Manchester Metropolitan University

Impact Case Study

Contemporary craft in India

A ten-year programme of research that has influenced attitudes to traditional crafts and cultural heritage in India and led to sustainable economic and social benefits including the launch of the Ahmedabad International Arts Festival.

How it started

Traditional Indian crafts skills are declining in the face of globalisation, the pace of modernisation, and the loss of traditional markets. Preserving and revitalising these symbols of cultural heritage was an important part of our research. We planned to achieve this via contemporary engagement, international dialogue and cultural collaboration. A decade of applied research around sustainability of crafts practice underpinned the whole project.

What we did

The research developed out of a 4-year Arts Council funded initiative, called Here and There (HAT) co-managed by Stephen Dixon and documented by Johnny Magee.

In a collaborative skills exchange, The University hosted three makers from South Asia, organised the Migratory Practices conference and contributed residency artists.

HAT concluded in 2007 with a weeklong event at the Sanskriti Foundation, New Delhi.

Further engagement started with brainstorming at the Arts Reverie house, in Dhal Ni Pol, Ahmedabad. Representatives of UK and Indian cultural organisations (including MIRIAD’s John Hyatt and Stephen Dixon) got together to discuss cultural sustainability in Ahmedabad.

This led to The Pol Project - where MIRIAD artists worked with local people creating artworks to raise local awareness of the Pol’s unique and endangered architectural and cultural heritage.

We then collaborated in the launch of The Ahmedabad International Arts Festival which attracts 10,000 visitors each year.

Additional research projects were developed, including ‘Translating Tradition’ and ‘Drawing The Line’, where MIRIAD researchers worked with Indian crafts-people, showcasing their traditional skills to an international audience.

In Cotton Exchange, five MIRIAD artists explored the shared legacies of cotton manufacture between Northwest England and Northwest India. They worked with a consortium of UK museums and Ahmedabad University’s Centre for Heritage Management, with the intention of developing new audiences for traditional crafts.

Why it matters

The Ahmedabad International Arts Festival has grown into a large-scale international festival attracting worldwide visitors.

International impact has been further realised in India thanks to the HAT exhibition bringing the work of traditional makers to international attention.

Alison Welsh worked with Indian tailors developing garments that retain long-established stitching techniques but appeal to a 21st-century western audience. Prototype designs for these were tested in the ‘Field to Fashion’ exhibition at the British Council, New Delhi, and the ongoing project involves growers, weavers, embroiderers and tailors in the re-introduction of organic cotton as the basis of a sustainable industry.

A number of other rich collaborations have added to the impact of the work. New audiences have found their way into museums, through projects combining traditional and contemporary craft practices, in collaboration with Lancashire Museums Service and the ACE Renaissance programme.

Cotton Exchange (part of the ACE Cultural Olympiad project Global Threads) explored the shared histories and legacies of cotton manufacture between Northwest England and Northwest India.

Five MMU artists created installations, exhibited first at Queens Street Mill, Burnley, and subsequently in Rajnagar Mill, Ahmedabad.

A welcome unexpected impact of the project was the attention that the research brought to Dal Ni Pol in Ahmedabad. This area of architectural heritage is in danger of unsympathetic redevelopment paying little attention to the historic quality of the buildings.

The Pol Project worked with local people to develop artistic interventions drawing attention to their threatened urban and social environment. This resulted in a documentary film by Amanda Ravetz, screened in the Pol and at the Festival, that attracted 1,000 visitors.