Manchaha Part 2: Artisan Originals Collection Isn’t a Product, It’s a Life Skill

The Artisan Originals collection isn’t just a library of one-of-a-kind rugs, it’s a completely innovative way to provide life skills to a disadvantaged rural population. While these weavers each have their own unique identities, the confidence with which they live their identities is limited by their patriarchal and rural social hierarchies. Before weaving, they often discounted themselves as nothing more than wives, homemakers, and mothers, which by all means, should not be discounted. However, their identity was always only tied to how they took care of someone else and not with how they carried themselves as well.

With the Manchaha initiative, these weavers are given a chance to delve deeper into their own identities, their own goals & stories, and share them in a way that lets them walk the fine line of their social structures. For a lot of the Manchaha artisans, the initiative is also a coping mechanism for the many issues they face. In my ten months, I was lucky enough to capture some of these stories and turn them into the video you see above, but I’d like to focus on two stories that really made an impact on my time with this project and at the foundation.

Sajana Ji

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Sajana Ji – Aaspura, Rajasthan.

Sajana Devi is a weaver turned designer from Aaspura, Rajasthan. A mother of three, she has been weaving for more than fifteen years. Her father owned and operated a shoe store so the business owner spirit was present at a young age, but as a woman, opportunities have always been limited in her village. It took a financial crisis after first child that led her to weaving, and has been making Artisan Original rugs for the past three. Just before her first self-designed rug, she was diagnosed with a severe stomach cancer. Now she uses Artisan Original rugs to escape from the physical and mental trauma, as well as live up to her father’s entrepreneurial legacy.

“Since my stomach cancer, I’ve found weaving to be the best thing to put my mind at ease. I lose myself in the work and absolutely love the idea of putting my imagination into a rug, because my mind is like a computer and it is constantly running.”

For Sajana Ji, it wasn’t work, it was an outlet for pain, creativity, and aspirations that until recently, outweighed her reality. She has now completed four such Artisan Original rugs and her designs are sought out by rug connoisseurs the world over.

Bugali

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Bugali – Aaspura, Rajasthan.

Bugali is a vibrant young artisan from Aaspura, Rajasthan. She has started weaving in order to support her family. Her father and three brothers work as daily wage earners in the village and mother is a weaver. Belonging to a financially deprived family, Bugali couldn’t continue her education despite wanting to. Now with Jaipur Rugs’ Alternative Education Program, she was able to pursue education along with other women of her village. Bugali is also one of the stars of the Artisan Originals initiative. At only age 21, she has completed nine Manchaha rugs and now has even started doing direct-from-consumer commissioned pieces.

“When I make a mistake, it’s not a mistake, it makes my rug better and more unique, that’s what I love about making Manchaha, it’s my own imagination.”

Bugali started out as a shy person who preferred weaving by her mom’s side over school. She did not interact with others, but after winning a few awards and becoming the face of the AO initiative, slowly but surely, Bugali has come out of her shell and is starting to show interest in design theory and mentoring other would-be Artisan Original weavers.

These rugs have become tools in building these weavers up both personally and within their communities. Up till this point, there have been a few hundred Manchaha rugs completed with over 90 different weavers participating. These weavers have not only knotted their day-to-day lives, heartfelt stories, and dreams into these one-off rugs. They’ve managed to elevate their craft and title from weaver to designer. It’s a tremendous confidence boost in and of itself, but when the fact that a few of these rugs have won international design awards such as the German Design Award, these weavers feel unstoppable and their hard work reaffirmed. Ultimately, Manchaha gets us closer to the goal of providing dignity to the weavers and elevating hand-knotting from manual labor to an artisanal craft.

Vipin was born in India but hasn't spent time there since his move to the U.S. at age 6. He understands the magnitude of change the country has gone through in the last 21 years but is now thrilled to experience it first-hand. He hopes to use his skills in digital marketing and technology to help bridge the gap between untapped artisans, skills building, and leadership training at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. Before becoming an AIF Clinton Fellow, he's had the unique experience of working directly with AIF as a volunteer with the New York Young Professionals Chapter for the past four years to raise funds and awareness about AIF's programs among young South Asian professionals. One of his goals is to see if what he's learned as a physically distant volunteer, effectively translates to the work required on the ground. Another goal? He wants to try as many regional varieties of biryani as his ten months will allow him to stomach and see if his current favorite, the hometown Hyderabadi variant, can be topped.

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