Sharda Gautam, Handicrafts Manager, Tata Trusts explains how Antaran is building an ecosystem for traditional hand-weaving practices

Since their inception in 1892, the Tata Trusts, India’s oldest philanthropy, have played a pioneering role in making a lasting difference in the lives of the communities they serve. Guided by the principles and vision of proactive philanthropy of its founder, Jamsetji Tata, the purpose of the Trusts is to catalyze development in the areas of health and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, energy, rural upliftment, urban poverty reduction and the arts. , crafts and culture. Tata Trusts’ programs, achieved through direct implementation, partnerships and grantmaking, are marked by innovations relevant to the country.

Sharing his experiences with India CSR ‘Rusen Kumar for Leadership Series in an interview, Sharda Gautam, Handicrafts Manager, Tata Trusts provides an overview of the goals and objectives of the Tata Trusts – Antaran Handicraft Livelihood Program. Excerpts from the interview:

How does Antaran build an ecosystem for traditional hand-weaving practices in India?

Antaran, a key intervention of the Tata Trusts’ Craft Livelihoods Program, was launched to bring about fundamental changes in the development of the craft sector. The comprehensive program aims to rejuvenate struggling handloom clusters through end-to-end intervention, starting with a pilot initiative in 6 lesser-known handloom clusters in four states in India.

The overarching objective is to transform these six pilot weaving clusters by creating micro-enterprises led by artisans across each element of the value chain. Incubation and design centers have been set up in these hubs as unique destinations for buyers, designers, researchers and craft enthusiasts. Community initiatives led by Antaran in four states and six groups are located in: Assam (Kamrup and Nalbari), Nagaland (Dimapur), Odisha (Gopalpur and Maniabandha) and Andhra Pradesh (Venkatagiri).

What role does Antaran of Tata Trusts play in safeguarding the interests of hand craft artists in the country?

Since its inception, Antaran has strived to evolve and create systems and methodologies that enable artisans to become enterprising weavers who hold the ability to do business, create new designs, and support weavers more deeply. within their community. The initiative was designed keeping in mind the principles of basic strength of hand-weaving textiles in natural fibers, hand-spun yarn, natural dyes and weaving of different patterns in lengths. shorter chain lengths. All efforts to strengthen weavers, pre-loom and post-loom service providers should be directed towards ‘gradual’ strengthening of the core strength and associated ecosystem in the selected clusters.

Weavers earn the most when they are allowed to speak directly to markets. All skills building and re-qualification efforts should be geared towards empowering weavers in the direction of entrepreneurship and self-employment. Interventions must be organic, enabling and rooted in traditional knowledge. A longer duration of the program allows time for this to happen.

Each weaver is different and will learn and absorb different elements of the program at a different pace. For example, some weavers would be more interested in design, some in entrepreneurship and some just to improve their technical skills. The team is aware of specific needs and encourages weavers to build on their core strength.

Antaran works to strengthen artisan ecosystems, strengthening the core strength of hand-woven textiles such as natural fibers, hand-spun yarn and natural dyes, while reviving and reinterpreting traditional weaving designs in these groups selected for larger markets. The broader objective of the program is to prove that traditional skills can still be a viable livelihood for artisans in rural areas, and in particular to rejuvenate the sagging hand loom sector by putting it at the center of this intervention, because millions of weavers still depend on their crafts. for survival.

Please highlight some of the various collections launched by Antaran in recent times.

Each craft developed through the Antaran platform has a unique character, representing a rare cultural and traditional context of their respective regions. Extraordinary weavings inspired by cultural influences and materials only add to the flavor of the rich heritage that our country represents.

Eri and Muga silk from Assam are traditional fibers that have been present in the region for centuries. Beautifully woven Muga silk sarees and Eri silk stoles mixed with cotton and additional weft patterns are simply wonderful and elegant. A few artisans maintain natural dyeing as part of their textile creation, which further adds to the value and authenticity of their textiles. A true representation of the natural beauty of Assam, a new collection of handcrafted products Ghamosas – the traditional ceremonial fabric of Assam was also developed by the weavers of the Nalbari region associated with the initiative.

Nagaland’s loom weaving over the past year has reached a new high in its design intervention. The weavers who created only shawls, stoles and bags mostly from acrylic, created a whole range of eclectic designs in cotton upholstery fabrics.

One-weft fine ikat sarees, stoles and fabrics from Maniabandha, Odisha are one to watch out for. Designs that bring out the ingenuity of traditional craftsmanship in new and contemporary colors make them special. While some weavers focus on exploiting what works best for them when it comes to a particular heirloom design, young entrepreneur weavers are also venturing into new, colorful, bespoke fabrics for their clientele.

The tussard and gheecha sarees, stoles and fabrics from Gopalpur, Odisha are perfect examples of a diverse range that only one natural fiber can offer. With the intervention of Antaran, the artisan entrepreneurs not only found their distinctive style, but also ventured into product diversification. Many collections of recent times have been inspired by the various ceremonies linked to their rich culture – such as the Durga Pooja collection of sarees, stoles and fabrics, the Heritage sarees inspired by Ghoda Nabami, Contemporary stoles inspired by Asta prahari ceremony observed by the inhabitants of Gopalpur.

Venkatagiri’s silk and cotton silk sarees are a living example in history of the replication of a single pattern in countless possibilities. Previously nurtured and preserved by royal patronage, Venkatagiri’s intricately woven zari sarees require meticulous construction. The cluster was able to maintain a distinct quality different from other southern Zari techniques. The unique use of the Jamdani style in cotton and cotton silks has proliferated among artisan entrepreneurs, redefining craftsmanship into something fresh.

What is Antaran’s long-term goal and vision?

Antaran is committed to facilitating effective and personalized methodologies to keep pace with the pace of rapidly growing small home businesses. Antaran aims to enable and make artisans understand the importance of the correct positioning of their crafts, and it is crucial to reach the right customer. The team plans to create an empowered group of artisan entrepreneurs who are redefining craftsmanship not only as a way to make bread and butter, but as inspiring brands that pave the way for other craft techniques to empower communities. and preserve their rich cultural heritage.

A message to readers in the context of National Handweaving Week.

The loom and crafts have long been part of our ecosystem. Every ceremony across cultures and religions is incomplete without a special shawl or textile with a significant story or custom behind it. While it’s laudable that the craft has gone on for so long without much support, we really owe it to the rich culture that makes our country unique in the world. While the present times have fortunately given a platform to spread its wings, it is our responsibility to stay connected to our forms of craftsmanship – the only way and a first step to help preserve it for posterity. It is imperative that the craft communities modernize, but the mutual awareness of the customer towards the craft is just as crucial.

Buying and being a patron will not only help sustain the art form, but will also encourage innovation in design and new techniques and keep the art form alive forever. Appreciating and valuing the hand craft in turn will encourage a deeper understanding of the time, effort and selfless investment of craft communities in preserving our environment with environmentally friendly production techniques.

(India CSR Network)

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