travelBLOGueEvery November in the middle of rural Kachchh, traditional artisans showcase their product designs on the catwalk to an audience of Indian and international spectators as part of their convocation ceremony for completing one year at Kala Raksha Vidhyalay
A Catwalk in KachchhBy Kirkin
As we leave Bhuj, the regional center of Kachchh, signs of life recede. Occasional hamlets come into view, a weak light shining through a window. It’s eight in the evening and it seems that everyone has already gone to sleep. But for us the night is just beginning. We are off to a celebration outside Sumrasar Sheikh, a small village in the middle of Kachchh. Tonight is the convocation of the artisans who have completed the one year program at Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya, the first design institute established specifically to work with traditional artisans.
After driving for two hours, down steadily more rutted roads, we begin to wonder if we have taken a wrong turn - it is so clear and quiet here and there is no one else on the road. On the horizon signs of a power plant, a recent addition to the Kachchhi skyline appear, casting a bright light on our surroundings. The driver locates a small road to the left and as we bump along, we catch a glimpse of life, then as we get closer music, loud electronic Bollywood beats and laser lights illuminating a large white catwalk. I was expecting a rustic craft display and it is slightly surreal to be surrounded by so much noise and fluorescence in the middle of the desert.
Inside, the energy is high, as the artisans and their communities intermingle with craft aficionados from India and abroad. Everyone is eagerly waiting for the show to start. A hush falls over the crowd and the event begins, opening with a warm welcome and then the centerpiece of the night – the artisan’s creations. First up is women’s clothing. As the models begin to sashay down the catwalk, cell phone cameras flash from all sides. All eyes are on the stage.
One after another the graduates showcase their range on the catwalk; a diverse mix of shawls, dupattas, kurtas, waistcoats and other Indian-style clothing for men and women, as well as bags and accessories. The light hangs delicately on the fine silks, cottons and wools, bringing out the attention to detail, exquisite finishing and use of high quality natural materials and dyes. Each piece brings the essence of the surrounding landscape, traditional aesthetics, materials and techniques together with contemporary styles, aimed at the growing urban and international audience interested in traditional crafts.
Each piece is lovely, but what is most exciting about this event is being amongst the creators of these works. As each artisan takes to the catwalk, alongside a model dressed in their designs, the air is filled with cheers. Some artisans beam wide smiles. Others walk shyly, holding the model’s arm. In everyone the sense of pride and excitement is palpable and the audience calls out for more.
As the event draws to a close, and we prepare to head back to Bhuj I am struck by the possibilities invoked when rural and urban communities come together. These interactions offer outsiders the opportunity to learn, understand and appreciate more of traditional rural crafts. We get a glimpse of the artisan, his or her community and their creative traditions – and the pieces become more than beautiful items; every thread now carries a story. A sense of the skill, expertise and time involved to hand create each piece of work, and with that story the possibility of a sustainable future for traditional crafts and rural communities.
The convocation fashion show is held every November, at Kala Raksha’s Institution of Design in Sumrasar Sheikh in Kachchh. Visit www.kala-raksha.org for more information.
About Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya and Kala Raksha
Established in 2005, Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya is the first design institute of its kind to work specifically with traditional artisans. The one-year program provides a space to develop craft expertise, explore contemporary trends, experiment with new designs and tools to market to new audiences. The institution is part of Kala Raksha’s larger aim to support and develop traditional knowledge and expertise and ensure a viable income source for artisans and their communities. The social enterprise also works with approximately 1,000 embroidery artisans from seven different communities in Kachchh to design and develop their range of bags, shawls, clothing and house wares. Artisans are involved in all aspects of the design and production process, ensuring that the maximum benefit stays with the artisans and their communities. Over the years Kala Raksha has collected historical textile works as a resource for the community to maintain inspiration and connection to traditional crafts and practices. These are now displayed in their museum which you can visit in person or view part of the collection online at www.kala-raksha-museum.org. Kala Raksha also has a sales outlet on their campus of beautiful handcrafted goods made by the communities they support.
Posted on: Sep 13, 2011