In November 2005, Kala Raksha launched Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, an Institution of Design for Working Traditional Artisans of Kutch –the first such Institution in India.
The focus of the Vidhyalaya is on acquiring knowledge and skills that can be directly applied in the artisans’ own art to enable innovation appropriate to contemporary markets.
KRV’s second year began in February 2007, and the artisans graduated on 19 January, 2008. This was a year of reflection, revision, and contemplation of our future. We began on a note of great uncertainty, as two mega power plant projects begin to surround our campus. Accordingly, we made the decision to hold only one class this year. In this more focused arena, we consolidated our experiences of last year, fine tuned our curriculum, and began alumni programs.
This year’s class was all women. Women, in particular, must constantly balance the traditional and the innovative. So, while we celebrated Design and Achievement at our convocation, we also celebrated these graduates’ courage. They surmounted a variety of obstacles– some that we may overlook. To abide by social conventions, for example, young women brought with them elders. The range in ages of our class brought pleasant surprises, and a lively exchange of ideas.
The students’ final collections were juried by a panel including Laila Taybji, Gulshan Nanda, Ashoke Chatterjee, Archana Shah and Rohini Kotak of Fabindia. They offered invaluable, practical feedback. The jury was also a wonderful example of continued and mutual learning. Jury members confessed that approaching the older students they wondered what was going on. But their prejudices were quickly dispelled. They were amazed to see the creativity and expanded comprehension of the “seniors.” Learning has no age. In fact, two of the five awards for collections went to elder artisans!
The jury was followed by a Fashion Show under the stars, sponsored by Bestseller Fund and Eileen Fisher. In spite of chilly weather, the show was packed to standing room only for the second year. Visitors and local people thoroughly enjoyed the display of better than ever handcrafted collections. Utsav Dholakia choreographed the event, with invaluable assistance by Permanent Faculty Member, Virendra Vegad.
The next morning, Chief Guest Villooben Mirza, SEWA Trade Facilitation Center Director and former Director of NIFT Gandhinagar, presided for the Convocation. We were also honoured to have Dr. Maxine Olsen, UN Resident Coordinator, as a Special Guest. KRV Graduate and president of the men’s class of 2006 Irfan Anwar Khatri and Lailaben Tyabji, Chairperson of Dastkar, spoke on the importance of design education. All graduates received their certificates. The award for Best Collection was given to Tejuben Soma and Lakhiben Varjang.
Early on in our year, Tejuben had confided that she could not find the meaning in Vidhylaya work. We were thus doubly pleased that Tejuben was awared Best Collection.
“In the middle I got it,” she related. “When I went to the sea, I got the idea and inspiration. I got the sense of it. We don’t have to ask anyone. Now I have confidence. We have to do our own work in order to succeed.”
Over 6,500 guests enjoyed the two days of celebration. They came from Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, UK, USA, Australia, France and Canada, as well as Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Delhi to try their hands at weaving, pottery, bandhani, roghan and embroidery, take camel cart rides to neighboring Vandh, participate in informal music performances, meet artisans, and of course appreciate the exhibitions of new designs. Direct sales totaled over RS 65,000, and orders nearly equaled this amount.
On the 19th evening, a cultural program was inaugurated with a screening of our new film, “Artisans Design! The Launch of Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya.” This was followed by a festival of Kutchi music and dance, which drew another big crowd. Jat men performed their traditional martial arts dance. Women from Banni performed an energetic dance with water pots, in which our Rabari graduates joined as a friendly challenge. Rabari and Jat men danced ras together, in true Kutchi synchretic form. Everyone drove away the chills in a grand finale all-join-in sannedo dance.
As part of our Alumni programs, we welcomed many of our alumni with new collections for 2008. This was an important opportunity to go through the process of design with minimal assistance. Their collections were wonderfully creative, clearly illustrating the sustainability of KRV’s design education input.
In the course of the Convocation, through conversations with Laila Tyabji, Ashoke Chatterjee, and other jury members, the idea of forming an Alumni Association evolved. The graduates of 2006 have enthusiastically agreed to begin the association, and are in the process of determining its form. Lailaben generously offered the new association a prime spot in the annual Dastkar Nature bazaar next year, which will surely motivate the alumni and help to focus their ongoing design work.
Following the convocation, we interviewed 20 applicants for 15 seats for the men’s section. One bandhani artist shared that he had been thinking about taking the course, but when he saw the confidence with which Karimaben, our Jat embroidery graduate, presented her collection at the Convocation, he knew he had to attend! February 12th, 2008 marked the beginning of year three at KRV.
THE FUTURE OF KRV
When we look back to just a year ago, the growth of our graduates is amazing. Our students put their hearts and minds into their work, and succeeded in finding their unique voices within their traditions. As Ramiben, a graduate of 2008, said, “We did our own designs. But without identity there is no point.”
Even as the future of our educational program, and of traditional art, grows bright with each year, the future of the site of Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya remains uncertain. We look to our graduates as models of courage. With continued support, we will take Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya—and Artisan Design– to new horizons.