been transformed in recent past to respond to this very challenge for sustainable directions for learning design. It is called Design Concepts and Concerns to include the layers of Finding, Knowing and Doing with Feeling to design action. The foundation class last year was asked to look at the Indian Economy as a whole and through group processes of brainstorming and categorisation as well as rapid iterations of interviews with experts. Each of the five groups came back with rich textured models for understanding the economic landscape and the critical issues of development that India faced today, each using a metaphor that they felt captured the whole and the parts in imaginative and comprehensible ways. The clarity that emerged from the ensuing debates and discussions would help the National Planning Commissions in their tasks if only they listened to the language of discourse that is emerging from design schools in the form of visualisations that can be appreciated by all stakeholders, experts and laymen alike. The proposed models included a marvellous roadmap for the proposed Ministry of Design that could help coordinate the use of design in the 230 sectors of the Indian economy that is in critical need of design.
This assignment was followed by a regrouping of the students into seven areas of opportunity, identified from many alternatives, as the most important ones needing attention from the design perspective and the task set was to research, imagine and build sustainable conceptual frameworks and institutional models that could capture the imagination and support of all stake-holders needed to realise the set objectives. The areas chosen were diverse and complex but students were permitted to align themselves to the task based on personal interest and this sustains a high degree of motivation that is needed. The tasks chosen dealt with rural employment to information technology access by the disadvantaged sectors and sustainable education for all to frameworks for spread of ecological concepts in the Indian society besides some other critical issues. Each group visualised possible scenarios and shared these at a planned “Concept Mela” an event that brought the public to an exhibition of the proposals and in two days of intensive presentations and debates led to the refinement of our understanding of the opportunities that were available for Design as a integrating discipline for a convergent society in search of solutions that specialists have not been able to solve so far.
Based on this new understanding generated by the collective wisdom of the events and processes that they experienced first hand with a high degree of intensity that is memorable, each student prepared individual scenarios for one of the micro-opportunities that they felt needed to be done. There are lessons in this for all of the design community to reinvent their discipline and their approaches and to align these with the opportunities that convergence, technological, social and intellectual, brings to our profession and for the new roles that it can play in the days ahead. Narrow specialisations are no longer relevant and the generalist or a comprehensivist if you like, will surely rule the roost.
The NID communication designers on the other hand resisted this direct engagement with the crafts but took to other avenues of rural and urban documentation that led the creation of visual resources that were used in numerous exhibition design projects that used the rich cultural tapestry of India in order to take a variety of messages to the Indian and world audiences. This kind of preoccupation with Indian cultural idioms informed the design vocabulary of the textile designers to a greater extent and the others drew on the spirit of craftsmanship that was perceived in the ongoing investigations at the Institute. The craft documentations done by the textile design discipline in particular grew in ambition and scope to cover many rich centers of crafts production and in many cases rare and dying crafts, all of which informed the process of ideation and design development that was taken up in the classrooms at NID. Many of these students continued to work in the crafts sector long after they completed their studies at NID and many are still engaged in a pursuit that was initiated at the sensitization stage of the NID curriculum. Such an exposure to the crafts and the complex but ubiquitous situations that nurtured fine craftsmanship in so many corners of India left a deep and indelible mark on each student and even those who chose to enter the mechanized industry later in their careers could not quite forget the lessons from the field. This message was not lost to curriculum planners at NID and in the formal in-depth review of the design programmes that was conducted in the early nineties by an in-house team of faculty called for the extension of the crafts documentation activity to all disciplines at the Institute as a vehicle for sensitization of design students and as a point of contact for them with the reality that is India.
“The Eames Report” or the India Report by Charles and Ray Eames, which was drafted in 1958, led to the setting up of the National Institute of Design (NID). It was a clarion call for the investigation of deeply held Indian values that could be used to inform design action in India in the post Independence era. The design school that came up in Ahmedabad as a direct outcome of the report, the National Institute of Design, took this call seriously and in the early sixties a number of very detailed crafts based investigations were initiated and published by NID. International ethnologists and anthropologists who were accompanied by resident Indian artists and designers, then working at NID, conducted these studies. In the next decade the indigenous faculty in textile and industrial design innovated course opportunities that took NID students and faculty to centers of crafts production as part of the curriculum for design education. These included crafts documentations, field visits, and study tours and crafts design projects of various degrees of complexity and scope. These visits and projects got gradually formalized as a series of interventions in the regular design curriculum since it brought so much value to the process of sensitization of the young designer and their teachers to both materials and processes, as well as to local culture, socio-economic and historic milieu in which the crafts was located in and to the resultant forms in which it is manifested in our villages and towns as part of its material and living culture of the land.
