Tag Archives: Arts

Circles

20 Jun

I haven’t written an update for months. I’ve wanted to, but every time I sat down to share a thought, or an observation, I was acutely aware that something was incomplete. And so, I said to myself, why offer a fleeting, shredded little thing when you can gather up your thoughts for something substantial? Little did I know, that the substantial is made from the tattered bits and pieces.

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Fresh catch.

 

 

Some of what I learned was really to appreciate myself, my mind, my smarts.   I started to notice the little inner voices that would tell me I couldn’t, I shouldn’t, it will never work.  But reality was filled with space, room for me to do exactly what I dreamed up.  That contradiction, between outside and inside my head, was just what I needed in order to recognize and silence those voices of doubt. 

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Through living as fully as I could, I was offered pieces of myself – pieces that peer back at me as I peer at them, initiating an act of uncovering.  It makes me think of revelation not as some passive gift that is offered from on high, but an endeavor that has to be initiated and carried out. Revelation comes when you push the limitations of your own mind, a new world is revealed as old thinking is moved aside and deeper knowledge is allowed in.

 

This work doesn’t necessarily need stillness and quiet – it can come through lots of interaction, stimulation and, sometimes, from being in a totally different context.  Though I suppose part of the work of reflecting is just that, recognizing your own mind amid a great deal of information. Recognizing how you see, how you get in the way of seeing and how you fit within a larger picture.  I am grateful to have had 8 months to hone the art of seeing, and to gain an appreciation of my place in this world.

ImageI am grateful to all the people who offered me kindness, sweetness, great food, and a a bit of their perspective on the world.  I look forward to completing my play, having it produced, to writing for other projects in India, and to running theater trainings and community projects in the U.S.  I’ll be MCing the Women in Islam awards this month in NYC, I’ll be in Little Rock, Arkansas next month, and I’ll be back in India come September to offer support to an International school in Bombay on their arts programs and curriculum.  So, the story continues.  Thanks for reading and let’s catch up sometime.

Crafting History

17 Jan

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Sometimes I wonder if everything I’ve thought of, everything I’m thinking of, has been thought before.  Often, it’s in bouts of depression and my conclusion is that I’m probably useless and unoriginal.  (Yes, I am being a bit dramatic but that’s me!)

These last few months, however, when I reflect on the originality of my being (how embarrassing) I have been grateful for all the thinking that has come before me.

At 93, Nadja is still making torans. She shows me some of her original sketches in her book.

At 93, Nadja is still making torans. She shows me some of her sketches.

Millions of people, doing the best they could, have lived lives and laid the groundwork for me to do what I do.  Being immersed in the world of craft, it is starting to make more and more sense that originality isn’t highly prized.  It’s nice, but it isn’t the point.

As I’ve been learning how to make a toran (a beaded wall hanging that is strung in a doorway) it amazed me that instinctively I said I’d prefer to follow a pattern that someone has done before.  As my elders have tried to show me new techniques or ways I could change my pattern my stock answer has been “I just want to do it this way until I understand”.

Mani strings the thread needed to weave the beaded toran.

Mani strings the thread needed to weave the beaded toran.

Look at me, I'm learning!

Look at me, I’m learning!

Craft is about following knowledge, putting together history and the information that has come before you.  Piecing together meaning – understanding – through practice.  And only when one understands the story, the hows and whys, can one add a unique element to that story.

 

Making a toran in a traditional Parsi baugh (housing development), surrounded by people who know and appreciate the craft, who display their own torans, who have pieces of the past to complete my puzzle is a unique and vital part of learning the craft.  During the days I could wander the halls and see the different designs and aesthetics at play. I came to see what people appreciated and wanted to project in front of their homes.  People who walked by and saw me at my work recognized what I was doing and inquired about it.

My first little scallops complete!

My first little scallops complete!

Craft is not simply the creation of a product.  It is an assembly of knowledge, belief, skill, context and imagination applied and developed over time to create significant, living things.  Embedded in the process of craft are a multitude of social functions from religious practice to identity formation to relationship building to exercising power to visualizing the future.

The materials used, the process of work, the relationship of craftspeople to their community, the standing of the community within a larger society are all interconnected elements and the relationships constructed between these elements fuel the vitality and development of a craft tradition.  Craft has a soul and craft creates soul.  In order for that soul to thrive all these connections need to be maintained with dignity – human and environmental.

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A young woman trains in block printing techniques at the Weaver’s Service Center in Bombay.

 

 

Hey lady, what's your story?

Hey lady, what’s your story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For craft revivalists and preservationists, the challenge is how to hold this soul and help it do well.  Beyond the economic realm, what responsibility does the revival community have to help heal the social ruptures (oppressions) that have caused the decline and disappearance of craft traditions and the marginalization of craft workers?  How to construct a holistic view of craft revival that honors the complex social web that is at the core of craft work that goes beyond the houses of commerce?

I don’t have any answers but I am eager to follow the threads as I delve deeper into the complex and beautiful world of craft and it’s importance within all societies.

 

Saris getting ready for a steam which will set the color of the block prints.

Saris getting ready for a steam which will set the color of the block prints.

A block printed sari in process.

A sari laid out for block printing.