Upasana Bhattacharjee
Upasana Bhattacharjee Working at the intersection of technology and society.

CrafterSpace: Photo Blog

Iruway is a farm located at the foothills of Devarayandurga near Durgadahalli village in Tumakuru district. Iruway is inside Halekote, and is close to forests and hills.

Iruway, or “iruve” means ants in kannada. As “iruve” becomes Iruway, we take inspiration from ants, as creatures of cooperation, coordination and the collective. Iruway was built with this concept, to foster a sustainable alternative for local knowledge creation and creativity.

One of the projects within Iruway is the CrafterSpace, a craft cluster project started by Mitan and Janastu, funded by Rotary Dist. 3190.

The CrafterSpace was built with the intention of incorporating elements of maker culture and technology with local traditions of craftwork. Through activities, workshops and exhibitions at the CrafterSpace, linkages with neighbourhoods, local supply chains and distribution channels were established and strengthened.

The communities in Halekote largely depend on manual labour for their livelihood, and have small/no landholdings. Traditionally tribal communities in the area are primarily dependent on horticulture.

Activities like basket weaving exist within structures of caste, and coupled with rising inequality in development, this has led to a restriction in labour mobility for the people of the region. Within the communities, women find themselves engaging with care labour, domestic work and horticulture over other alternatives.

The idea behind CrafterSpace was to focus on the local: local materials, local knowledge, local labour.

As such, the communities that run CrafterSpace use local resources like Areca, Banana Stem, Bullrush, Coconut and Palm, among others.

The work is done by artisanal communities, with a focus on reintroducing traditional crafts to women and the youth in the communities.

Augmented by technical equipment and experiments in design, CrafterSpace, as a project, has become a hub for cultural, economic and social activities for the communities.

The focus on building with local resources was integrated with workshops and channels to encourage better marketing of the products and creating value chains with them. For this, workshops and exhibitions were organised with the Rotary club and NABARD, among others.

We have tried to understand how different techniques of weaving – baskets, food packaging, handbags – can be developed so as to facilitate integration with urban markets. Thus, we have collaborated with several merchandisers, marketing platforms and craft shops to increase market access, promotion and networks.

We began experimenting with different product designs, mixes and tools. What began as a space to foster the growth of traditional cultures such as basket weaving using bamboo now produces bags, food packaging, shoes and jewellery using locally available grasses, fallen areca, coconut leaves, banana leaves and stems.

We worked towards building the capacities of the communities by first understanding their circumstances, needs and local resources. We began with workshops on handicrafts, basketry, horticulture and other contemporary crafts such as light shades. These were organised every few months and we met our target of engaging 400 families in the region in craft-making activities.

We also tried to channelise our resources towards the youth through scholarships and summer camps.

A visit to the CrafterSpace to understand how local traditions interact with and grow through technology and experimentation was organised during Anthillhacks, which was a 2-week festival in Devarayandurga. Looking back at their experiences of that day, several participants spoke about learning how to weave baskets and jewellery at the CrafterSpace. It is invigorating to see photos of people from different backgrounds sitting together and engaging with handicrafts using local resources.

A crucial component of capacity building is finding correct mentorship and learning aids. To this end, we sought to provide vocational training to teachers, in addition to workshops on radios and wireless networks for the communities. Gopi Krishna is chief designer of CrafterSpace center and the founder of Mitan projects. He leads a nomadic life himself, delving into alternative living histories and the diverse range of creative forms that communities have employed to record information and reflecting upon identity through transition and displacement, in relation to class, religion, gender bias, land rights, and craft as cultural form vs. devalued labour. More on Gopi here.

The CrafterSpace has been a unique experiment in integrating maker culture with local traditions, and as such finding adequate mentorship and mechanical equipment has been a slow process. The availability of prototyping machinery has been an issue at several points, exacerbated by the absence of linkages with urban areas and markets.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new set of challenges. Work at the CrafterSpace has always been collective and social. While that has been impacted, the communities have tried to use technology to overcome some of the barriers. We are working remotely with clients to customise designs and experiment with new products like face-masks. In addition to this, we have been working on systematising the product catalogues.

The CrafterSpace has become a centre for the creative and the collective. As a space that fosters social relationships in addition to experimental work, in many ways this has become a cohesive force for the communities in the region.

It has also transitioned into a space for exploring other cultural talents in the arts for the children, with frequent cultural programmes. The exhibitions at events, both official and festive, have helped in empowering artisans and integrating them into urban economies.

With sustainability as a core agenda, through the CrafterSpace, we have tried to work towards a future where people explore their cultural economies in sustainable, autonomous and collective ways. One of our core philosophies has been to build with the local, to understand and address its unique intelligence and requirements. The CrafterSpace has set a precedent in creating an ecosystem with the local as its foundation, and one that has been a constant space of learning for all of us. As we examine the challenges brought about by COVID-19 and imagine possibilities for the future, we are grateful to Rotary International for their constant support through the various stages of this project.