The Artisans' Show
the Potential of Indigenous
is playing host to the 26th World Craft Council: Asia
Pacific Assembly from October 6 to 10. Organised by
the National Craft Council of Bangladesh and the member
organisations such as Probartona, Karika, Concern, Aranya,
Kumudini, Aarong, Shilleikon and Tangail Sari Kutir,
the event will have craftspeople from all over Bangladesh
taking part. The object of the Assembly is to explore
effective market access in the region. As part of the
craft council the NCCB has been promoting craft both
in the local as well as foreign markets. But it badly
needs coordinated efforts from the craftspeople and
the organisations working to remove obstacles for them.
The government too, has an important role to play, especially
in removing obstacles to export and supporting product
development. For the last three decades many NGOs and
organisations have been putting their efforts together
to promote craft and to find a market for it. The Assembly
will be a litmus test to see how far such a goal is
the advent of modernism which ushered in the process
of mechanisation, tradition has fallen prey to progress.
Technology has severed society from its past. What the
indigenous artisans used to produce by hand have been
replaced by standardised products produced en mass in
newly set-up industries. In the process we have lost
not only tradition but art of indigenous origin that
was once inseparable from the crafts.
have their roots deep into the past of any given society.
Professor Dr Enamul Haque, the founder Director General
(Rtd) of Bangladesh National Museum and former president
of NCCB (National Crafts Council of Bangladesh), believes
that crafts are mainly produced by the indigenous people.
“In Bangladesh as well as any other country, crafts
have been in existence for as long as people have been
there. The primary objective of crafts was to create
objects to meet the necessities of life,” he adds.
modern society completed the jump from traditional crafts
to industrialised products, it made it realise the value
of indigenous culture symbolised by its art and craft.
Bangladesh came late in its realisation of the potential
of its traditional arts and craft. In the last two decades
of the 20th century, however, there have been efforts
to preserve traditional crafts and revive the ones that
are almost on the verge of extinction.
Enamul Haque recalls how Bengal was once a fertile ground
for 'muslin', which was one of the export items that
this part of the world was famous for. “We have a mention
of an anonymous Greek sailor, who wrote in the first
century AD: 'from this deltaic region of Ganges there
were a number of items that were exported to the west
and the most relished one was our finest cotton product'.”
as the items produced using the indigenous technologies
and knowledge are known, also have economic value. The
National Craft Council of Bangladesh (NCCB), a national
entity of the World Craft Council, an organisation run
by the UNESCO, has been instrumental in propagating
the ideas pertaining to conservation of traditional
crafts and creating a market for them at home and abroad.
Haque cites the references from the Sultany and Mughal
era when export of crafts earned the region substantial
revenues. They have the potential to do the same in
an era of consumer products, he says.
per cent of women in Bangladesh wear handloom clothes,”
informs Ruby Ghuznavi, the present president of NCCB.
was set-up in 1985 and it is the spearhead of the organisations
and individuals engaged in the field of craft research
and development in Bangladesh. It is an organisation
that is bent on bringing the NGOs and other government
and non government bodies as well as craftspeople, individual
researchers and patrons under one umbrella from time
to time so that the growth of craft as a business is
facilitated. “Seventy five per cent of its members are
craftspeople and the rest are organisations and researchers
with multidisciplinary backgrounds,” says Ghuznavi,
who confirms that the membership of NCCB is growing.
26th "World Craft Council: Asia Pacific Regional
Assembly" is due to be held in Dhaka from 6th to
10th October 2003. The assembly will be accompanied
by a major exhibition titled “Abaran: Textile Traditions
exhibition will showcase a range of accessories from
the craft developing organisations. The venue was at
first set at the National Museum gallery, but the authorities
have done little in support of the show. Bengal Gallery,
meanwhile, has come forward and its premises will host
the show that will be held from 7 to 21 of this month.
international craft conference is a yearly event. UNESCO
has divided the world into five regions, and the Asia-Pacific
region is one of them that includes Bangladesh. The
people working on the sector of craft and indigenous
development of newer products, a process known as product
development, have been trying to hold the regional council
in Bangladesh for a long time. But it entails a lot
of logistical and most importantly, financial support.
fact that the 26th assembly has found its venue in Bangladesh
is the result of sheer bravery and dedication of a whole
contingent of individuals involved in the craft sector.
“The council is being organised on NCCB's own accord.
Had the government extended support we could have had
the opportunity to do it in a more extensive manner.
