FEATURE STORY February 7, 2018

Artisans in Nepal: Honoring Tradition, Crafting the Modern

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • A project aiming to build effective craft value chains and connect artisans to sustainable markets has positively impacted more than 7,500 rural artisans.
  • The artisans’ products were showcased in a three-day extravaganza in Kathmandu, which also witnessed the launch of the exclusive Nepali brand ‘Nepal Ko.’
  • The project highlighted the concept of co-creation, wherein cultural and traditional synergy of India, Nepal and Pakistan was celebrated by developing products enmeshed in the skills and materials of each of the countries, resulting in products that reflect ‘One South Asia.’

Decked resplendently in her traditional attire, Archana Thakur stepped confidently on stage. As a soft folk tune serenaded the audience, she led a group of seventeen models, who welcomed everyone to the ‘South Asian Festival on Handicrafts’, and bowed gracefully to tumultuous applause.

Archana and her friends were no ordinary models. They were the real artisans behind the fair, representing seven districts of Nepal –  Dailekh, Dang, Dhanusha, Gorkha, Kapilbastu, Myagdi, and Tehrathum – and all of them were on an international stage for the first time.

After the event, an elated Archana said, “I felt as if I had waited for this moment all my life, it was a recognition of our original skills and expertise.”

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Seventeen artisans from seven districts of Nepal walk on the stage to welcome participants to the first ‘South Asian Festival on Handicrafts’, leading them is 22-year old Archana Thakur.

This The project, launched in 2011 by Poverty Alleviation Fund, Nepal (PAF) with support from the World Bank and Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF), succeeded in reaching more than 7500 rural artisans. The project has also set up 13 Common Facility Centers (CFCs) across these areas, kitting them with modern equipment and storage facilities, which helps artisans produce marketable present-day products.

The products developed by these artisans were showcased in the three-day fair, which included a fashion show of the ensembles, exhibition and sales of products clustered around ten traditional skillsets – allo fibre, leather, felt craft, woolen craft, moonj grass, terracotta, lokta paper, bamboo crafts, dhaka weaving and Mithila art – along with panel discussions on opportunities and challenges for women-led enterprises, cultural industries and community organizations. Visitors thronged to the wide stage, where artisans seated underneath and beside aesthetically arranged handicraft products worked steadily on their own designs.  

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An artisan weaves a traditional basket (dhaki) out of moonj grass, while a model behind her shows off part of a collection created from natural fibres.

Elucidating upon the significance of the event, Dr. YB Thapa, Vice Chairman of PAF, said,

 

Last Updated: Feb 08, 2018


"The concept of uplifting women and the ignored and strengthening their artistry and giving them a chance to sell their products, it’s wonderful."
Manisha Koirala
Eminent Actor and Activist

Nepali brand wins hearts

At the event, Minister of Finance Gyanendra Bahadur Karki launched the exclusive Nepali brand ‘Nepal Ko’, that aims to continue fostering a creative and beneficial trade space for artisans. Expressing appreciation, he said, “Handicrafts are an integral part of Nepal’s cultural heritage, and we need planned and strategic marketing platforms like this fair to take entrepreneurship to new heights.” Eminent Art Curator Sangeeta Thapa added, “Nepal Ko represents a quintessential Nepal, and we should be proud of this brand.” A photo book detailing the journey of the artisans was also launched by Mahendra Man Gurung, Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. 

Karki’s views were echoed by Sunil Bahadur Thapa, Minister for Industry, who said, “Nepal needs to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and graduate to a developed country by 2022, these events will definitely help promote and bring awareness about (our potential).”

Also lauding this effort of working directly with artisans from the grassroots was noted Actor Manisha Koirala. “The concept of uplifting women and the ignored and strengthening their artistry and giving them a chance to sell their products, it’s wonderful,” she said warmly.

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The practical aspect of this effort was elucidated by Nahakul KC, PAF Nepal’s Executive Director, who said, “Development of handicraft industry can generate jobs, encouraging youth to explore livelihood options within Nepal.”