“ …The change India is undergoing is a change in kind not a change of degree. The medium that is producing this change is communication; not some influence of West on the East. The phenomenon of communication is something that affects a world not a country…”
They go on to add,
”…The decisions that are made in a tradition-oriented society are apt to be unconscious decisions – in that each situation or action automatically calls for a specified reaction. Behavior patterns are pre-programmed, pre-set.
“…The nature of a communications-oriented society is different by kind – not by degree. All decisions must be conscious decisions evaluating changing factors. In order to even approach the quality and values of a traditional society, a conscious effort must be made to relate every factor that might possibly have an effect.”
The Eames India Report of 1958 is a never ending source of wisdom about Indian crafts and design and looking back we find that little has changed of the core values that, the architects and designers, Charles and Ray Eames had articulated in their monograph that was responsible for the setting up of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. The note of caution that they held out is more real today with the pace of change and communication taking all of us on a roller coaster ride of our lives and with us the fortunes and travails of the multitude of craftsmen who have had an undisturbed tradition for over five thousand years of slow and evolutionary change. All this is gone. The comfort of slow change is shattered by the lightning speed and impact of communication that the Eames’s predicted in their report.
Christopher Alexander, another architect and writer who visited India in the early sixties to study the Indian village for its generic qualities understood the evolutionary processes that had helped shape the Indian villages and establish their stable culture. This in turn had spawned the wonderful material culture and traditional mores that we are now seeing torn apart by the inexorable change due to the rings of communication moving both ways. Alexander was searching for the roots of meaning in the evolution of form in the man-made environment – and what better place was there to look at – than at a small Indian village that had an unbroken evolution of over five thousand years. For him the form of the village revealed a deep structure and in the process he extracted the language of form from which all human settlements could be unraveled and understood or be synthesized and created, as the case may be. For me it is a great source of pleasure to gaze at the Indian village forms and the network of ponds and roads from thousands of feet up in an aircraft and to reflect on Alexander’s insightful analysis of the evolution of human settlements.
Alexander has now gone on to apply his learning from the Indian village to many levels of design thinking and more importantly to position design ahead of the sciences in the manner in which our worldview would be influenced by their influence in the years ahead. According to Alexander, in the past century architecture was treated as a minor science with architects trying to be scientific in a hope to keep up with the “scientific” times. In the future, he says, it would be design that will shape our worldview in a manner similar to the role that was played by physics in shaping the worldview of the 19th and 20th centuries. His new four-volume work articulates this new understanding of design and we will see the influence of this renewed discipline in the years ahead.
This places design in a completely new context, that of providing leadership for our very understanding of change and with an even greater role in the shaping of our world in the days ahead. Our craftsmen cannot afford to be left out of this transformation activity or remain passive bystanders to the critical processes at work and there is no reason that the role should be appropriated by a body of designers solely by virtue of their training and in the absence of any effort to help the craftsmen resolve this dilemma for themselves. Now that we have established a new and greater role for design that is inevitable we need to look at the activity of crafts and the possibilities and challenges open to the craftsman in a living tradition in transition through tumultuous times.
In the United Kingdom on the other hand the introduction of science and technology has now been moderated by the wide acceptance of the Design & Technology curriculum at the school level and the results are showing. The United Kingdom is today a leader in all spheres of professional innovation and an entire population has been sensitised through a programme of design at the school level that has been in operation for over two decades now.
