Designing Artisans

By: Paulami Chatterjee


In a country like India, artisans find it difficult to compete in the market without formal training and business education. The Somaiya Kala Vidya design institute in Gujarat is providing the necessary push to artisans and turning them into full-fledged designers, reports Paulami Chatterjee.


When Akram Jusab Khatri was just two years old, his family was devastated by the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. The home that had once served as a shelter for the family, nestled in the hinterland of Dhamadka, was decimated in seconds. But Akram's desire to be a successful craftsman pulled him through the ordeal and kept the fire burning in his belly.

Akram's grandfather had forged a rich tradition for the family, having immersed himself in creating traditional garments, known as sadlas, in the town of Vagad in Gujarat. It was only after he was gone that Akram's father, Jusab, moved the family to Dhamadka, where he continued the legacy of cloth printing that his own father had begun. The ardour for block-printing and dyeing was a precious inheritance passed down generations in the Khatri family. So, when Akram was in his final year of school, he taught himself block-printing and dyeing, intending to pursue a livelihood in textiles.


There are many like Akram who lost their means of livelihood and survival in the 2001 quake or those who had dreams in their eyes but not sufficient monetary support to live the same.


The scenario is typical of a country like India, where Indian artisans find it difficult to compete in the market without formal training and business education, which often make them less motivated to pursue their craft for a living. It eventually leads to the loss of technical skills, craftsmanship, and death of an important part of our cultural heritage.

In 2016, the Gandhidham-based Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV), a design institute meant exclusively for artisans, came up with a plethora of opportunities for the likes of Akram, which they had never explored before. Judy Frater founded the institute in 2014. The institute is the first-of-its-kind academy imparting artisans with a deeper understanding of culture and arts, promoting excellence in design, and raising the income and ethics of those engaging in craft.