 


Fashioning the future from the past

(Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal - FHAN). Although the sector is tremendously popular, there is still plenty of opportunity to tap into the traditional skillsets of Nepali artisans in far-flung districts, who deserve to shine in the international arena but are constrained by geographical, legal, financial, organizational and other barriers.

Understanding this, the project was designed to enhance the share of rural artisans in the crafts and cultural markets. It focused on the poorest, internally displaced, landless and vulnerable communities. It not only aimed to pilot innovative approaches to strengthen traditional skills, but also lay a foundation to mainstream them into national and global markets through institution building, innovative design and product development, and building market linkages.    

“The Nepali community has been fashioning exquisite craft items since time immemorial,” says Vinayak Ghatate, the project’s Task Team Leader, “However, the products are mostly used at home, and rarely adapted for commercial purposes. Our vision was to zero in on these skillsets, create value and pride for them, and fine-tune them for the contemporary market and buyer, ensuring a robust, holistic and systematic value chain.”

A sustainable way of creating value was to organize craftspeople into systematic groups. PAF organized the artisans into 356 producer groups and 13 Producer Federations, and created revolving funds to provide loans at affordable interest rates to artisans for their working capital needs.

To motivate these artisans to incorporate latest innovation and novelties while retaining traditional prowess, the project organized a series of skill and design development workshops in selected clusters, with able partnership support from FHAN and Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (WEAN). The project also partnered with the Asian Heritage Foundation (AHF), an international design house, to introduce design and product concepts that visualize global perspectives with local skills.

The project’s partners conducted extensive research to conceptualize potential design interventions in traditional artisan skills to develop unique and marketable products. This was achieved through skill assessment exercises and refresher trainings to turn semi-skilled artisans into skilled artisans. 35 skill and design development workshops were organized, while more than 700 new prototypes were developed. This was followed by hand-holding workshops to guarantee quality control.

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Lalita Limbu from the hilly district of Tehrathum agrees that the workshops transformed her designs at the loom. “Almost everyone in my village weaves the Dhaka cloth, but we only know a couple of patterns. After we took part in the training, we were amazed at just how many designs and patterns we could create. We also learnt firsthand how Dhaka could be mixed and matched with multiple fabrics and incorporated into other products.”

Prem Kumari Pun from Dang nods in agreement. “As a child, I wore clothes made from allo fiber, but now we’re not limited to them – we make shoes, bags, placemats, and products that are considered fashionable and are loved even by trendy customers and foreigners. Our group employs 71 artisans directly and over 300 indirectly. We have stopped all of them from migrating.”

This balance between modern and traditional perfectly outlines the project’s vision. Rajeev Sethi, Chairperson of AHF, reminds, “We should keep in mind that our artisans are the heroes, who deserve all accolades, for showcasing their traditional skills now repositioned for contemporary consumers.”

For long term sustainability, PAF is now working to transform producer groups and federations to cooperatives so that they can be self-reliant and turn into commercial institutions owned and managed by beneficiary members. Focusing on this need of ensuring sustainability, Bigyan Pradhan, Senior Operations Officer, World Bank Nepal, said, “A strong business plan that marries commercial market-oriented thinking with artisan-centric approaches is essential to map the road ahead.”

One South Asia

“For example, a gorgeous Pakistani shawl was modified into a kaftan and embroidered in India, and accessorized with Nepali products,” explains veteran designer Sarita Tuladhar, one of six designers who helped bring the collaboration to fruition.

This co-creation was made possible through constant coordination with JSDF projects in these three countries –Rang in Pakistan and Jiyo in India. As a practical exercise as well as co-create new designs and products together that then made their way to markets in both these countries.

While ‘Hunar Ke Rang 2017’ recently celebrated Pakistani artisanship in Lahore, the next event is scheduled to be the seventh year celebration of Jiyo in Delhi, India.  

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Photos: Dipesh Ratna Shakya/PAF Nepal and Next Models/PAF Nepal

 

 

 



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