Jan 31, 2014

Kala Raksha visit

One last post about Kutch, and then I'll move on. On my last day I visited the Kala Raksha Trust, a textile organization run by and for women. 

Read more about it here http://www.kala-raksha.org/

I was lucky to be able to connect with Judy Frater, an American woman who's lived in Kutch for 24 years now. She founded Kala Raksha and the associated school of design. 

Kala Raksha is dedicated to preserving traditional handmade textile arts like embroidery, appliqué, block printing, tie dye and mirror work. There is a museum at the site which shows examples of those arts, which are rapidly disappearing as people move to machine made, assembly line sort of clothing. Here, a woman is doing appliqué. 

I bought a couple of pieces and they are very beautiful and functional. Akanksha and I went together and we talked to Judy a lot about design and the principles of Kala Raksha. Kutch is well known for handicrafts but I saw a lot of oddities there. For example, I saw copper bells originally made for hanging on sheep, but now hanging from beaten copper cats and cowboy windchimes. Judy's thought on stuff like that is it forces the artisans to conform to someone else's vision of what will sell, and takes away their traditions, their design, and their vision. Her idea is to assist artisans to understand the market they are selling to, and let them take the creative freedom after that. For example, Kala Raksha sells ipad covers and cell phone cases, and the women need to understand exactly what they will be used for and how.

At a different village I met a British couple who were interested in the handicrafts but reluctant to pay he prices the artisans were asking. Personally, I didn't think the prices were too high for work that is labour intensive, eye straining, and the result of years of training. The British couple argued they should be paying a lower price than they would be charged in Britain for the same work. Now, I see the argument that when you go straight to the artisan you shouldn't have the markup tacked on by the British store. I'm not sure what they were quoted and sometimes different people get a different price, and that's not very fair. But I think you have to look at it in perspective. Were the prices more than I would make in one day? No. In half a day? No. In one hour? Maybe, it depends. So, what is fair? I guess it's up to you. 

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