When one hears the word ‘craft’ an almost instantaneous connection is made between the object in the front and the person who made it. The craft carries with it skill, stories and soul. Lost behind the veil of cheap alternatives and fast-moving volumes is this treasure trove of wonders. As the world finds its ground, there remain a few communities fighting many battles at once.
Crafts are significant to a place, a generation and a community. They are heirlooms that represent traditions and folklores. The chatter in workshops, the beat of the shuttles, the tired whispers and the music of teachings strumming through long fibres – the sounds are slowly dwindling. A few can dance to this music. For instance, the towel weaving community of artisans in Turkey are the last generation of weavers that are working to revive this craft.
Keeping a 5000-year-old tradition afloat, one Egyptian village is making papyrus the way it was invented in 1st AD. Once the most popular writing material for the ancient Greeks and Romans, papyrus is now struggling to be protected. Besides the extinction of the papyrus plant, it is the decreased demand that has impacted this art. Al-Darb Al Ahmar holds yet another sacred Egyptian craft of hand-dyeing yarn. A place run by Salama, his 12 children, and some 40 grandchildren is a generational wealth that needs sustenance.
Another lesser-known craft is that of weaving Dhaka Muslin, once adorned by Greek and Roman aristocrats. The scandalous ‘transparent’ drape touted as a garment of wind was believed to be woven by mermaids and fairies, the lightness, softness and texture were unfathomable. Colonisation restricted the makers from reaching wider markets and the control over trade forced them to produce higher quantities for lower prices. With time the whole ecosystem collapsed. Many tried to replicate the exquisiteness of the fabric, but only a few have come close with a more hybrid version of the original.
“The byssus is the soul of the sea. It is sacred.” – Chiara Vigo, probably the only person in the world who can harvest, spin, and weave sea silk, is keeping her grandmother’s craft alive and away from the perils of commercialisation. An extremely rare textile byssus is made from clam’s mucus, a protected species. 300-400 dives will fetch you only 200 gm of the material. The sea silk that lit up the colour of King Salomon’s clothes in the Ancient Scriptures still shines in her museums in Sant’Antioco, Sardinia (Italy). Although not for sale, hers is a craft that needs to be treasured.
From towel weavers in Turkey, papyrus makers in Egypt to the Master of Trade of the sea – what ties their stories together is the need for their revival. A craft’s outcome is an aesthetic sensibility, a memoir that we use to adorn ourselves, an object we possess to enhance our day to day and attach ourselves to stories outside of us. But besides being these numerous things, many of the craftspeople are seeing their industries dying. Younger generations opting out of familial enterprises due to lack of demand, commercialisation providing cheaper and quicker alternatives, hard-to-come-by raw materials and a lack of awareness about the heritage of this artistry are some reasons that the true craftsmanship is on the brink of extinction.
As consumers, as members of this finite community, the responsibility to throw light on it falls on all of us. Admirers of the craft, creative individuals and business owners need to come together to work closely, lend and borrow from one another. Only when we work collectively, can we work towards protecting the heritage that our ancestors have so mindfully birthed.