If the fund was provided by them we could put the full
effort in organising the seminars and exhibitions,”
stressed Munira Imdad, who runs Tangail Sari Kutir and
is one of the organisers.
Assembly or the council has a three-fold programme.
Their will be seminars where expert ideas will be shared;
the exhibition and the demonstration will be arranged
to present a complete picture of textile crafts of Bangladesh.
On the 8th and the 9th of October, a two day long seminar
will discuss two subjects -- one with the title of “Crafts
Without Barriers: Development and Market Access”, and
the other, “Crafts and Eco-Tourism”.
first subject emerged out of a series of discussions
the NCCB and its members were having on market access.
Their premise was to compete with western countries'
success in marketing in the Asian region.
Ghuznavi says that the initiative to organise such an
assembly had been in their agenda for a long time. “We
simply didn't have the logistics to do so, and this
time we have pulled it off,” affirms the president who
has been busy garnering government support in favour
of this undertaking by NCCB.
every other country a conference of this nature receives
hundred per cent government support. Both the logistics
and the financial sides are looked after by the government,”
informs Ghuznavi who in her bid to involve the Bangladesh
government met with both the State Minister for Culture,
Begum Selima Rahman and the Commerce Minister Amir Khosru.
They have promised to extend support although in real
terms it will be only partial.
for finances, we have got the support from the private
sector. Individuals as well as industrialists have come
forward,” reveals Ghuznavi.
delegates from fifteen countries are to attend this
Assembly. A few more representatives from UK, USA, Canada
and Japan will join the main contingent consisting of
the regional countries.
one thinks of export, be it traditional craft or any
other item, trade barriers loom large. “There are hardly
any tariffs in countries of the Pacific region. They
can export and import without having to face such barriers,”
points out Ghuznavi while talking about the barriers
facing Bangladeshi producers while exporting even to
the neighbouring countries. She also brings to light
the fact that even while exporting to India there is
nothing much in print but some unwritten rules get in
the way of export.
export-import, therefore, must be a question that needs
to be resolved first. The organisers of the Assembly
feel that this is their priority. For them the target
region for Bangladesh now is the Asian region. The unilateral
trade that NCCB has in their agenda is centred on the
Asian zone. “The Indonesian craft as well as the crafts
from India and Thailand enjoy duty free access in our
country, so why can't we take advantage of the same,”
asked whether Bangladeshi crafts will fare well in the
Indian market as their artisans are enjoying a huge
support from their government, Dr Enamul Haque echoes
the confidence of Ghuznavi. He says, “the most important
thing is setting policies for marketing whatever our
artisans are producing. Their products were desirable
once and now we have newer products too, as in the case
of Tangail saris. They are being given a facelift. Newer
designs are being introduced to woo contemporary buyers.”
Imdad remarks that if the red tape surrounding export
is removed and the formalities of Export Promotion Bureau
are cut down to a minimum, our saris and textile will
enjoy an easy access to foreign markets. As an exporter
she has been suffering along with others. As a proprietor
of Tangail Sari Kutir, she testifies that handloom products
such as cushion covers and curtains are in demand even
in in the US. When asked whether there is a possibility
of upgrading the quality of these products, she says,
“It is the raw materials like threads and colours for
which we are heavily dependent on India and other foreign
markets. If the government takes initiative to develop
raw materials, then the handloom materials would be
finer and cost-friendly.”
defence of craft Ghuznavi says “Hundreds of types of
crafts are still alive in a myriad of forms in the rural
areas, the use of motkas, patis, handmade fans and jewllery
are common. It is the urbanites who remain out of touch
with this tradition.”
the occasion of the 26th council, the NCCB is buckling
up to turn Bangladeshi craft into a burgeoning business
and it is the handloom industry that they are zooming
in on. The fervour is for fibre and its traditional
and also innovative use. “We have such a rich and wide
craft sector that it is impossible to present an exclusive
view of the whole. So we are concentrating on a major
segment which is textile,” says Ghuznavi.
fact, among the 300 members of NCCB, it has given floor
to the ones who are exclusively working in the area
of textile produced by indigenous means. The organisations
like Aranya Craft Ltd., Probartona, Aarong, Kumudini
and Tangail Sari Kutir have 20 years of history of working
in the textile sector. They will be the main operators
in this coming council. "All of these organisations
have done some product development work,” observes Ghuznavi.
Assembly is an event that will help inculcate in urbanites
as well as a cross-section of people, the sense of reclamation
of indigenous products. Jamdani, which is the product
of pit-loom, ethnic weaving that uses waist-loom, and
kantha, the hand-stitched exquisite usable and decorative
quilt-- these are three items that would be brought
into sharp focus.
