Through Indian eyes hypothetical forum: which dying craft should we save?

Designer Ishan Khosla and embroiderer Sajnu Ben design the Sangam logo

‘Through Indian Eyes’ is an opportunity for us to consider our collective responsibility to preserve cultural diversity. As a hypothetical, it’s a playful forum for looking at a wide range of perspectives on cultural preservation, including the odd devil’s advocate.

The core dilemma is the ongoing opposition between preservation and progress. The exponential growth of global interconnected cultures has imperilled diversity in its many forms including species, languages, markets and jobs.

It is predicted that up to 90% of the world’s languages will be extinct by 2100. What about our way of making things? Technology has a voracious appetite for human skills, which feeds it ceaseless production of labour saving devices. Should these be revived, even if they no longer suit their original purpose? Today we value clay pots thrown by hand for their aesthetic value, even when it is far more efficient to produce them in factories. What of other crafts that are being made redundant as we speak?

Indiais the home to many of the world’s distinct craft traditions. Australians have been travelling toIndiafor decades to learn about their wonderful techniques, such as weaving and embroidery. Yet much of the craft is in danger. Local markets have been lost to urbanisation and cheap imported goods. Their children prefer to pursue careers in business than their ancestral vocation. In response, Westerners often seek to save these crafts by providing alternative markets back home.

These are generous acts, but to be seen as more than the ‘white man’s burden’, we need to look at cultural rescue missions from different perspectives. What is the role of a foreigner in saving another’s culture? Should some particularly tedious techniques like handmade nails be consigned to the dustbin of history? Can a tradition that is outmoded in one country have a new life in another? Can the recognition of a tradition by a foreign audience instil greater pride within one’s own culture?

‘Through Indian Eyes’ offers a chance to explore these issues through a hypothetical forum in which an Indian designer comes toAustraliato save one of our outmoded crafts. This brings together some key voices representing the range of interests involved in such endeavours.

So, an Indian designer arrives inAustraliato see what he can make of our endangered crafts. Endangered crafts? In Australia? But we don’t really have our own craft traditions, do we? Weren’t they all borrowed from elsewhere? Perhaps he would be interested in Aboriginal crafts, like basket-making. Actually, they seem to be doing well, thanks to an expanding market and innovation.

Perhaps the endangered craft is something right under our noses. Perhaps it’s a technical skill made redundant by the rapid change of technology. Though it may no longer have a practical function, maybe it could have a new life, as an art form. After all, one of our most successful craft organisations, the Australian Tapestry Workshop is built around a skill that was made redundant by industrial mills in the nineteenth century, and re-born in the twentieth as an art form.

So our designer arrives at the Powerhouse Museum, which is a storehouse not only of treasured Australian objects, but also the knowledge that activates them. What lost skill does he find there that could be given a new life today? And when he finds the last remaining practitioner of that skill, how will he or she respond to being re-discovered? Life will never be the same.

The Australia India Design Platform is a three year program of forums, workshops, roundtables, residencies and exchanges. Its aim is to develop pathways for collaboration between designers, craftspersons, artisans and artists in Australia and India.

The Australia India Design Platform is a three year program of forums, workshops, roundtables, residencies and exchanges. Its aim is to develop pathways for collaboration between designers, craftspersons, artisans and artists in Australia and India.

On 1 November, a range of experts, as part of Sangam (the Australia India  three year program of forums), will face the challenge of steering an unpredictable narrative, driven by the effervescent Nell Schofield. Powerhouse curator Christina Sumner reflects on the popular interest in keeping our past through objects. Sally Campbell speaks about our love of Indian handicrafts, like block printing, which were made redundant by technology centuries ago. The Indian visitor Ishan Khosla looks to what hidden potential lies in Australian culture for a new language of graphic design. Media proprietor Pawan Luthra considers the role that our own Indian culture might play in an Australian cultural revival. Founding director of Craft Australia Jane Burns looks out our collective responsibility to preserve our crafts. Lindy Joubert, founding director of UNESCO Observatory, considers whereAustraliafits in the global program of intangible cultural heritage. And finally, our mystery guest talks about the intriguing machine that he has rescued from oblivion.

So which skills do you think are in danger of being lost? What crafts are no longer practical, but may have a new life as forms of creative expression?

‘Through Indian Eyes’ is an opportunity to listen to cultural experts as they respond to the threats and opportunities than arise when the past collides with the future. But in the end, the resolution of the scenario rests with everyone. Let’s look to the future, again.

Join the expert panel who will navigate a curious story about an Indian designer who arrives in Australia with the objective of reviving a dying craft. Bookings can be made online.