Artisan Interviews: (Not) Making Under Lockdown

After the city of Ahmedabad entered lockdown to stem the spread of covid-19, many artisans lost their regular work and found themselves without an income and in some cases, struggling to buy food. Project manager LOkesh Ghai caught up with the artisans involved in the project to find out how the lockdown restrictions had affected them and their immediate family.

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VAISHALI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Everything has closed and there are no opportunities to work so I am not earning any income and don’t feel it’s likely that we will get any work soon. We are also having a lot of problems getting regular food and I feel like we are living in constant fear – I’m always aware that if we go out something could happen.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am currently idle, any work would be very helpful right now.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

It has been a valuable lesson in how important it is to not over spend as you never know what could happen. It has highlighted how important it is to save and that it is essential we all learn how to properly manage a home if we are to be prepared for something like this.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I would like to find work and I hope things will return to normal.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

To work hard, be honest and earn a living. When there was lot of work I would hope for a holiday, but now I really want to get back to work.

I would like to make a quilt on the subject of social distancing during the lockdown based on my own experiences of how people stand at a distance from each other. When I went to the market, the shop keeper was extremely rude to me and made me stand at a far distance from where I had to shout what I wanted to purchase. I felt he was making fun of me – I felt demeaned as if I was untouchable or an outcaste. I’d like to explore this experience through my craft.

PREMJI BHAI, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Our area has a concentration of applique artisans and we are all out of work. My family and many others are surviving on dinner offered from the Gurudwara, and lunch from what little savings we have available.

Politics are not good at the moment. The first covid-19 case was confirmed months ago, but government didn’t care and did nothing and we live in a semi slum with a lot of other families in close proximity – it’s scary but thankfully so far we have no cases.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am sitting at home with nothing to do. I was making cushion covers but soon I will not have materials to work with and the police don’t let us out to get any more to work with so I’ll be idle.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I’m not sure – I feel humanity is dying. I feel that the poor are still ‘slaves’, and are the most vulnerable, especially in a situation like this.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I will look for work – there is nothing without money in this world but I am afraid I won’t find any work and it may take time for things to return to normal.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

No matter what happens we have to live. When we are unwell, we see the doctor as God, the only person who can save us, but now I feel we are God for our selves and our families with no one to support us. Individually we all need to sand up and care for ourselves and our families.

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RASHMI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Massively, we have no savings and have had to take a loan to to sustain ourselves.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am sitting idle and don’t have any work. Initially I thought the lockdown would open after 21 days but it has been extended and I’ve now completed what I was making. With the second lockdown having been imposed, things are now much harder as I have some work ready for delivery but can’t get to my client as I’m not allowed out.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

We must all be responsible for our actions.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I fear the virus and don’t want to go out unless it is completely clear but I will of course need to look for work.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

I have learnt that it is important to make so you don’t have to beg.

Rashmi ben called LOkesh today (11 May) to share that their situation had got worse. “We are unable to get any sugar or tea supply. Things are being sold on the blackmarket – tomatoes were Rs 20kg but are now Rs 100kg.” She is concerned about how long this could go on for and if she will be able to find any work. To help immediately, she is now having to approach help groups in Ahmedabad who are getting food supplies to the needy.

JAMNA BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Yes, there is no work, we are unable to go anywhere as the police are very strict. We are only able to go to buy vegetables in restricted hours and I have diabetes so I need to be extra careful.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and am using old poplin and cotton Khadi swatches to make a new quilt.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I don’t know what to say, I am stuck at home.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I’ve not had any work for a long time so I am hoping I’ll be able to find work quickly.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

Having savings is very important, but I do wonder how we can save when we earn so little.

DAHI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

I’ve not been able to get any work and I’m struggling a lot.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

Nothing – I don’t have any work and I’m not allowed to go out.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I’m not sure, I feel it has been a lesson to all of us to be careful of the virus and how important it is to follow advisory instructions in a situation like this to keep everyone safe. It’s been very hard.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I need to get work and I’d like to make a new new quilt. I have no orders for new quilts or any raw materials to work with but I would like to make a quilt about our experience under lockdown.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

To be careful and to listen to the administration so my family and I can keep safe.

DEVI BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Money has been a huge issue, we can’t go out to look for work and there is no work coming to us either.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I am having to stay home so I have been watching the two serials on Doordarshan TV.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

It is important to stay home in lock down so we don’t get virus.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I will look for work. None of my family currently has any work and there is nothing being offered to us and all our savings have been used.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

I need to think. Perhaps if I am thinking about my practice it might be that I need to make what the market wants so it sells quickly but I am not sure what that will be when we come out of lockdown.

MIRA BEN, APPLIQUE CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

Yes, my lifestyle has altered a lot. I cannot go out and I am confined at home most of the time.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I had started to make a Katab quilt but I didn’t have the rich colours I needed to finish it so I had to stop as I am unable to go out and buy what I need so I have had to stop for now.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I am not really sure, these have been really difficult times for so many of us…

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I would like to get back to regular life and I would like to get the right colours of fabric so I can finish stitching my quilt.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

It is hard to say – as I said before, these have been very difficult times…

SITABEN, CRAFT, BEAD-CRAFT

How has the lockdown affected your life? 