Rajendrapur Centre for Development of BRAC will host
the main activities: seminars and the master craftspeople
award ceremony. A showcase of exquisite jamdanis, jute
apparels and other traditional clothes will be presented
at the exhibition in the Bengal Gallery. The most important
part of the show will be “the artisan at work” programme
where three master craftspeople will demonstrate their
skill of weaving. This show will be inaugurated by Begum
Selima Rahman at 6 pm on 7th October.
year, to recognise the master craftspeople, there are
five awards for different categories that the NCCB has
been giving out. The most prestigious award is the “Shilu
Abed Memorial award” in memory of Shilu Abed, the founder
of Aarong, who died in 1997. The award money is a substantial
Tk. 50,000. NCCB administers the process of selection
and award giving.
year, the five awards for the crafts persons will go
to elder craftspeople. It is to recognise the people
who have dedicated their life in making crafts but have
never been recognised nationally. One of the nominees
who will receive the award for his contribution to Jamdani,
no longer weaves himself but has passed the tradition
to his six sons. Rubi Ghuznavi believes that it is the
continuity of craft that they wanted to recognise.
Chakma artisan named Sharot Mala, the mother of well-known
young painter Kanak Champa Chakma, has also been selected
on the ground that she successfully handed down her
craft to the next generation.
craft sector generates employment for such a large population
that it is second to agriculture in its standing,” says
Ghuznavi. Dr. Enamul Haque says, “Although use of crafts
begun to dwindle after industrialisation it was always
there in the rural areas of the country. And it was
after independence that with the help of NGOs and other
organisations, our craft made a comeback to grab the
attention of the urbanites and the foreigners.” It is
through the identification of new users that he believes
that the craft market can be extended. Rubi Ghuznavi
agrees with this strategy. “Following the trend would
be disastrous for the future of craft. It is not what
the buyers demand that we should produce, rather we
should ask the researchers to find a market for what
we produce best,” confirms Ghuznavi.
still lack a very serious effort, an organised effort
in building up this export-trade based on crafts,” opines
Haque. The government is paying some attention but Haque
believes that it is not sufficient.
government has been maintaining the Small College Industries
Corporation for the last four decades, which promotes
indigenous textiles. The design centre, BISIC has been
there for many years. They promote indigenous designs
and motifs. Under the leadership of Kamrul Hasan, the
legendary artist, BISIC also promoted dolls and other
crafts that had begun to disappear from our cultural
a past tradition and finding a market for them are two
different phenomena. The former has come into vogue
in the last couple of decades, following the efforts
by the government and non-government organisations.
The later is the hardest part, as often these hand-made
items are exorbitantly priced.
a market would be to bring the prices down. At Aranya
there are Jamdanis with which they try hard to limit
the prices to keep it below Tk 7,000. “In the olden
times, these saris were made for the wives of kings
and Zamindars. Their prices were high as was the quality,”
informs Ghuznavi, who also runs Aranya.
for products selected for export, she believes that
there must be effort in product development. “The skill
and design should remain tradition bound, but the product
can be new,” she says.
confirms that Bangladesh has the experts, the researchers
to envisage a future line of products that will not
jeopardise the link with the traditional concept of
craft. But promotion of usable items to cater to contemporary
demands is one thing that she would like to see happen.
“Crafts mean utility products,” she stresses, and she
is also cautious about the effect on the local artisans
when demands for newer designs pour in. “We received
orders for saris, especially jamdanis, that the buyer
wished to have in different designs, but recoiled from
it as it may confuse the artisans,” says Ghuznavi who
is for product development but against the depletion
of the traditional designs and motifs.
loss of tradition is feared by many. The business in
craft is a trade that has a two-fold concern-- one is
to revive and follow a tradition and the other is to
build a market for them. Ghuznavi's contention is that
if the scarf is an item that sells to contemporary buyers,
than the kantha motifs can be used to embellish them.
