I have been placed in Bhuj, Gujarat and am working for Khamir. Our name stands for Kachchh Heritage, Art, Music, Information, and Resources. In Kachchii, the local language, khamir means ‘intrinsic pride’. Khamir serves as a platform for the promotion of traditional handicrafts, allied cultural practices, processes involved in craft creation, and preservation of culture, community, and local environments.
My primary project at Khamir is to assess the baseline health of our artisans, to figure out artisan community needs, and to design public health strategies for Khamir to improve artisan livelihood. I met with health care professionals and other health related NGOs to develop the artisan community needs and health assessment survey. The survey is a simple, 75 multiple-choice questions that will gather information on what artisans know about their health, what health care options they can access, and what their health status is on an average day.
The last question is my favorite
Do you have any questions, health related or not, or any issues, health related or not, that you would like to share?
This is where the survey ends and the artisan’s story begins.
Naran Chautian is my first interview. He is a knife maker in Nana Reha, a village just outside of Bhuj. I sat on the floor of his craft studio, watching him work, and asking him questions about his craft, his family, his health.
When I ask Naran the last question he looks up from his knife work and smiles. He says
All possibilities are possible
At Khamir, we strive to create a democratic and empowering space– a common roof under which a range of stakeholders can exchange ideas and collaborate. Our vision is of a vibrant, sustainable Indian craft sector in which crafts and artisans alike are highly valued by people worldwide.
After the first pilot round of health surveys I noticed that the majority of artisans are male. When I asked my mentor about the presence of (or lack of) female artisans he explained to me how family traditions have created this male dominated artisan sphere. (To my understanding) Families pass down their craft to their sons because they are the ones who will continue the craft lineage. Families may not want to pass down craft secrets or motifs to their daughter because of the likelihood that they will be married, move in with their husband’s family, and have their work be considered part of the husband’s family craft.
While I understand the cultural reasons for why the craft sector is dominated by male artisans, I have to question what my role can be in “creating a democratic and empowering space” for all our artisans. I figured the best place to start would be this blog. This blog will chronicle the events of my life during the next 10 months, but more than that, I want it to be used as a platform for these amazingly talented women artisans to share their craft, stories, and whatever else they feel like discussing. I hope you enjoy getting to know these women as much as I do.
The first woman I would like to introduce you to is Divyah, my first friend at Khamir. We sit together for chai in the afternoons, watch the newly born puppies play, teach each other phrases from our mother tongue, debate whether I need more piercings (she pierced my ears the first time I met her), and talk about our futures.
My English is (waves hand up and down)… but I will try to tell you my story. I have been at Khamir for one month. My mom works here too. I like Khamir. I like my work. I make the kits for the artists, sort through the colored yarn, prepare plastic for weaving. I like it here.
In a year I will be married. I am nervous for the new family. I hope I will match well with them. I will move to Mundra and work at home only. My mom and dad want marriage for me so it will be good.
We finish our chai and go back to our work. I find myself going to her workspace constantly throughout the day. Even though struggle with the language barrier, her smile is a constant reassurance of friendship.
The continued imbalance of gender representation within the arts is an issue that has been ignored for far too long. One of my goals for this year is to create a dialogue within the craft community about promoting the work of female artisans. I can already feel change happening–after speaking with my mentors and fellow co-workers about the lack of representation of our female artisans we began working as a team to find a creative way to increase their presence in the craft community. I am pleased to announce that in our next exhibition, Ghadai, we will have a section devoted to the women’s role in pottery.
All possibilities are possible
Post Script: for those interested in Ghadai check out our facebook page and website. You can also book a trip to Bhuj anytime between 17 January – 31 March 2015 to check out the exhibition in person! #shamelessplug