Increased engagement in the Asia Pacific region is largely dependent on growing trust between cultures. It is important that both parties have confidence that each others aims complement their own long term interests.
One obstacle to this trust is a crude development paradigm which presumes that the only course for progress in Asia is to follow the Western path. While handicraft has been largely consigned to private recreation in the West, it continues to be a source of great pride in Asian countries as a living cultural history. Maintenance of craft traditions provides reassurance that development does not come at the cost of national identity.
Australia has active role to play in the region, particularly India, in applying its design capacity to handicraft. Many craft traditions are threatened. Cheap imports have led to a declining local market. A younger generation, growing up with mobile phones, has less patience for the repetition of craft practice. New designs are needed that both expand the market and involve less labour-intensive processes. Currently there is great interest from a new generation of design graduates to work in the region.
These kinds of partnerships have the promise to take cultural exchange beyond symbolism and into people’s everyday lives. There is obvious benefit on the Australian side, particularly with Aboriginal designers seeking to find production modes that complement their values. And on the Indian side, there is a path for the majority that is complementary to the values that are revered as an essential part of national culture.
To bring this up to the level of cultural diplomacy, it is important that Australia shows some recognition of the importance of craft in India and other countries in the region. It needs the capacity to host delegations from craft organisations in the region. To this end, it would be important to support a national representative on the World Crafts Council.