These are the changes she is willing to make in order
to expand the market.
the market and the price of the products, Ghuznavi thinks
the removal of the middle men will benefit the artisans.
order to advance the craft sector, most of the people
involved are in favour of developing finer quality raw
materials. “The primary producers must be supported
adequately. We must assure that they get adequate prices
and incentives like technological support; access to
locally produced colours, threads,” believes Enamul
H Shamim, the director of Probartona and a vice-president
of NCCB, sheds light on how some organisations have
been working in the field of fabric development as well
as making of indigenous colours. He says, “Jute has
been the subject of research for a number of companies
and organisations, they were Norad funded. Shonali Aash,
Pubali Jute Mill, Shajon Bangladesh, Ishita, Concern
and a few other organisations have been working together
to develop jute textile.” Perhaps this is the kind of
coordinated effort that Enamul Haque keeps referring
yarn is another genre that Probartona has been trying
to develop. Shamim informs that the fabric they developed
has a pet name: MistyWaters. The focus has been on home
furnishing -- curtain, cushions and other accessories
for home. The clothes have been developed by blending
jute with cotton, silk and tashar. Probartona's focus
is to project the goods for an upgraded market, so designing
has been given a serious thought.
time Shamim's target is to project these jute-blended
fabrics to a wider market. The price would be lowered
so that the fabrics that have as yet gained access to
an exclusive foreign market would also be made available
on local turf.
has been successful in creating a small market abroad,
now they are targeting the local one. Aranya, too, has
been exporting cotton-blended jute which is dyed with
indigo, colours developed by MCC, an NGO. Aranya is
selling them in both the forms -- as yardage and as
has successfully cultivated indigo at Muktagacha, Mymensingh.
On October 9 the organisers of the Assembly will take
the delegates to the indigo centre at Muktagacha.
gives testimony to how effective the indigo from MCC
is. “We used to develop our own indigo, now we are relying
on MCC. After this development the import from India
has decreased as MCC is providing us with excellent
indigo,” he declares.
(Bangladesh Jute Research Institute), a research organisation
of the government, once introduced a product named 'jutton',
which was a hybrid fabric that blended jute with cotton.
It was introduced in the late 70s, and it did not last
long as the feel of the line of clothes that went under
the same name was coarse. But Shamim attributes the
failure of 'jutton' to the inability to sustain the
market trend. He contends, “BJRI is a research organisation--it
was not possible for them to look into the marketing
side, which calls for a totally different expertise.”
is full of praise for BJRI, “They have done wonderful
work, I have used yarns developed by them.” BJRI has
done an astonishing amount of work in the area of research.
It consists of other important sectors. The marketing
sector is one of the most important.
recalls that even during the Pakistan era a certain
jute-blended cloth was in use, and even saris had been
made of jute. “We have tried to collect one of these
to include in our showcase of saris from the past but
we could not get one,” he informs.
that indigenous technology is being considered as an
alternative to the modern version, jute is making a
comeback. And Shamim along with others who have been
working to develop jute-based fabrics is confident that
in the market an interest has been generated for jute
is the main market for these fabrics. Australia and
Japan are also emerging as markets for our products,”
says Shamim whose efforts have been to promote these
newly developed fabrics.
far as export is concerned, these fabrics are not enjoying
any special treatment from the government. As export
items, they are facing tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
Shamim believes that these products must enjoy some
specific incentives. “We are trying to elevate ourselves
to the incentive stage,” declares Shamim. After 2005,
the provision for this kind of incentive will cease.
“Still, at this stage the exporters will immensely benefit
from this kind of incentive that would cut down on the
price,” confirms Shamim.
Indian government has a well-designed policy to support
their locally produced crafts and related industrial
products. Jute is also their main concern. They have
set a target and are plying along that line. In Bangladesh,
too, a coordinated effort should be made to produce
a market for indigenous fabrics and products both inside
and outside the country.
is no other option now for a country like Bangladesh
than to rely on its indigenous technology and produce.
Many Asian countries have resumed excavating their past
to revive the lost indigenous knowledge. This revival
is not to attain a sense of pride, but to bring forth
a plethora of locally produced items that have the potential
to add diversity to the world that is losing out to
the surges of trends and the act of streamlining.
indigenous dye, the fabric of golden fibre that once
was a major export from Bangladesh, and the designers
or craftspeople -- these are the ingredients that will
alter our future. The more coordinated the efforts of
the people or organisations that are active in all the
stages-- from one who provide the raw materials and
the people who will turn them into usable items (the
craftspeople) and the ones who will be involved in marketing
-- the rosier the future will become for craft of Bangladesh.
is a gold-mine of indigenous knowledge and the tradition
of crafts go back a long way. If NCCB's assembly can
instill this awareness among people, the cause for which
they are working will receive a strong impetus. Yet,
the most important act of bringing the producers, researchers,
exporters and the government policymakers in line with
the desired goals of NCCB rests on their shoulders.
If they can successfully do this, craft as well as locally
developed technology will enjoy a new lease on life.