Crafts in India inform the country’s textile and fashion industries. These indigenous practices that hold immense relevance in terms of meaning, significance and history, are unfortunately seeing a decline in their practice especially during the time of the current pandemic. As part of their Craft Documentation module, students Pooja Harish, Swarna Pratha K., Pranavi P. and Veena V. from JD Institute’s Post Graduate Diploma in Fashion Design and Business Management 2019 batch formed a group to explore the extent to which traditional craft practices have been affected by the pandemic and how they have adapted to the new situations imposed by it. Presenting their study under the title Locked. Unlocked – Anecdotes of artisans from Tamil Nadu, the team displayed and discussed covid narratives of the artisans as part of their end-term jury.
Based on technique and material used to make the crafts, the students visited ten different craft practices within Tamil Nadu such as metalwork, wood work, textiles, painting, etc. Collecting secondary data prior to their travel in order to frame relevant questions for the artisans during their field visits, the team researched and analysed how the pandemic has generally affected crafts and the livelihood of artisans in India. Through their interaction with the artisans in Pattamadai where they create rugs, the students understood how they have worked with alternate material such as local grass, with which they also tried exploring new product such as bags, coasters, boxes and other household objects. In Manamadurai where they create pottery, the craftsmen received financial help from the societies during lockdown unlike other craft cluster that they visited. In Thanjavur where artisans create shields using silver, they saw themselves exploring their skill in other areas of metalwork. With the time gained through the lockdown, they were able to find dedicated time to refine their own practice by creating new product such as metal boxes. The artisans of Trichy who created dancing dolls explored new dance forms such as Salsa for virtual exhibitions. Mariamman Kovil that creates forms in Bharatnatyam saw the artisans creating new forms inspired by international dance forms. Usually artisans live in their own societies but in the case of Erode that wasn’t the case. These artisans who create textiles unfortunately were not able to receive any support from their craft cluster societies, and because of this they migrated to various other skill-based work such as agriculture and labour. The doll makers of Vilachery like many other crafts did not receive any external help, and because of the lack of demand for them, and because of poor storage facilities, many of their products were discarded or ruined in the process of attempts of preservation. The painters of Thanjavur were not as highly affected as the other craft practices, but the students were interested to note that the painters had been doing youtube tutorials and videos about their practice prior to the start of the pandemic.
Through their study of the crafts, the team ‘Locked. Unlocked’ were able to gain understanding and awareness about how craft clusters are managing and navigating their creative practices during the pandemic. As crafts are already in the mode of endangerment, the knowledge gained by the team inspired them to enquire about roles in which they can help and contribute to the sustenance of such practices that hold immense role in Indian creative industries. Through their field visits and learning, the students were able to gain an appreciation of craft practices and their sustainable approaches in making, as well as the ability to empathise with the challenges and concerns of the artisans. Moreover, through this craft study which also compared how rural crafts navigated the pandemic situation compared to their urban counterparts based on parameters such as resources and facilities, the team was inspired by the passion and dedication of the artisans towards their craft. Through such craft cluster initiatives, JD Institute of Fashion Technology aims to provide students with the exposure and ability to develop their understanding of design and creative practices beyond classroom learning, aligning them with the awareness on how the environment affects design and how it is responsive to the current climate.