I am fortunate to have been involved in the setting up of two significant new Institutions that are focused on the creation of trained human resources and strategies for the Crafts Sector in India. These are the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design, Jaipur set up in the mid ninety’s and the Bamboo and Cane Development Institute, Agartala that was revitalized last year in a new format. Both developments are informed by the vast body of work carried out at the National Institute of Design over the past forty years in our collective attempts to understand the role of crafts and design in the Indian context. In the first instance crafts was seen as a major resource for design education and in the larger context the role of crafts was central resource for the economic and social development of India as a whole. In a severely capital starved economy beset with problems of poverty and an erosion of self confidence the use of local crafts skills to build entrepreneurship and generate local self confidence and wealth was seen as a critical strategy for India. During the various deliberations that led up to the establishment of these new institutional initiatives a number of insights emerged on the role of the crafts in India and these highlighted the need for expanding the involvement of new players in the strengthening of the sector and expanding it in many new directions through numerous design and strategic interventions. Some of these concepts were captured and formed the basis of our strategic initiatives for new education of designers and craftspersons to meet the challenges ahead.
The articulation of the feasibility report for the IICD, Jaipur and the accompanying round table meetings with many stake-holders from the crafts sector gave us the opportunity to once again take a close look at the whole sector and to try and redefine the emerging meanings of the term crafts. The models and the curriculum frameworks that emerged gave us a handle on the needs of this complex sector and more importantly some insights into the missing links in the policy frameworks that governed the sector as a whole. Craft is also an industry in India and a form of economic activity that required the complex resolution of socio-economic as well as cultural, historical and political parameters to produce a sustained effect that was development oriented. (see Crafts as Industry Model attached) Therefore issues are not just about the delivery of a set of skills with tools and materials but about creating an awareness and a capacity to deal with a whole host of dimensions on what can and needs to be made and the challenges of innovation in a complex global marketplace. The Indian Crafts milieu is rich with experience and all of this is relevant to school level education in its totality and the best part is that it is still widely distributed across the country and can be appropriated as an educational resource at short notice with a little bit of imagination and curriculum planning. NID too has experimented with educational processes dealing with the sensitisation and capability building of young designers particularly as part of our foundation programme for design. This body of work is of direct relevance to the efforts at bringing crafts awareness and capabilities to the school level programmes. (see Design Curriculum Structure attached)
While the programme proposed and implemented at the IICD, Jaipur were focused on the creation of young designers for the crafts sector our efforts at the BCDI, Agartala was on the creation of a new class of crafts-persons who would also act as entrepreneurs in the remote villages of our country, particularly focused on the development of the Northeastern sector. The curriculum that was designed from ground up looked at the needs and capabilities of the young candidates who were expected to join the programme offered there. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to test our curriculum with three batches of craftsmen trainees, most of whom were women, and the results are indeed heartening. We now need to look further a field and see how crafts education can be introduced to the regular school system and the experiments done in the United Kingdom through the introduction of design and technology at the school level may throw some light on directions for explorations in India.
We need to do a lot more and to do it urgently. While the programme proposed and implemented at the IICD, Jaipur were focused on the creation of young designers for the crafts sector our efforts at the BCDI, Agartala was on the creation of a new class of crafts-persons who would also act as entrepreneurs in the remote villages of our country, particularly focused on the development of the Northeastern sector. The curriculum that was designed from ground up looked at the needs and capabilities of the young candidates who were expected to join the programme offered there. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to test our curriculum with three batches of craftsmen trainees, most of whom were women, and the results are indeed heartening. We now need to look further a field and see how crafts education can be introduced to the regular school system and the experiments done in the United Kingdom through the introduction of design and technology at the school level may throw some light on directions for explorations in India.
In a recent effort to articulate a curriculum for young craftsmen at the BCDI, Agartala my colleague Rashmi Korjan has developed a structure and framework for the creation of a new cadre of craftspersons for the bamboo sector. This curriculum was implemented this year at the BCDI with two batches of craftsmen and the results of our educational innovations will be seen in the years ahead. The curriculum was structured through a five-pronged model dealing with Sensitisation, Cognitive Expansion, Self-reliance, Developed World-view, and sound foundation of Materials Knowledge and Skills. The first two segments drew heavily from the foundation programmes in design that we are very familiar with and the other two segments used a mix of projects and interactive learning and field & media exposure to broaden the mind and introduce some key concepts while the last segment contributed an in-depth exposure to the basic materials of the craft and to the tools and processes of the trade. (see “BCDI Curriculum Model” attached)
The new initiatives to bring Crafts, Design and Education closer and in sharp juxtaposition should help nurture this massive change in a climate that is both supportive and committed. The following approaches and goals need to be at the heart of the proposed effort. (table 3)
We would need a two-pronged approach to education of the craftsmen. One to deal with the sustained creation of new craftsmen through the revised programmes in schools that I had called for at the CCI organized Shilpa Guru seminar in Delhi in 2003 and the second to help our master craftsmen cope with the change through a special programme of education tailored for their need. This would need a massive infrastructure, nothing short of a crafts university, which can carry on systematic education of all players in the crafts sector and with a special emphasis on the needs of the craftsman.
