A special 3 day program to understand the traditional arts and crafts of India

Client: Mayo College Girls’s School, Ajmer, India

What I did: Learning Experience Design, Site Recce, Co-ordination and planning, Programme Development and facilitation, Team Lead

Date : 2018

Hand to Heart’ programme was designed for Mayo College Girls School, Ajmer to introduce its students to the value of using our own hands to understand the world around us, and interact with skilful artisans who earn a livelihood using their handicraft skills.

The project began with closely looking at the different traditional arts and crafts of India with the curious, creative and engaged students of the school.A stimulating, hands-on activity prompted students to make things with their hands using basic craft material provided to them. Students used their skills to make bags, puppets, napkins of their own following which they were asked to put a price to their products. They realised the effort, time and love that had gone into its creation made it very hard for them to put a price to it.

On the second day, we made an excursion to the Jawaja Artisans Alliance. The Alliance comprises of a group of local artists from the villages surrounding the Beawar city near Ajmer(Jawaja, Beawar Khas, Sargaon etc) who use their traditional skills and expertise to strengthen their community, become self-sufficient and earn a livelihood. The group was started by the Director of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Ashok Chatterjee and Ravi Matthai of Indian Institute of Management in 1975.

It was the beginning of a deeply impactful learning experience to interact with the skilled leather artisans and the weavers in the villages and see the intricate process of converting leather to sturdy bags and weaving yarn into beautiful durries. Students learnt through 3 key experiences:

  1. Understanding the history of the Artisans Alliance Jawaja: The first stop was an interactive session at the central office of the Artisans Alliance. Listening to the history and setup of the alliance, they got a chance to learn how a community of artisans came together to earn a sustainable livelihood.They were also able to gain a new perspective on the challenges faced by them and recognize the need of valuing their practice.
  2. Interviewing and interacting closely with the craftsmen: By spending time with the artisans at their homes, they saw their daily routine and observed the process followed by them in creating their final products. At the two villages, the students got the opportunity to witness the process (a part of it) of making sturdy leather bags and the weaving of some intricately patterned durries.
  3. Observational recording of spaces and environment: Besides interacting with the craftsmen, students also recorded their observation and experience through various lenses like environment, gender, education etc. This gave them a chance to understand and reflect on spaces and communities in context of their social and cultural setup.

Through these experiences, students were able to sensitise themselves to the lives of these craftsmen and gain a deeper understanding of their traditional crafts practice.

Taking inspiration from the team at the Jawaja alliance who used their hand skills as a resource to put an end to the problem of poverty and unemployment, the students also created a ‘craft community’ in their school to identify and solve a problem that they would like to address. Their primary resources were their hands and heads! Students surveyed the school, interviewed relevant stakeholders and identified a challenge. With topics ranging from improving the working conditions of the cleaners and security personnel to bullying and loneliness, students found creative ways of solving these challenges using art and design. For example, a group identified that the school hospital was a dull and lonely place especially when you are unwell. It was hard to communicate or meet friends and visitors. The students brainstormed and prototyped a new, vibrant hospital that had a letter box for every patient! The students truly empathised with the security and cleaning staff on campus who often work in the hot sun without respite by designing a comfortable restroom for them. Bullying, they suggested, could be conquered by rewarding small acts of kindness instead! A campaign was envisioned to visually record and share acts of kindness on the campus.

The day ended with an exciting show and tell session, where the students displayed their ideas through posters, maps and models to the rest of the class. Indeed, we saw some very creative solutions coming across.

It was a truly rewarding experience for me to play a small role in Keeping our rich heritage and cultural identity alive. Hopefully, some of these young minds will one day apply innovative thinking, team work and solid strategies to design solutions for global challenges just as they did for problems they see and face at school level.

Hand to Heart was an outcome of the joint venture between Mayo College Girls’ School and Flow India. The programme was designed and facilitated by me during my time as the Head of Pedagogy and Learning for Flow India, Delhi.