online: 8 june 2009
modified: 6, 7, 8 june 2009

4 june 2009 a more human way of doing things

crafts in India

a vast illustrated compendium of craftwork and visual culture

edited by Aditi Ranjan, M P Ranjan and colleagues at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (publishing details below*)


PAGE 078 BRASSWARE FROM HARYANA i read of the technical processes to make a Takni, a narrow-necked water container, or other brass utensils

(die pressing, manually cold forging, sand casting and manual shearing, etc)

i am amazed to see that they are the same processes as occur in industrial production in larger quantities... but in the villages, production is decentralised into many workshops making things in smaller quantities and powered by muscles (legs as well as arms) in place of engines and motors...

the skill in all this

(e.g. in hammering decorative indentations in the brasswork 'freehand - rapidly and with a single precise blow each')

appears to be greater than that of workers in factories who specialise in far fewer and smaller sub-skills on a production line...

...clearly the village crafts of India embody a marvellous cybernetic integration of people and objects that is lost when (in search of low costs and large quantities) mass production takes over... i look at this book i feel yet again that mechanisation was a vast collective mistake... and India preserves here the essential principles of a more human way of doing things!

...the photographs of the craft work taking place with simple tools and much more skilful actions... and of the village scenes in Haryana reveal a way of life that may seem poor to city-eyes but in itself is so complete and so decorative as to make us feel ashamed of the crudity of industrial living...


...this page gives a larger scale picture of a craft region (or metacluster as it is called in this book)... this particular one includes famous institutions for craftspeople:

the National Institute of Design (NID)
(where the book was 'conceived, researched, edited and designed')
the Gandhi Ashram,
the Calico Museum of Textiles.
the Shreyash Folk Museum,
and other such institutions of far-reaching vision and significance...

...and behind these (but not mentioned in the book?) is the existence of the Sarabhai family of Ahamedabad, enlightened industrialists whose influence on the arts and crafts of India and beyond is much valued and difficult to measure:

(e.g. the founding and development of the NID, Gita Sarabhai's introduction of John Cage to Indian philosophy, Vikram Sarabhai - physicist and father of the Indian space program)

...i see all these things, and more, as the context of this astonishing book... of creative multiplicities and living tradition...

PAGE 161 CARPETS AND DHURRIES (AND MUCH ELSE) FROM VARANASI again is a profusion of good things of quality and liveliness... hand knotted carpets (some made out of doors), carved wooden toys (some less than an inch or, 20mm overall, but amazingly intricate), silk weaving, decorative enamel work, and badges of gold embroidery, much else...

...and Varanesi where these things come from is not a poverty-stricken village but one of the holiest and oldest cities in the world (its alternative name is Kashi, the city of spiritual light, it's close to Sarnath where the Buddha delivered his first sermon)... i proceed with these brief samplings of this wonderful book, and this amazing country, i can hardly go on...

...the whole place seems so civilised... and yet i know that India too, like all of our countries, is surrounded, infused and half-defeated by all sorts of modern problems... while this profusion of artistic wealth and culture seems not to help at all... but only to keep people in what looks superficially like poverty and backwardness... i can't continue further... except to ask a few obvious questions:

1. what do we mean by civilisation?

2. what kind of world are we trying to construct (with new media particularly)?

3. how can we improve our perception of ancient cultures... how can we learn from them and achieve a modern way of living to be proud of?

4. is there any way in which the quality of these ancient things and ways of life can be resurrected and shared with everyone?

5. so when is this collective wisdom (from the worlds of arts and crafts) going to be taken more seriously than banking and profit and the so-called bottom line?... reactions to the present economic crisis may indicate that this is already beginnning to happen?

...fragmentary answers to these questions have been appearing ever since the start of the industrial revolution... in the writings of John Ruskin, William Morris, Mahatma Gandhi, George Sturt and many others... and this book is one such fragment, a rather huge and gorgeous one!

(apologies for the brevity of these comments faced with the quality and immensity of this book)

*publishing details:

Crafts of India, Handmade in India,

edited by Aditi Ranjan, M P Ranjan at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad,

designers: Zenoia Zamindar and Girish Arora

published by the Council of Handicraft Development Corporations, (COHANDS), New Delhi 2006.

Funded by the Office of the Development Commissioner Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles.

750 words

for comfortable line length set the window to about two-thirds of the screen width


© 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 john chris jones

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