For the first 21 day lockdown I was able to manage, but since it was extended, I have found it very difficult to cope. I am both emotionally and financially devastated and it is extremely difficult for me as a senior citizen. Initially some of my neighbours had helped me out, but if the second lockdown extends any longer I don’t know if I will be able to manage to buy enough food for two meals a day.

What have you been doing since the lockdown was imposed? 

I have learnt that savings are very important, but I don’t earn enough to save up. I’ve found this time very difficult as a single woman who is also a senior citizen.

What do you think we can all learn from this situation?

I have in stock some very fine beads which I was not planning to use as its quite a strain on my eyes to work with them but as I don’t have enough of other materials, I am making something with them now, but I don’t have orders. To help keep my mental health well, I work for two hours everyday and am making a long garland. I am using (what is locally known as) Italian beads and when it is finished it could be worn in classical dance performances – or a festival such as Navratri – or any other special occasion. It is inspired by the tribal beaded jewellery of the kalbelia dancers of Rajasthan. I made something like this 30 years ago – what was old, will be new fashion.

What would you like to do once the lockdown is lifted?

I don’t think this situation will improve soon in India. I live in an area where in a day thirty new cases are being reported and now even the workers who used to come inside the Pol area to collect garbage have stopped doing so. We have no choice but to collect and take the garbage to main road. People don’t clean the areas any more and no officials have bothered to come and look at how things are functioning.

What have you learnt from your time under lockdown?

I would just like things to get back on track, opening lockdown would be blessing for the poor who rely on regular work as they are unable to save. Right now I am worried about being able to manage to find food for two meals a day.

 

British Textile Biennial 2019: Community Quilting Workshops at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Throughout the British Textile Biennial, project manager, Emma Sumner ran a series of  katab quilting workshops inviting participants to make their own katab patch which would form part of a new Blackburn Community Quilt, which, once completed, would be accessioned into Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery’s collection.

All participants had to make their katab patches using the same hand sewing techniques that all of the project’s artisans use to make their quilts . Below are a few images from the workshops and the final finished quilt.

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Katab: Quilting Stories at The British Textile Biennial 2019

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Museum Street, Blackburn BB1 7AJ

Thursday 3rd October to Saturday 30th November 2019

Opening Hours: Wednesday to Sunday 12—4.45pm

Katab: Not Only Money has developed an ongoing collaborative dialogue with a group of women artisans in the migrant communities scattered across the city of Ahmedabad, Western India. Traditionally, women from these communities practised the craft of katab (appliqué), making domestic household decorations with recycled waste fabrics. To make a regular income for their families, these women have been drawn into commercial work for clients including local clothing boutiques, design students and independent designers, and are allowed little, if any, creative voice within the production process. For many of the women, the commissions they make for Katab: Not Only Money are the first opportunity they have had to put their own name on their work.

Included in the inaugural British Textile Biennial are a series of quilts created by a selection of the project’s participants which are inspired by iconic films (both Hollywood and Bollywood) and Hindi TV series. The quilts are exhibited alongside a selection of items from Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery’s South Asian collection, including a quilt by Hariyaben Bhanani and Lokesh Ghai, made as part of the 2012 Cotton Exchange Project which explored the connections between Ahmedabad and the North West of England through the cotton industry.

Download the full British Textile Biennial 2019 brochure HERE.

Katab: Quilting Stories – Community Quilting Workshops

Dates: 5/6/12/13/19/26th October and 2nd November

Times: 12.00 – 4.45pm

Every weekend throughout the Biennial you are invited to join Katab’s project leader Emma Sumner at the museum for a series of community quilting workshops during which you can make your own Katab patch and contribute to the Blackburn Katab Community Quilt which, once completed, will join the Museum’s collection. No experience necessary and all materials provided.

 

Katab: Quilting Stories from India at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre

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In the city of Ahmedabad, Western India, there are several migrant communities scattered across the city; many of these once considered to be untouchables under the Hindu ritual ranking. Traditionally, women from this community practised the craft of katab (appliqué), often making domestic household decorations such as quilts, torans (door hangings) and bed covers, from recycling waste fabrics from local tailors and garment manufacturers.

To make a regular income for their families, these women have been drawn into commercial work for clients including Fab-India, local design students, clothing boutiques and independent designers. However, the orders usually come via an agent who takes a large part of the profit and the women are allowed little, if any, creative voice within the production process. Led by textile artists/researchers LOkesh Ghai and Emma Sumner, to date, the project has worked with a small group of women to establish a sustainable model on which they can make their own designs for market, removing the need for agents and allowing them to earn an income which reflects the skill and dedication they have for their craft.

Created by women participating in the Katab: Not Only Money project, the quilts on display have been inspired by iconic films (both Hollywood and Bollywood) and Hindi TV series.  For many of the women, this exhibition is the first opportunity they have had to put their own name on the work they have made.

Exhibition open at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre:  14 September — 12 November 2017

Cathy Greenhalgh Visits the Project

Cinematographer Cathy Greenhalgh visited the city of Ahmedabad in February 2017 when she was undertaking research for a film exploring India’s cotton mills. A contact of project manager LOkesh Ghai, she was keen to explore how the artisans used discard fabrics from the city’s cotton mills in their work.

Below is a photo diary of Cathy’s visit and engagement with the project’s artisans in which you can clearly see how many of the fabrics being used are recycled mill seconds, with the word cotton visibly printed across some sections.

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