Survey: We want to know who we are

Wall in Thilonia (Rajasthan) which includes names of those who has been paid for community labour, using public scrutiny to verify accounts.

We conducted a quick survey of the Sangam Project network in the lead up to the Bangalore event. The responses we received were evenly distributed between Australia and India, designers and artisans.

On the question of what information should be available to consumers, a large majority 80% said names of both artisans and designers should be included. Less than half 35% thought there should be information about how much makers are paid, and respondents were evenly split over whether this should include makers’ details.

Products produced by artisans in their traditional style and colours needs to be celebrated, rather than manipulated by perceived ‘western’ design tastes to prevent their indigenous style being lost. Unless value is placed on the culture the crafts have emerged from, Indian artisans will be seen as nothing more than cheap manufacturers of western goods.

No surprisingly, almost all 94% said they would be interested in being part of a network. The most popular initiatives of such a network included:

  • A directory of individuals and organisations offering particular skills in craft and design – 79.31%
  • Model contract for craft-design partnerships – 65.52%
  • Reviews of ethical standards in e-commerce sites – 58.62%
  • A publication that promotes ethical partnerships – 55.17%
  • An award for innovation in traditional craft – 48.28%
  • A place for people to leave stories about how they have used craft products – 41.38%

The directory idea received many supportive comments:

  • [include] a directory of retailers/ sellers who are supporting this concept
  • As a practitioner, committed to stay working in the arts and craft industries, developing, managing and holding such a directory, would assist me
  • ‘word of mouth’ and trusted referrals would be a valuable resource for sole trader craftsmakers initiating enterprises.

Other suggestions included:

  • In additional there should be an award that encourages a craft community, ‘a team of craftspeople’, many a crafts in India are produced by one individual.
  • Confluences aided either by Governmental or NGO where both artisans and designers could come together for an hands on workshop. This would introduce designers to new crafts and artisans to new contemporary ideas

Other extra comments included this call for a respect that is clear to the consumer

…a shared understanding needs to be reached. a respect for the traditional crafts person’s beliefs and cultural priorities must be afforded. a designer motivated by their potential to make money is likely to overlook such things as demonstrated by the numerous fashion houses that will happily turn a blind eye to the conditions and welfare of the foreign based makers. On goods where a collaboration has taken place or where making has been outsourced, designers should supply and consumers should demand a statement of policy in relation to the terms of the outsourcing.

Greater respect for the master artisan:

From my observation, ‘Western’ designers are often frustrated by the interpretation of their designs by artisans. An open mind to anticipated outcome of product and an understanding that it is a collaborative process between ‘designers’ of different mediums, with different agendas and aesthetic tastes, require a flexible approach to how the end product can be used. Designers also need to pay 1st class artisans more for great work that’s delivered on time with care and attention to detail. Not all artisans are the same, and an artisan who understands the fundamental elements needed to sell a high quality item at a good price needs to be rewarded accordingly. Designers also may need to consider providing artisans with quality equipment and materials to ensure items are produced to the highest standard.

An argument to preserve trade secrets in the craft-design partnership:

Here in Australia, we keep our manufactures and commercial relationships confidential, we respect them and pay them and in turn they keep commercial confidentiality – for example part of the success and awareness of Henry Wilson’s A-joint is that it is sand cast and that is a craft he research and found a craftsperson to do for him.. If other designers (or in most cases imitators) knew his craftsperson, how many replicas would there be? How is disclosing a maker going to benefit the maker in the long term? By creating an unfulfillable demand? By reducing the quality of his skill though time pressure? By encouraging cheaper knockoffs from other crafts people?? Surely as designers working with Indian craftsmen we should afford them the same professional courtesies and relationships that we do with all our other Australian craftsmen and makers and just take the opportunity to educate them as to the role and importance they play in the given product so as that they engage positively with the experience?

The survey is an indicator of a demand for a network that involves mutual respect between artisans and designers. The challenge in Bangalore is to forge a network that can be effective and sustainable.

And congratulations to the Aboriginal designer/artist Jenuarrie, who was the random selection of respondents who wins a $120 voucher to Artisan Culture.

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