Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kachchh, Gujarat

After Ahmadabad, it's time to head towards the border of India and Pakistan to Bhuj, located in the region of Kutch (or Kachchh).

I never thought we would go this far into Gujarat but fully glad we did. Kutch is a major hub of crafts. It has artisan communities of various skills; block printing (Ajrak), 16 types of embroidery, pottery, copper bells, lacquer toys, and bandhini (tie dye).

During my research for communities and organizations, I came across a couple located in and around Bhuj so we made our plan to head on out to meet them. We met up with Neha Gandhi of Matsya who took us around on a craft tour of the region. Her experience of the region was very helpful since she has worked with the artisans of that region previously. She is located in Mumbai. Check out her blog here.

Day 1: Kala Raksha
Based 25 Km from Bhuj, we hired a car to take us out there. Turning into a village, we found Kala Raksha and it's compound containing a guest house, museum, and production unit. It is a non-profit organization set up in 1993 and has worked since to preserve the traditional Arts and culture of Kachchh.

They work with women surrounding the facility to produce rich embroidered products along with products using block printed fabrics. Most of their material is sourced locally, which in turn benefits the local communities. The work is distributed to the various artisan communities by a supervisor, who then re-distributes the materials and instructions further to the artisans. The women decide their own wage depending on the work. The community then decides how much goes to whomever produced the work. They currently sell their products in India and online through Equal Craft.

It was great to meet with Judy Frater who heads as the project coordinator at the Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. The KRV is an institution of design for the artisans, who learn how to create and market their work to contemporary markets. While in conversation, Judy mentioned that she wants to stress the artisan intelligence and creativity in her products, not their living conditions or sad story about their lives. Which was a new outlook for me, as most of the fair trade websites I've seen, shows the face/woman behind the product. And in a way we do end up buying into the feeling that by buying this product, we're helping that women out of her plight. We buy into her story and not necessarily into the products quality and worth.

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