These proposed two pronged approach would help create young crafts persons in the long run through our modified school systems and create a recognised group of master craftsmen through the continuing higher education channel as well. Both these approaches need to use the vehicle of design & technology education in much the same spirit that the UK has been sustaining its programmes for design & technology at the school level. In India with its living crafts traditions distributed all across the country we still have the opportunity of linking these streams to the so called mainstream of the educational systems at the school and the university levels so that both streams can benefit from this fusion.
The crafts sector by its very nature is heterogeneous, both from the point of view of the material and technological processes used in each of the crafts as well as in the situations in which the craft communities work in different regions of each state or the country. This implies that individuals working in this sector would necessarily have to be flexible and broad-based in their approach and be able to understand the large variety of technologies and have the competence to work in a generalist capacity A flexible regional focus could give us both variety and relevance to local context in bringing the new crafts capabilities to our young learners as an integral part of their broader learning to cope with the new age ahead. This can and must be done near their homes and these must be rooted in the local needs to be relevant.
The channel for crafts education in India was largely outside the school system since the young craftsperson went through an extended apprenticeship with their mentor or parent and learned the craft as it was practised in the days gone by. However nowadays we frown on children working with parents, or worse with the trade and in being seen anywhere near a crafts production zone, for fear of being victimised by the zealots of child labour prevention. I do not call for the celebration of child labour by any stretch of imagination, but far from it this is a call for accepting crafts as a necessary route for instructing any young mind, anywhere in the world, in our search for a sustainable future.
The craftsman as a creator of our cultural artefacts on the other hand is just as sophisticated in the wielding of the tools in the synthesis of material form and culture being a judicious blend of the application of mind and the manipulation of matter. This duality of mental models and manual dexterity is what we find lacking in the products of our schooling system and we have seen many from whom we have chosen few into the design education programmes and the vocational streams of higher technical learning in India. The sheer incompetence of the young school leaver in these very capabilities is frightening since the very basis for future innovation is challenged by the absence of these critical skills and competencies.
In this effort we need to be informed by a broader view of the crafts and in our understanding of the personae of the craftsman as well as at a much deeper level the whole issue of craftsmanship and its role on shaping the society of the future. Crafts in India is an ocean of creativity with so many materials being manipulated in so many different ways, each responding to local cultural and functional threads, that go deep into the socio-economic and historical contexts that each of these specific manifestations. The creativity in the manner in which the material culture has evolved is embedded in the traditional wisdom of our land and this need to inform the design developments of the future. On the other hand the craftsmen who are spread across the length and breadth of the country can be seen as the masters and students of creativity in our society, as with each passing day, they infuse the spirit of creativity into our lives with their creations and can act as role models for a creative society. Craftsmanship is a lesson that we all need to learn; just as we all need the touch of sportsmanship in all our lives. It is this spirit that we need to bring to our schools and work places if we are to build a creative society with a sustainable future that is informed by the wealth of tradition and by the deeper values that all of us hold so dear. We need to understand the role of crafts to our future lives and bring these insights to our children and our youth as well as to our education system as a whole.
Note: This paper will be supported by the presentation of educational models and case studies from the IICD, Jaipur and the BCDI, Agartala in the form of visual material that would showcase the processes of education and the curriculum developed for both these institutes. These can form the backdrop for the call for new initiatives at the school and higher education levels to make crafts an integral part of the school and university curriculum through an innovative reinterpretation of the education processes and learning opportunities in Indian education systems.
This paper has been prepared for inclusion in Volume Two of the Crafts of India series, Issues & Perspectives, being produced at NID for the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India. It was presented at the conference on Indian Crafts: The Future in a Globalising World, at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India on 25th and 26th November 2005.